The Winter Classic has been flushed down the toilet and formal negotiations have been few and far between.
At a time when the NHL could take advantage of its growing popularity it has taken a major step backward with a lockout that is dangerously close to wiping out a full season for the second time in eight years.
On Saturday, CSNWashington.com caught up with Capitals right wing and assistant player representative Troy Brouwer to ask his opinions on the lockout.
[It should be noted that hours after this phone interview it was reported that NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA special counsel Steve Fehr had scheduled a private meeting at an undisclosed location late Saturday afternoon].
What was your initial reaction when you heard [Friday] the NHL had canceled the Winter Classic
Troy Brouwer: Not surprised. We’ve known for a long time this was one of the ways the owners would try to put all the pressure on the players. It’s understandable. You have to promote the game and make sure the sponsors are involved in the game. The time line of it? We still feel they called it off a little bit early. But that’s their decision and it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to the players.
By canceling the Classic the league avoided making the $250,000 payment to the University of Michigan, but do you also think it was a way to put pressure on the players to come to the negotiating table?
I don’t think so because he players have been trying to talk for at least a week now. We’ve had numerous phone calls throughout saying we’re ready to talk whenever they are, but they’re not ready to talk and you can’t negotiate with someone who’s not willing to come to the table and talk. We’re at a standstill and it’s because the owners in the league don’t want to meet right now.
It sounds as though the owners are willing to discuss their latest proposal as long as it’s on their terms.
That’s what happens when you have a bully. Someone’s going to take their ball and go home if they don’t like the way you’re playing. Right now there’s not much we can do except to continue to express we’re willing to talk about anything at any time. Don [Fehr] has been adamant about making that public and making it clear that it doesn’t matter if it’s about pension or health or safety or core economics, we’re ready and able to have a discussion.
Did you participate in the NHLPA conference call Thursday night?
I’m the Caps assistant player rep so I’m on all the conference calls. Also it’s my future and my family’s future so I want to be as informed as possible and know what’s going on so that when there is a decision to be made I can make an informed one.
What was the tone of that call? I understand the players had a lot of questions.
There were. A lot of it was where do we go from here? The biggest answer Don could give us was, ‘Well, we don’t go anywhere until the owners are willing to talk.’ Right now it kind of sucks sitting back and waiting but at the same time we still have the same stance we had in the summertime. We want to make sure there’s going to be a fair deal for both sides because we want this to be a very profitable industry going forward. But if you’re dealing with guys more worried about themselves than with the general outcome of the league it’s tough to try and strike a deal with people like that.
Since it’s the owners who are locking you out, do you think the owners are willing to sacrifice a whole season?
I don’t know. As of right now it’s looking kind of clear on that. But there’s got to be a point where it becomes counter productive for both sides. We’re trying not to get to that point and making sure that there is hockey this season. It all stems back to having open lines of communication. I don’t expect everything to get worked out all at once But as long as they’re continuing to work on the small things, when the core economics do get figured out, everything else will be in place so that we can start a season up as soon as an agreement is made.
Several deadlines have passed and I guess many of us thought the Winter Classic was the biggest. Now that it’s gone do you think there will be a season?
I’m optimistic. I want to play. I know every other player I’ve talked to wants to reach a fair deal so that going forward it’s good for both sides. Everyone wants to eventually, hopefully, have a season this year and I guess that will be determined in the next couple months.
There are some players making money overseas and others like you making no money at all. Do you feel the players are willing to make a stand that lasts all season?
I think that’s evident in our stance so far. We’ve given up a lot of concessions and that’s what the owners are continuing to ask from us. They want money back. They want big contract restrictions going forward. Right now there’s not a ton in it for the players, so we need to see some give on the owners’ side as far something they’re willing to give up. Until then I don’t see anything happening right now.
Players always say this is a business but it can also get personal. Does going through a labor war like this put a strain on a player’s relationship with an owner? Ted Leonsis sat in on the last negotiating session.
I understand he’s running a business and he’s trying to make money for himself, but he has to understand the players are also trying to do the same thing. We want to play hockey and fortunately for us we get paid very well to play hockey Going forward you can’t really take too hard feelings but at the same time you can’t ignore what’s happening around you and what’s happening to your livelihood. I guess that will be seen in the future, when and if a deal gets done.