For weeks now the possibility of the NHLPA filing a "disclaimer of interest" in decertifying their union and taking the fight to anti-trust cases in U.S. court rooms has been looming.
The mere suggestion of formally voting on the beginnings of such actions was enough to prompt the NHL to respond with a multitude of seemingly pre-prepared legal actions Friday afternoon, including a class action law suit "seeking a declaration confirming the ongoing legality of the lockout" and an "unfair labor practice charge."
The filing by the NHL was made in a New York court said to be "sympathetic toward management" in cases of labor negotiations.
"The Union has threatened to pursue this course not because it is defunct or otherwise incapable of representing NHL players for purposes of collective bargaining," says the complaint document, "nor because NHL players are dissatisfied with the representation they have been provided by the NHLPA."
You can read the court documents here, via the Globe and Mail (PDF).
Basically the union is angling to potentially argue that the league has not negotiated in good faith. The league, likewise, has taken these newest steps to show that the players are attempting to use the legal system to circumvent the collective bargaining process.
The lead negotiator for the NBPA last year thinks the players are taking the right course of action, following in the NBA players foot steps as far as pursuing decertification...
"I think this is much more likely to lead to a settlement sooner," Kessler told the Winnipeg Free Press. "The players have concluded that they are on the verge of possibly deciding that it is better not to be a union and using the anti-trust laws to attack the lockout, which all fans should be happy with because it'll work."
That's a bold prediction.
The NBA players disclaimed interest in decertification last year and had a deal within two weeks. Conventional thinking suggests the NHL is trying to salvage a 48 game season. A similar time line could indeed be followed were that the case.
In court documents, NHL says NHLPA is conducting a four-day vote which would allow executive board to disband union until Jan. 2.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 15, 2012
Is this just another part of the script?
Are things happening organically now (have they ever been?), or has there been a long list of events to be ticked off along the way on the path to a true "drop dead" date, supposed by most to be about mid-January?
If that's the case then kicking the can further down the road, no matter the specific development, might be a good thing. If these legal threats on either side are part of getting to the truly substantive 11th hour then many fans might say "so be it."
The NFL and NBA players disclaimed interest (neither actually decertified their unions) much earlier in the process. Some feel the NHLPA should have done likewise to move things along. That they've waited this long could play to their favor in a real legal battle, claiming that they waited until the last possible second.
The bottom line today is that the league has taken legal action against something that hasn't happened yet in an attempt to show that it will not be scared into any actual bargaining.
You've heard this before. Many times.
Most think it's posturing, but with lead negotiators on either side acting irrationally throughout, anything is possible. Cynicism among NHL fans and media is at an all time high. A protracted legal fight would put interest in the league at an all time low.