Troubled Times Ahead For NHL?

As if the waters weren’t rough enough already in the current NHL lockout, the forecast is calling for troubled times ahead.  When talks broke off some ten days ago, the word decertification again became a word that was used a lot.  Then late last week we heard the NHLPA had voted Thursday night in what turned out to be a unanimous decision to allow the 700+ players vote on whether or not to dissolve the player’s union. In other words, let the legal war begin.

The voting is said to begin Sunday and run for the next five days that will see the players vote electronically.  To be clear, they players are not voting on whether or not the union will decertify, but rather whether the player’s will allow the union to have that final decision. Basically if the vote swings in favor of giving the union that power, it would then be up to the likes of Donald Fehr and the 30-member executive to take it to the next step and enforce the decertification.  They have until January 2nd to do so, if given that power.

According to TSN.ca, if the union was to dissolve the players could challenge the lockout in a court room and file what is called “anti-trust lawsuits against the league.”  I’m not a lawyer and I won’t attempt to get into the details of the potential lawsuits etc, but it is worth noting that if the players were to win this battle in the court and have the ruling favor them in that the lockout was illegal, the players could see damages in the form of triple their current salaries.  Of course if they lose they get jack squat and will have lost yet another entire season of game action.

As suspected, the league’s owners were more than ready for this potential move from the players as they responded on Friday by filing a class-action lawsuit of their own. Their stance according to TSN.ca is that the owners feel the NHLPA is using the “disclaimer of interest” as a bargaining tactic to “extract more favorable terms and conditions of employment” – courtesy of the Canadian Press.

The league also went on to file an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board. Rough waters have suddenly turned into title waves that could wipe out the NHL’s regular season.  It’s getting ugly real fast and it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone given the emotion we’ve seen from both sides when the negotiations continue to stall after numerous attempts.

Should the lockout head down this path the only hope hockey fans have is from past lockouts in other sports, more specifically the NBA and NFL.  Both sports saw their respective player’s associations dissolve, only to have a deal in place for a new CBA a few days later that then saw the union reform and carry on with business as usual.

After seeing little progress made when Gary Bettman and Fehr are involved in the negotiations, maybe this route isn’t so bad? If it worked in two other lockouts, maybe it would be enough to jumpstart an agreement between the two sides and get hockey back in the NHL rinks across North America.

Of course the NBA and NFL didn’t have Donald Fehr representing the player’s in either of those situations and Gary Bettman and the owners are proving that they don’t like dealing with Fehr.  If it in fact has turned personal then there is no hope of having hockey this year.  If the union decertifies and it goes to the courts, there is the lingering possibility that there won’t be hockey next year either.

Rough times appear imminent for the NHL.  All we as fans can do is put on our life preserver and hope for the best.  If the boat gets capsized, well, it wouldn’t be surprising to see many fans swim to shore and abandon the NHL.  Nothing but frustration and cold, lonely times await in the troubled waters of the game.

We’ll know Thursday if this boat has veered of course and is headed for dangerous waters.

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