Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen spoke today about the stalled negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA over a new collective bargaining agreement. If a new deal isn't reached by midnight tomorrow, the NHL will lockout the NHLPA for the third time since 1994.
How do you evalute the situation on the eve of potentially being locked out?
"Well... it's something we anticipated being in this situation. It doesn't really surprise anyone I don’t think. I think we hoped to be a little better and closer to a deal. Ideally, a month ago we were hoping we’d be finalizing this thing today or tomorrow. I think we all realize and we’re prepared to take time and make sure we do the right thing. We’ll be missing some time. I don’t think any of us want to do that, but we have to do the right thing."
Each side obviously feels it's proposal is best for the game. Why is the player's proposal better?
"I wasn’t around for the (2004-05) lockout but I know what happened. The players took huge concessions but they got something in return. Now, we’re really asking for anything in return. We’re just taking a pay cut. And we’re trying to help the league gain revenue. Our proposal suggests (the players) take less of the increases the league will make the next couple of years and we won’t grow as fast as the revenues will. We can’t keep concede without something better coming out of it."
Negotiations did not formally begin until mid July. Could this process have begun earlier to avoid this?
"I think potentially they could have but I understand why they didn’t. It’s kind of the same reason why it’s gotten to this point. There hasn’t been much movement on either side. There’s nothing really going on. No one’s really losing anything. No one has anything to risk. If the lockout were to start tomorrow, nobody’s missing anything until (Sept. 21, when training camps begin). Then that’s when you’ll get your serious negotiations going on."
The NHLPA has been aggressive in terms of getting a message to fans. How much does the NHLPA value public perception in this dispute?
"I think it’s very important. The fans are why we’re all here. We want to keep them informed with exactly what we’re going through and keep them on our side. I think the just the biggest message is we’re hockey players. We want to play. This is how we make our living and we love doing it. But there’s got to be a line in the sand for what’s fair for us now and players in the future."
Considering the state of the world economy, do you understand why many fans are frustrated and see this as a dispute between rich players and rich owners?
"Absolutely. We just went through this. Hockey went through it in 2004. I understand the fans’ perspective. They just want to watch hockey and root on their teams. We’re going to do our best to get a deal done as quickly as possible as long as it’s a fair one."
You signed a two-year contract extension in the summer. Under normal circumstances, that provides some security. But come Saturday, you might be temporarily out of a job. Is that frustrating?
"Yeah, it is frustrating. The contract thing is nice and I’m thrilled about it. But that’s not the biggest reason. I think last season, hockey-wise, I made some good strides and had a pretty good year overall. I got some forward momentum so I was looking forward to having a good year of some training and getting right back after it. If it’s going to be what it looks like (with a lockout), it’s going to be a little bit of a setback."
(Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)