I had the chance to catch up with Mathieu Darche of the Montreal Canadiens and talk about the recent NHL lockout.
Darche is a player representative for the NHL Players Association and a member of the NHLPA’s negotiating committee in their continuing negotiations with the NHL. Darche is a nine-year NHL veteran and has his thumb on the pulse of the current labor negotiations. As of September 15, 2012, the NHL locked out its players until a new deal can be reached.
If the NHL and NHLPA don’t come to an agreement soon the season could be lost. Darche, who is a 35 year-old free-agent, may have played his last game in the NHL if the lockout doesn’t end soon. There are plenty of opportunities in the minor leagues but Darche isn’t ready to go back.
You’re currently an unrestricted free agent. Are you able to talk to teams about contracts right now?
Darche: Since I’m a UFA I’m technically not locked out but a lot of teams aren’t talking right now. I’ve decided at this point in my career it’s either the NHL or retirement.
Is the business side of the sport in your future plans?
I’d love to stay in the business side of hockey or management but I’m not ready to retire right now.
How did you get involved with the NHLPA?
Darche: I actually approached them. I’ve always been interested in the business side of our sport.
As an unrestricted free agent, are you concerned that potential teams may think you’re a trouble maker because of your involvement with the NHLPA?
Darche: I’m not involved with the NHLPA just for me, my salary wouldn’t change much either way. I do it because I believe in the NHLPA’s views and for the players who will come after me.
Your brother, J.P. Darche, played football for the Kansas City Chiefs. Do you ever talk to him about the CBA and compare your sports?
Darche: My brother and I compare our sports all the time. There are a few things the NFL has in their CBA that I would love to see in our league. The NFL’s “Education Clause” is one thing in particular that I really like.
There have been a lot of comparisons between these negotiations and the NBA and NFL lockouts that occurred last year. Do you think there are similarities?
Darche: In these CBA negotiations the NHL always tries to compare us to the NFL and the NBA but those two leagues have different revenues and roster sizes. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.
Donald Fehr [the Executive Director of the NHLPA headed up the major league baseball’s player’s association as well. Do you see any similarities there?
Darche: The biggest difference with baseball is the MLB doesn’t have a salary cap. I don’t hear anyone comparing us to Major League Baseball because they know that Don [Fehr] knows too much about that. They don’t have a salary cap in the MLB and they seem to be doing just fine.
Do you think the NHL’s decision to set a salary cap in 2004 was a bad idea?
Darche: Players are worth whatever the owners are willing to pay them. The fact that the NHL has a salary cap right now means we’re all playing below our real value. We took a major rollback in 2004, hoping something like this wouldn’t happen. We’re not trying to be greedy; we’re just trying to keep what we already have.
The negotiations have been held in New York and Toronto. Has it been tough to travel and maintain a balance at home?
Darche: Fortunately we live in Montreal so New York and Toronto are pretty close. We just put the kids in the car and make it a road trip. I’ve been traveling for most of my career so that’s nothing new.
Tell me about the Quebec Caravan League.
Darche: The Quebec Caravan League is something that Maxime Talbot has organized. A bunch of us get together and play exhibition games around Quebec. Fans can come out and watch for about $20. It’s great because it’s a way for all of us to stay in shape during the lockout and the fans get to see some good hockey.
Negotiating large contracts isn’t an easy task. Each side has specific things they want out of the deal. The players in the NHL are fortunate that veteran guys like Darche, who know the business of hockey, are at the bargaining table representing their needs.