Former Los Angeles Kings enforcer Kevin Westgarth finds his way into executive suite

Former Kings enforcer Kevin Westgarth — who hung up his skates after playing last season in Belfast, Northern Ireland — is still adjusting to his new role as the NHL's vice president of business development and international affairs.

"This is a second career where you're not risking injury or a torn ACL or getting punched in the teeth, so it's a little different," he said. "No one's taken any swings at me at work."

Not yet, anyway. "I'm just a quiet guy who's trying to be nice to everybody," he said, a reminder of the humor and intelligence that made him a favorite during his time with the Kings. He was considered so valuable that club executives successfully submitted his name to be engraved on the Stanley Cup in 2012 even though he sat out the playoffs.

Winning the Cup was a life-altering event, but the real change began to take shape while he was a member of the players' negotiating committee during the 2012-13 labor dispute. Westgarth made friends on both sides and capitalized on those relationships as his career wound down. He also sought advice from some former bosses, general managers Dean Lombardi of the Kings and Ron Francis of the Carolina Hurricanes.

"I'd seen the writing on the wall, heading over to Northern Ireland," he said. "I started talking to some people and I realized the job search was going to have to come sooner than later. The NHL was a phenomenal opportunity to work in an industry I've been passionate about my entire life. It's a great opportunity for me to stay connected while learning about the business of hockey and business in general, how a big corporation runs. Let's say in a couple years I want to go back and win the Cup again, I think that's something I can learn and have an opportunity to do if I do this right."

Westgarth already has a big fan in NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who recalled enjoying lunch with him during the labor talks. "I felt like we could bring him on board and let him find his niche," Daly said. "It's always good to have former players, and particularly when you are dealing with former players with good educations and the intellect that Kevin brings to the table."

Westgarth's duties include helping formulate and execute international strategy. The NHL is intrigued by China, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, and Westgarth wants to look at Europe again.

"It's an exciting thing to be a part of, how we can build a footprint and grow the game elsewhere. It's not crazy to think there are some huge benefits of bringing hockey to 1.3 billion people," he said of China. "We're officially an international company but we haven't played a game outside of North America since we played [in Sweden and Germany] with the Kings in 2011. I think we've essentially turned our energy inward to build the NHL and restabilize the NHL in North America. Now, there's so much that we can do around the rest of the world in helping countries grow the game."

His travel plans have been on hold because his wife Meagan, whom he met at Princeton, is due to give birth next week to their first child, a boy. In the meantime, he's directing his energy toward charitable and corporate social responsibility projects. "My wife always jokes she thought she was getting a doctor," said Westgarth, a pre-med and psychology major. "Ten years and an enforcing career later, we're finally moving on to something else. It's good."

Women's pro hockey

The good news for Dani Rylan, commissioner of the National Women's Hockey League, was that the league received more than 1,000 orders for jerseys in the first month they were available on line. The bad news was that it couldn't handle the demand.

So it goes for startup businesses, including the first women's hockey league in the United States to pay its players. The four-team NWHL recently completed its first season, capped by the Boston Pride winning the Isobel Cup. The trophy was named for Isobel Gathorne-Hardy, the hockey-playing daughter of Stanley Cup donor Lord Stanley of Preston.

Rylan called the season a success and said expansion is possible for next season but only within the Northeast because budgets dictate bus travel. "We were the beneficiary of great exposure," she said by phone Monday, "and this is now an opportunity to sit back and look at what we've accomplished this year and how far we've come from our original business plan and where we're looking to go.

"We made a handful of mistakes along the way and we're looking forward to turning those missteps into learning experiences and plan accordingly moving forward and to improve."

The NWHL got a publicity boost when the Pride faced the Canadiennes of the Canadian Women's Hockey League outdoors at Gillette Field a day before the NHL's Winter Classic. "The NHL has been great to us," Rylan said. "They've been very open and supportive of women's hockey all the way from the grass-roots level to the pros. While we're still figuring out the best ways to work together, our relationship evolved over this year."

Slap shots

• Happy retirement to Brenden Morrow, who signed a one-day deal with his original team, the Dallas Stars, to end his career where it started. He is barely 6 feet tall but played much bigger, becoming a productive power forward and captain in Dallas. He also won a gold medal with Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks scored his 26th goal last week, setting a club single-season record for defensemen. With 65 points, he broke Sandis Ozolinsh's club record for points by a defenseman (64), set in the 1993-94 season.

helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
64°