Kings' Westgarth: NHL 'believes in different reality'

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Kings' Westgarth: NHL 'believes in different reality'

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."

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

When the hockey world grew tired of shootouts, the league took something of a half measure. Rather than eliminate the shootout, the league moved overtime from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3. It worked; games that were tied at the end of regulation were more likely to end in the five-minute OT period than before, thus reducing the frequency of shootouts. 

Now, the NHL is dealing with its latest cumbersome gameplay issue: the offsides challenge. A half-measure isn’t as desirable in this case. No more half measures, Walter. 

The offsides challenge was introduced with good intentions, but it’s simply too easy to abuse. And really, when the option is there with only a timeout at risk, why wouldn’t a coach roll the dice that maybe a guy was offsides entering the zone 29 seconds before the goal was scored? 

The option needs to be taken away. Rely on blueline cameras and automatically look at anything close on a goal that’s scored off the rush. It would take two seconds and would save the refs from another Matt Duchene incident while saving the viewer a lot of time. Let anything else go the way of the dry scrape. 

There’s the temptation to instead tweak -- maybe make offsides challengeable if the entry in question occurs within however many seconds -- but that would just mean more time would be wasted seeing if a play was even challengeable. 

It was proposed at the GM meetings in Chicago that if a coach loses an offsides challenge, his team will be assessed a two-minute penalty. That sounds great as a deterrent, but it won’t stop instances of the needless why-the-hell-not challenge. Late in games, coaches might be just as likely to take their chances in a tie game or a one-goal game. That goal allowed could likely be the deciding tally, so if they’re likely to lose anyway, some coaches might still go for the time-wasting Hail Mary. 

And of course, the loser there is the person hoping to catch their train out of North Station in time, or the person who might doze off during the stupid challenge, wake up four hours later on their couch and develop back issues over time. That was a friend, not me. 

Colin Campbell said at the GM meetings in Chicago ahead of the draft that the league is trying to "temper" the negative reaction the offside challenge has received from players and fans. 

There’s really only way to do that, and that’s to get rid of it.

See you in a year when we’re going through the same thing with goalie interference. 

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

CHICAGO – With the 2017 NHL Draft officially wrapped up and the proverbial eve of NHL free agency upon us, there wasn’t anything to get particularly alarmed or excited about when it comes to the Bruins actions over the last few days.

The Bruins lost a potential-filled defenseman that might never actually realize any of it in Colin Miller, and they followed up the expansion draft subtraction with an average draft class where they addressed defense, goaltending and their depth up front. But at the same time, it didn’t really feel like the Bruins got anybody in the draft that they were particularly bowled over by, and the B’s lost a potential trade chip once they’d used their 18th overall pick in the first round to select smooth-skating defenseman Urho Vaakenainen.

MORE: NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

The sense at this address, though not confirmed by anybody inside either organization, is that the Bruins weren’t willing to trade a first-round pick as part of a package for Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, and would have preferred Jonas Brodin if they were going to give up that kind of asset. Don Sweeney confirmed that Boston’s first-round pick was in play, but stressed it was for “target specific” players that the Bruins coveted.

A deal was never worked out for one of those “target specific” players, so the Bruins continue to move on and hope that something breaks over the next few weeks.

“I was on record saying we’d be offering our first-round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to do it, so we went ahead with our own pick. I was target specific on a few players and there were other considerations being discussed.

“It’s an area we’d like to address and help our team currently. I’m not going to stop exploring areas where we can improve our club. It’s hard to tell [which way trade talks will go]. Maybe people will feel that picks from next year’s draft will be even better, or they like that pool of prospects a little bit better. It’s hard to tell [where trade discussions will go], to be perfectly honest.”

At least the Bruins were right on time with picking a Finnish player in the first round as a record six players from Finland were nabbed in the first round of the draft, and one would hope that means all will benefit from the hockey talent streaming out of that Scandinavian country right now. It will take years to determine how Vaakenainen, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Swayman and the other members of the 2017 draft class ultimately pan out, but it sure doesn’t feel like the same outpouring of talent as in 2015 when Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jake DeBrusk and the rest of the Bruins draft picks officially entered the Black and Gold system.

B’s assistant GM Scott Bradley admitted as much when discussing the entire draft class on Saturday afternoon at the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins got good value, addressed organizational needs and felt good about the players they picked in each and every spot, but there isn’t going to be a Charlie McAvoy or David Pastrnak coming out of a really “meh” group of draft-eligible hockey players.

“Our first rounder is somebody we’re excited about. His skating is close to what we call a ‘5’ in our system. He’s a left-shot. You compare his skating to [Paul] Coffey at times, really mobile and transition defenseman,” said Bradley, who hadn’t run a draft board for the Bruins in roughly ten years while Wayne Smith and Keith Gretzky had been in charge of the Black and Gold’s scouting operations. “I think we addressed a lot of our needs. It wasn’t sexy, but I think we did well in addressing a lot of the organization’s needs.”  

So with the amateur draft and the expansion draft both in the rearview mirror, the Bruins must move on in the roster-building process while still facing a pair of big needs in top-6 left wing and top-4 left side defenseman. They may be able to nail down one of those needs by swinging a trade with their list of available assets including Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes, Jakub Zboril, Adam McQuaid and next year’s first-round pick.

A deal that would send a Spooner-led package elsewhere might be enough to land the big, skilled, young winger that the Bruins are currently in the market for, and provide top-6 insurance in case DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork all aren’t quite ready for full-time duty skating, passing and finishing off plays with David Krejci.

It might be that the Bruins have to begin thinking about free agency as a viable place if they want to land a solid, top-4 D-man for the next handful of years to pair with Charlie McAvoy. Karl Alzner headlines a list of players that would be a good fit for the Black and Gold, but they would absolutely have to overpay for a 28-year-old UFA that’s averaged 20:13 of ice time per game over the course of his 591 career games with the Washington Capitals. More affordable would be a young, free agent defenseman like Dmitry Kulikov, who is still extremely young as he comes off a rough year with the Buffalo Sabres after getting traded there from Florida. Or other potentially available left-shot free agent defenseman like Brendan Smith or Ron Hainsey could be stop-gap answers for the Bruins until the next crop of D-men in Jakob Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Vaakenainen, and others, are ready to step up just like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy did last season.

The bottom line is that the Bruins did perfectly fine over draft weekend with no true idea until a few years have passed for these teenage prospects, but they need to aim higher than “perfectly fine” with their offseason if they want to be any better at the NHL level next season. A big move or two will be needed from the Bruins front office if the B’s are going to make the jump that everybody wants to see from them over the next couple of seasons.