Kings' Westgarth: NHL 'believes in different reality'

Kings' Westgarth: NHL 'believes in different reality'
September 6, 2012, 4:44 pm
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Kevin Westgarth's summer has gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

Fresh off a Stanley Cup win with the Los Angeles Kings, the forward is now spending his time in labor meetings trying to help negotiate a new CBA for the NHL. If it doesn't happen by September 15, there will be an NHL lockout.

As you're aware, it's not going well, and Westgarth, a Princeton graduate, seems pretty fed up with the negotiating process thus far.

On Wednesday, he was a guest on Danny Picard's radio show, "I'm Just Sayin'", where he was highly critical of NHL owners and commissioner Gary Bettman.

"As you said, the fans are frustrated, and I think the players are frustrated as well," Westgarth said. "It's something that we do want to take care of. I think the owners and the NHL got essentially everything they wanted last time, and for them to come with the variety of proposals they've brought so far just strictly isn't fair. We're looking for a fair deal just so we can get back to playing hockey."

Westgarth says he attends as many meetings as possible enough that he couldn't remember the number. Last week's meeting that he attended wasn't a good one.

"Obviously the week didn't end well and it sounded like the NHL was essentially cutting off talks. And we're obviously looking to get back into the negotiating room as everybody wants to figure this thing out before any hockey is lost like the tragedy that happened last time.

There's only a certain amount of money to go around, and neither side is happy with what each proposal dishes out.

"Inevitably it's - I think in any industry it's money," Westgarth said. "Gary Bettman has said it himself, he said he feels that the owners should be paying us less. That obviously- I tend to disagree with that. It's a league that has had record revenue the last few years. The game is just growing. The last time they locked us out they got as I said basically everything they wanted including a slurry cap which controls their cost automatically for players. They got all that and they basically said that the players will share in the growth of the game, and when you have as salary cap that's tied to revenues it automatically does that and now they're trying to take that away and tell us that essentially that we had nothing to do with the game growing, and the fans supporting it more and more."

Westgarth thinks the players' proposal is fair, centering around "a huge piece of revenue sharing". That's something the players don't look to budge on.

"Our proposal is based on the players giving up a number of concessions. We're going to give back hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years so that the owners can get themselves out of their own problems, and with that is a piece of revenue sharing, that is what we're asking for them to help us out to essentially fix whatever problems they may have and to help out these teams that may be struggling. We're willing to take some cutbacks over the next few years to limit the amount that we will be growing league-wide and obviously that was not accepted very well by the owners, but moving forward that has to be the way that we go with it with a huge piece of revenue sharing.

"As I said, we were willing to make some concessions over the next years and it's just unfortunate because for us any type of work stoppage would be an absolute last resort but I think as we're seeing with a lot of the leagues now but especially the NHL it seems like the lockout tends to be essentially one of their negotiating tactics and kind of first course of action to try to put pressure on the players. As a player it sucks because we want to play hockey, we know the fans want hockey and we love watching it as much as anybody else."

But it appears as though the two sides are very far apart at this point, and with the owner-imposed September 15 deadline looming, hockey in October looks grim. Westgarth even went as far as saying the ownership "believes in a different reality".

"Well we're definitely willing to work and to keep talking so that we can figure it out. But it's tough when you're negotiating against someone that believes in a different reality," he said. "They basically just want to have money grabbed from the players as opposed to trying to fix the actual problems and that's what we're trying to do here. As I said, it would be wonderful to get it done by the September 15 deadline and we'll do everything that we can to do it. That being said the September 15 deadline is only important because the owners have said that they will lock us out. We'd be more than willing to play under the current CBA and to continue negotiating in good faith and to get ready and to play hockey this season but the owners won't let us do that and it's something I guess we'll see coming up in the next week."

The next week is obviously a crucial one. If a lockout happens it will shorten or eliminate NHL training camps, and threaten the October 11 start to the regular season. Westgarth is still hoping for the best for the players' sake and the fans' sake.

"I am extremely hopeful that, yeah, we will be having hockey," Westgarth said. "As I said, I know the fans want it. I know that the NHL sometimes might - the league and the commissioner might think that they can do anything to the hockey fans because they're the best fans in the world but I think that's just being incredibly obtuse and taking them for granted. It's not something that we're willing to do as players. We're on the fans side. We want to get this done and make sure we're playing as soon as possible and make sure that no games are lost in the greatest sport in the world."