Brooks Laich has been quiet all summer about the NHL’s contentious labor situation. But the Washington Capitals NHLPA player rep made no secrets Friday about his position on owners wanting contract rollbacks and the lockout that is expected to begin at midnight Saturday night.
“Every contract ends with a handshake, every single contract. Where I come from you honor your handshakes and you have your word and if you don’t have that then have nothing,” he said. “If I make a bad deal or I sign a bad contract that’s my fault, and I accept it as a man, I work through it. 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, and I think that’s something, that hockey players are pretty honest people and don’t like it when it’s coming back the other way.”
The league’s initial offer sought to cut players’ share of hockey-related revenue from 57 percent under the current collective bargaining agreement to somewhere between 43 and 46 percent. The idea that salaries on already-signed contracts won’t be honored doesn’t sit well with any player, especially after 24 percent rollback that came out of the 2004-05 lockout.
“The deal that they got then, now they’re coming to you and saying the one that they bargained for and got and now are coming and saying ‘It doesn’t work. We need to come and do it again,’ ” Laich said. “Anybody would did their heels in and say ‘Not this time. I’m not accepting that.’
“So we believe in our cause. Any conversation starting with a rollback of player salary is the end of the conversation. If they start with that that’s the end of it. We’re not going to accept that.”
Because that has seemingly been part of every conversation during this negotiation, Laich said: “That’s why we are where we are,” with a work stoppage just hours away.
“There hasn’t been any movement. They haven’t showed us any light at the end of the tunnel yet, so there’s nothing to get too worked up about. The deadline hasn’t come and gone yet, so we’re still pretty calm.”
Laich reiterated what NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr has said on numerous occasions: That the lockout is a “choice” by the league and that players are willing to keep going under the current CBA while negotiating.
But that’s not going to happen. Commissioner Gary Bettman made that clear time and again.
So even though Laich said he hasn’t thought about what life will be like soon after a lockout, it’s no secret he’s ready.
“We’ve had CBA prep meetings as far back as two years ago, so the players are prepared. Last time, we thought we got the raw end of the deal. We have to fight this time,” Laich said. “At some point, you have to dig your heels in and fight. If we don’t this time, then next time, what happens next?
“Appeasement only makes the aggressor more aggressive, and the players really understand that and we believe in our cause and our leadership and I believe we are more unified this time and ready for a fight.”
Obviously a lockout affects more than just owners and players. Laich made it clear he hasn’t lost sight of that.
“It has a massive, massive ripple effect to the tune that I don’t think people really understand,” he said. “It’s truly going to be a shame if we miss one day. But that’s what happens when adults get in the way of a kids’ game.”