Forward Kevin Westgarth kisses the Stanley Cup as he skates with it at Staples… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Once upon a time, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman used to dislike comparisons to the NFL, and particularly, the NBA, his former employer.
And now … a change from the stance in 2004. Bettman recently spoke about how the players in the NBA and NFL recognized the “need to retrench” in labor negotiations last year.
“They’ve banked on people having short memories,” said the Kings’ Kevin Westgarth in an interview with The Times on Monday. “But I think they’re starting to realize through coverage that people actually remember what they’ve said and the way they do business.
“They can’t get away with the same tricks and lies that they have in the past. I think the fans deserve better and deserve hockey … on the ice.”
Not only is Westgarth the Kings’ player representative, the Princeton graduate is a member of the negotiating committee of the NHL Players Assn. When NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr is giving a news conference, you often see Westgarth in the frame. He has split the summer between meetings in Toronto and New York and spending time at his off-season home in Raleigh, N.C.
His tone was not angry on Day 2 of the NHL-imposed lockout but sounded more wearily disappointed than anything else. There was a telling shift from talking about grim lockout business to happy memories of his day with the Stanley Cup earlier in the summer.
Westgarth was speaking from Raleigh on Monday morning. He has been skating there along with a handful of other NHL players, including former King defenseman, the Devils’ Peter Harrold. Kings defenseman Matt Greene and captain Dustin Brown have been helping Westgarth keep the rest of the team informed about labor developments. Thirteen Kings were in New York for last week’s NHLPA meetings, he said.
“They clearly did not control those player costs and they want us to pay the piper at the end of the day,” Westgarth said of the NHL. “I don’t think that’s fair when they’re not willing to institute any type of limits or controls on themselves with those costs. They want to come back to us and say they’re losing money and go for another money grab.”
NHL teams went into a spending frenzy in the final hours before the lockout was imposed Saturday night, handing out close to $200 million in contracts on Friday and Saturday, which included a five-year, $20-million contract extension to Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler.
Strange visuals, indeed.
“One side of their mouths is how we’ve had record revenues, the game has never been stronger,” Westgarth said. “And all of a sudden, next week is how they can’t live with the way things are right now and how these contracts are too long. And the next day, two guys [Zach Parise and Ryan Suter] sign for $200 million [combined].
“It is very strange from our point of view. And we’re not sure what to believe from the owners at this point, given how different teams have acted.”
Parise and Suter each signed a 13-year, $98-million contract with the Minnesota Wild in July. And as the Star Tribune noted, they were both paid a signing bonus of $10 million last month.
Meanwhile, there isa game within a game: the public relations battle. On Sunday, there was an effective video from the star players on the NHLPA’s website. It’s a good guess the owners won’t be releasing a similar feel-good pitch.
“I hope and pray the owners do actually care what fans have to say and think,” Westgarth said. “I know we definitely do . This is an owner-imposed lockout. We would be playing right now if they did not do this. It seems to be their first and foremost tactic to put pressure on the players."