We’re now to the point where talks have ended and the lawyers have taken over. Indeed, at this point NHL labor negotiations moving forward will end up overseen by a judge of some sort. The issues, legally speaking: whether the lockout was legal and whether it can it challenged on anti-trust grounds. The NHL has already asked a judge to decide whether the lockout is legal; if that is affirmed, it will be harder for the players to basically decertify the union, which would lead to more time in court. The players say they want to retain the option to decertify the union. Via a statement issued by the players association:
“The N.H.L. appears to be arguing that players should be stopped from even considering their right to decide whether or not to be represented by a union. We believe that their position is completely without merit.”
The dueling lawsuits would probably mean the end of the NHL season. We’re already looking at an extremely truncated season: the All-Star Game and the Winter Classic are already scrapped. The belief among NHL types we’ve been talking with indicates that if an agreement can’t be reached by Christmas, the season will be scrapped.
Decertifying the union has been termed the nuclear option. The NHL’s position is that if the union is decertified, all contracts signed under the last Collective Bargaining Agreement are null and void. That would be bad news for teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild, who have worked to assemble young, powerful teams in the past two or three years.
“This shows in so many words that the negotiating has bogged down and the season is really in jeopardy,” said Mark Conrad, who teaches sports law at the Fordham University School of Business. “The N.H.L. is saying the fact that you are trying to disclaim interest is pre-emptive and we’re going to play chicken with you. It’s not good.”
A vote by the players to allow the board to disclaim interest would not preclude the league and the union from continuing to bargain. Despite the presence of federal mediators, the two sides have been unable to find solutions on significant issues, including salary caps, the length of player contracts and the length of the collective bargaining agreement.