- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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Ray Whitney wonders where to begin.
A veteran of four NHL work stoppages -- three owners’ lockouts and one players’ strike -- the 40-year-old winger has seen this same old movie too many times.
"We have to stop the cycle of work stoppages," Whitney told ESPN.com on Friday. "It kills the game. And I’m not saying this to kiss up to them, but it’s not fair to the fans."
As popular a teammate you’ll find in the game, Whitney has spent most of his career in nontraditional hockey markets, places such as San Jose, Florida, Columbus, Carolina, Phoenix, and now, Dallas.
The damage that the lockout causes in places like that just makes his head spin.
And for what, he wonders.
"To be out this long, for a game that was thriving, to be doing this kind of damage to the league makes no sense to us as players," said Whitney. "To me, it just shows a lack of respect for the game by the people in charge. They’re not really hockey people, they didn’t grow up loving the game of hockey."
Fired up and yet measured in his comments, Whitney is indeed frustrated.
"They’re like schoolyard bullies right now; they want everything. That’s not negotiating," he said. "With us coming down to 50-50 [split of revenues], I don’t see the need for this to go as long as this has."
Like me, however, Whitney sees a deal that can be made.
"I don’t think it’s far apart at all, in fact I think it can be done in one afternoon," said Whitney, before building up to a laugh. "I’d stuff them all in a room and tell them they can’t come out until it’s done. And we’re not sending any food, either."
It’s been a whirlwind week. The NHLPA’s latest offer was for the most part rejected by the league, which caused anger among the players. Then veteran blueliner Roman Hamrlik made headlines by calling out NHLPA executive director Don Fehr.
"Obviously he’s frustrated, but I don’t think it’s fair for him to be making those comments from the other side of the ocean," Whitney said of Hamrlik. "He should be over here in the meetings if he wants to know what’s really happening.
"But I also know you’d hear comments like that from the other side too, from owners, if it wasn’t for the gag order. They’re equally frustrated. It’s frustrating for everybody."
Fact is, Whitney said, there’s no reason for any player not to have a firm grasp of the facts right now.
"Over my three lockouts, this is by far the most informed we’ve been as players and a union."
In the meantime, there’s been increased chatter among players about the merits of union decertification, something NBA players did last year to put pressure on owners.
"It’s going to have to be somewhat of a reality at some point," Whitney said of the possibility of decertification. "We have to look at all our options to increase our leverage. We’ll talk about that and decide what’s best for us. ...
"What has the league given us in this deal so far other than a kick in the shorts? And they want us to keep giving? At some point we’ll have to do something to put a bit more pressure on them."
Whitney understands that going down from 57 percent of the revenue pie to 50 percent was a reality players would have to likely accept after what happened in the NFL and NBA labor deals last season. But like many players, he’s frustrated by the league’s insistence on a number of changes to player contracting rights.
"It’s not fair, to be honest," said Whitney.
Agreeing with Fehr, Whitney said the league’s demands on contracting rights would lead to too restrictive a system, especially with demands such as a five-year limit on contracts and a 5 percent salary variation ceiling.
"There are some incredibly smart GMs out there, guys like Ken Holland and Lou Lamoriello," said Whitney. "They’re not allowed to say anything but what the league is trying to do now is say, 'We don’t trust you GMs, we want to put in a system that tells you how to run your teams now. We’re going to cut your legs out. Kenny, I know you’ve got a genius mind when it comes to contracts and maneuvering things, but we’re not going to allow that anymore. We’re going to make it so the worst GM in the league can compete with you because your hands are tied.'"
To be fair, the league is looking to tighten up the system because costs got out of control in the last CBA, especially on the players’ second contracts, which is why the league wants to push UFA to eight years service or 28 years old and why the league is seeking changes to salary arbitration.
Whitney understands the owners need some fixes, but he just wants a fair deal, not an agreement that will crush his side.
"Otherwise, we’ll just be in another work stoppage in five years, which makes no sense," said Whitney. "All of this makes no sense. We could have been playing a long time ago."
14dScott Burnside and Craig Custance