If the NHL lockout wasn't ugly already then we've certainly reached the Mike Ricci level on the ugly meter now.
The NHL and the NHLPA have now turned to the courts as the league made several filings on Friday in advance of what is going to be a vote by the union to allow their representation to disclaim interest. The NHL is saying such a move is merely a threat being used by the PA and they are negotiating in bad faith, and have taken steps to have the lockout ruled as legal before the players even have a chance to claim against it.
Of course the lockout is legal is now. The union is still in tact. The players wouldn't be able to fight the lockout in antitrust suits until after the union disbands, and that vote won't be finalized until after a five-day voting period that is supposedly starting today.
So, basically, we've reached the point where we are turning to the courts based on hypotheticals.
The NBA and that situation last year followed the exact same pattern as what we're seeing now (actually, it seems the NHL and NHLPA are just blindly copying the NBA at this point) and the players run the same risk now that they do then. If the union does disclaim interest -- which they will most certainly vote to do -- then they have to decide on whether to file antitrust litigation.
There's a strong chance, however, that the lockout is still deemed lawful, especially if the courts determine that disclaiming of interest is merely a bargaining tool, then the players basically lose the last bastion of leverage they had left. So, is this vote to disclaim interest the first of a series of serious legal moves or are the players just trying to do what little they can to try and force a deal?
"We just feel at this point the union has done everything they can for us and we're not getting anywhere," Shawn Horcoff told ESPN's Craig Custance.
The big irony in all of this is that the NHL has been trying to bust the union for years now and they sort of accomplished it in 2004-2005; now they are going to court to keep the union for busting itself and to say they must legally not be allowed to disclaim interest. That's where we are now.
Speaking of hypotheticals, the big news over the weekend was the revelation that the NHL could seek to have all NHL contracts voided if the union does disclaim interest in representing the players.
"The NHL requests a declaration that, if the NHLPA's decertification or disclaimer were not deemed invalid by the NLRB, and the collective bargaining relationship between the parties were not otherwise to continue, all existing contracts between NHL players and NHL teams (known as Standard Player's Contracts or "SPCs") would be void and unenforceable," according to the filing.
All 700+ players in the NHL would suddenly be deemed a free agent, if the courts agreed with the NHL on this matter, in what would surely be the Armageddon that would finally create a massive upheaval in the league that would change everything we know about the NHL. This is the league's final trump card, this is the NHL going all-in and saying to the players, "if you don't want to take our deal and decide to file suit against us, there's a chance every single contract is then voided."
Whether we actually reach that point is irrelevant; what matters is that the threat is out there.
The NHLPA will likely vote to allow the board to disclaim interest if they find it necessary but what happens next is still unclear. We could be in for a long court battle that almost certainly ends this season and threatens the very nature of the league itself or we could be reaching a point were logic finally prevails in this sea of idiocy that continues to swell with each passing day.
And so, we wait. No meetings have been scheduled, although we were told these legal moves are supposed to spark the "final talks" so that a deal can finally be reached. With this group, however, there's no telling what will happen.
What is needed at this point is for one side to provide one more compromised offer, one that the moderate representatives could bring to their respective constituencies for a vote. Moderates on both sides have indicated to ESPN.com over the past few days that is how this thing finally ends.
Problem is, they disagree on how to come up with that proposal. The folks on the league/ownership side say it's up to the NHLPA to come up with the next proposal. The players we've talked to tell ESPN.com they believe it's up to the league to provide the next offer.
Picture me now banging my head against the wall. Repeatedly.
Finally, here's a great resource if you want to try and understand all of the legal gobbletygook, which features this incredibly awesome piece:
Is the NHL's lawsuit a surprise?
No. The NBA did precisely the same thing in August 2011. The NBA filed its lawsuit in New York, asked the Court to declare the lockout legal, and requested that the Court declare all NBA player contracts void if the NBPA was dissolved by way of a disclaimer or decertification.
So that's why the NHL's strategy sounds familiar.
I hate lawyers.
I understand. I barely like myself.