The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 9, 2012

Locked-out players hope to resume talks with NHL

WINDSOR, Ontario — Thanks to a charity game, three NHL players – Kevin Westgarth, Shawn Horcoff and Jamal Mayers – got a chance to get more comfortable on the ice than they were earlier in the week.

They were playing hockey in a Canadian rink Saturday night, two days after being part of the union negotiating team in a New York hotel where labor talks with the league fell apart.

“I’m happy to be in a situation to do it, but I’d rather be on the ice,” said Westgarth, a Los Angeles Kings forward.  “That’s where I want to be.”

Westgarth was one of 36 locked-out players in an event at the WFCU Centre – less than 10 miles from Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings – that raised money for charity and gave the idle pros an opportunity to do what they do best.

The game was sloppy and choppy early, understandably so because the lockout has lasted nearly three months, before some sharp passes and one-timers put their talent on display for about 4,500 fans.

“We all want to be playing real games,” said Detroit Red Wings forward Dan Cleary, one of the players who organized the event.

“If we’re not playing, we might as well do something good with our time, try to give back to the fans, to charities.”

Cleary said a similar event is planned for Dec. 19 in Toronto.

With NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman insisting the two sides are still very far apart, there’s a good chance more games will be cancelled soon.

The lockout has already wiped out all games through Dec. 14 along with the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at Michigan Stadium and the All-Star game on Jan. 27 in Ohio.

Bettman has said the league won’t consider a season that would last fewer than 48 games – the same length it had after the 1994-95 lockout – and that seems to leave about a month to get a deal done.

“We are running out of time,” said Horcoff, an Edmonton Oilers forward. “I hope after a couple days of relaxing, cooler heads prevail and we get back it.”

Mayers said the owners are the ones in control of when talks resume.

“It was the NHL that got up and left and pulled everything from the table,” the Chicago Blackhawks forward said. “Certainly there will come a time in the next few days or the next week, they’ll start to talk again. My hope is that the owners realize that we really are that close.”

The two sides are apart on at least two key issues.

The NHL wants to limit player contracts to five years, seven if the player re-signs with a team, without a huge difference in what a player makes from year to year.

The union countered with an offer to make the maximum length of a deal for any player eight years.

Mayers tried to explain why the league’s offer didn’t work for the union.

“What would happen is, guys like Sidney Crosby would end up taking 20 percent of whatever the cap would be – for the entire term for five or seven years – and there would be a couple other guys on the team that would do that, then it would completely crush the middle- and lower-tier players,” Mayers said.

“There would be no middle guy because there would be no money left. If Sid is making $12 (million) and (Evgeni) Malkin is making that and then you have (Kris) Letang and (Marc-Andre) Fleury coming up, how would they fit everybody in?”

Another major obstacle to a deal is agreeing on how long the next collective bargaining agreement should last.

The NHL wants the new CBA to last for 10 years, with a mutual opt-out option after eight years. The union countered with an offer to make it an eight-year deal with an out after six years.

“I don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that there’s a deal there to be made,” Mayers said. “It’s not a huge discrepancy.”

 

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