The National Hockey League Players’ Association now has the power to blow itself up.
The only question is: Will its executive board decide to do so?
The union’s 750 or so players voted over the past five days, ending on Friday at noon, to give the NHLPA’s board members the authority to file a disclaimer of interest.
That legal procedure would dissolve the union, allowing the players’ lawyers to pursue antitrust litigation in the United States and attempt to end the 95-day-old lockout through the courts.
The players’ unions of both the NFL and the NBA disclaimed interest during their lockouts last year.
The NHL players’ decision comes one week after the league filed a class-action lawsuit against the union, arguing the lockout was legal and the union’s push to disclaim interest and decertify was a sham aimed only at improving players’ negotiating leverage.
Because that matter is before the courts and the league’s suit used players’ comments to the media and on Twitter in it, players were silent on the disclaimer of interest vote on Friday.
The only word that leaked out was that the vote was overwhelming, which was to be expected given that at least two-thirds of the membership had to say “yes” to approve the measure. According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, of the 728 players who cast a vote, 706 chose yes (97 per cent).
“We will not be making any sort of public announcement concerning this internal NHLPA matter,” union spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said Friday. “The PA remains focused on reaching a new agreement.”
The players who did speak Friday continued to blame the lockout on the NHL’s commissioner.
“This is all part of Gary Bettman’s book,” Washington Capitals veteran Jason Chimera told CSN Washington. “He seems to be bent on ruining the game. If that’s what he’s out to do, he’s sure doing a good job of it. It’s disappointing. We’re willing to get a deal done and try to sit down and talk with no preconditions and they don’t want to talk.
“If they set agendas, we’re done. We’ve got to start talking. We’re still not that far apart. It’s just a matter of getting it done. We want to sit down and they don’t want to meet at this point.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told various media outlets that Friday’s vote should not have any effect on negotiations.
If the NHLPA is to dissolve, it will have to happen by Jan. 2, giving players some 10 days to mull the option.
“It’s the hammer if the NHL refuses to negotiate to a deal,” one player source said.
For now, it’s believed players are hoping the threat of dissolving the union will be enough to spur negotiations, which have stalled the past two weeks despite little separating the two sides.
Remaining at issue are mainly three items: the length of the next collective agreement, the limitations on contract length and variation year to year, and transitional measures such as buyouts and an escrow cap that would be in addition to the players’ share.
The two sides also disagree on where the salary cap should be set, with the league requesting a $60-million (all currency U.S.) limit for the next two seasons, and the NHLPA arguing for a $67.25-million cap that will never shift lower than that figure.
They have roughly three or four weeks to put together a deal in order to play a 48-game season, which is considered the minimum possible to salvage the 2012-13 campaign.
While there’s optimism they’ll get there, no negotiations are scheduled.