“At the end of the day a lockout is what happens when adults get in the way of a kid’s game. If we miss one day it’s truly a shame.” Brooks Laich on the potential NHL lockout
For the past week, the Washington Capitals players have been holding informal practice sessions at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, preparing as they normally would, getting ready for the upcoming season. Unfortunately, nothing is normal in the NHL these days as the league and its players prepare for a work stoppage with the expiration of the current CBA at midnight Saturday.
After Friday’s spirited scrimmage, Caps’ player representative Brooks Laich stood among a small throng of Caps beat writers and issued some of the strongest sentiments yet by any player with regard to the labor negotiations and the upcoming, seemingly unavoidable work stoppage. As his teammates were clearing out their lockers and stuffing gear into their cars, sending tweets revealing plans for travel back to their homelands, Laich answered questions about the negotiations, the Players Association and its leadership, and potentially playing overseas in the event of a lockout by the owners.
“There hasn’t been any movement,” Laich started. “[The owners] haven’t shown us any light at the end of the tunnel yet. There’s nothing to get too worked up about. The deadline hasn’t come and gone yet. We’re still pretty calm.”
The rest of his interview laid out reasons why fans of the NHL aren’t calm at all about the potential of a work stoppage.
On Saturday’s midnight deadline:
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. The 15th is a deadline, the 21st is when camps are supposed to open, so that’s a deadline. The first preseason games, that’s when revenues start to come in, so that’s a deadline. We understand what we’re fighting for and we’re prepared not to give in.
It’s not like this has just come upon us. We’ve had CBA prep meetings as far back as two years ago, so the players are prepared. Last time [2004-05] we feel we got the raw end of the deal and we have to fight this time. At some point you have to dig your heels in and fight. If we don’t this time, then next time what happens? Appeasement only makes the aggressor more aggressive. The players really understand and we believe in our cause and in our leadership and I believe we’re more unified this time and ready for a fight.”
On NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr:
“Having worked with Donald Fehr I believe he’s the tip of the sword in sports labor negotiations. He is a shark and if there’s a deal to get done he will be able to make it. And if there’s not a deal, he’s not going to make a bad deal on our part. That man is sharp, wise, intelligent, crafty. He connects with his players, I think, in a better way than we’ve ever seen before. I’m fully behind him and if you ask any player he’ll say the same thing. We believe in the leadership of our negotiating committee and this is the most unified our union has ever been.”
On the potential of losing the whole season:
“If that’s what it means. Players have long memories. One, they want to roll back our contracts, which I don’t care what business you’re in, is going to kick a fire under a lot of people. And the second part of it, which maybe goes overlooked a little bit because of the financial aspect, is that every contract ends with a handshake — every single contract. Where I come from you honor your handshakes. If you don’t honor your word you have nothing.
If I make a bad deal or sign a bad contract that’s my fault. I accept that and I’m a man and I work through that. That’s something I deal with. I don’t go crying foul or looking for somebody to fix my mistakes. I accept that as a man, that I made a bad decision. Hockey players are pretty honest people and they don’t like it when it’s coming back the other way.
I was raised when you give a man your word and you shake a hand it’s as good as gold. That’s something that I think really upsets the players, that we’re not being treated that way.”
On potentially playing in Europe:
“I grew up loving the game of hockey, not loving the NHL. All players want to play hockey. The beauty of the game today is that it’s a global game and there are other opportunities.
On July 15 the NHL says there’s going to be a lockout if we don’t have an agreement by Sept. 15. And then they come out and say the game is going to return because we have the greatest fans in the world. What happens if a lockout comes and the top 100 players in the world sign over in Europe for a year-long contract? Then what? Is the game going to return? The fans are coming to see the players, not coming to see the owners. The top players are always going to play. There’s always going to be a spot for them. This is the most competitive and toughest league to make it in the world. This is where the best hockey players are, so if they’re available other teams are going to come calling.”
On players potentially leaving right away or signing year-long deals to play in Europe:
“We’ve discussed that. I will say this. One hundred percent of our effort is focused on getting a deal done. We all want to play for the Stanley Cup. We want to play for our respective teams. That is our goal. And until that is taken away from us we’re not really going to look for Option B. We believe in our stand, we believe in our fight and that is on the forefront of our minds. It isn’t until the other side says that’s not going to happen that we’ll look elsewhere.
Every comment you see from every play is we’re looking for a fair deal. The state of the game is so great right now. We want to move this game forward. It’s the other side saying, ‘If we pass the deadline without a deal we’re locking you out.’ And that is a choice. Nowhere does it say that we can’t proceed with training camp or even into the season without a new CBA and continue to negotiate in good faith, which, as a players’ association, we said we would do. The other side just isn’t cooperating with that and we don’t understand why.”
On the impact to arena workers and area businesses:
“It has a massive, massive ripple effect to the tune I don’t think people really understand. Parking, merchandising, everything. It affects a lot more people than just the players. Coaches. It affects families. If husbands have to go over to Europe to play hockey and their kids stay back for school. It affects kids. There are so many things this will affect. It’s truly going to be a shame if we miss one game. That’s what happens when adults get in the way of a kids’ game.”
On balancing the needs of the involved parties against the innocent bystanders:
“It’s actually pretty easy to balance because we 100 percent believe in our cause. If they came to you seven years ago and said, ‘We’re going to slash your salary 24 percent.’ That was a deal they bargained for and won and got. And now they’re coming and saying it didn’t work, we need to do it again. Anybody would dig their heels in and say, ‘Not this time. I’m not accepting that.’ We believe in our cause. Any conversation starting with a rollback of players’ salaries is the end of the conversation. When they start with that, that’s the end of it for the PA. We’re not going to accept that. That’s why we are where we are.
On the potential of hurting the game at large:
“ It’s frustrating because the state of the game is better than it’s ever been There are so many good hockey players and good teams and good rivalries. Just look at the playoffs last year. The energy and the excitement the game of hockey created all across North America and even into Europe, it’s amazing.
The other thing is that the Olympics are right around the corner. If we can keep hockey going and get hockey into the Olympics again we’re poised to take a major step with this sport and I don’t see any benefit in having a work stoppage right now. The fans lose. Ultimately, they’re the ones that lose. They are the reason we’re able to do what we do and I’d really feel bad if we missed one game and cost one kid a chance to see an NHL hockey game or to meet one of the players or get an autograph or a picture. It is truly going to be a shame if that happens.”
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Nats and the Caps, and previously wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network. Dave’s first sports hero was Bobby Dandridge. Follow Dave’s Capitals coverage on Twitter @CapitalsDSP.