On November 30th, in this space, I wrote:
"Decertification of the NHLPA is real and it could happen quickly. If the players do decide to move forward with it, the only way we see NHL hockey this season might be by court order. And while the league will file their own motion to justify the lockout, it has become too apparent to many that sticks and jerseys will soon be replaced by gavels and robes."
And here we are.
Starting Sunday, the members of the NHL Players’ Association will begin voting whether or not to give the union’s Executive Board the authority to give the National Hockey League a notice of disclaimer. That disclaimer will tell the NHL that the union no longer represents the players in bargaining for a new collective bargaining agreement.
The 720 players will take five days to vote over the internet. If two-thirds of the members agree to give the Board that authority, they have until January 2, 2013 to give the league notice. If the NHLPA doesn’t give notice by that date, it will have to ask the members for another vote.
If they do give notice the chain of events that began in the last 48 hours will continue, or even accelerate, giving the NHL cause to litigate its class-action suit that was filed in New York on Friday. That suit, which named the Players’ Association and 36 individual players, claimed the NHL lockout is legal because the players have plotted to use decertification as a negotiating ploy, which should therefore be considered in bad faith.
And quite frankly, if all of that occurs, many are saying that’s when the season is over. Yes, as soon as the first week of January.
I don’t believe the players want this. I don’t believe the owners want this. But this is where the NHL game is going, to the courts.
For those of us “around” the game, it’s heartbreaking. To the millions of fans and thousands of part-time workers and staff members at the team and league level, it’s alarming.
But it is real.
Both sides have accused the other being deceitful. Both have pointed fingers at the leadership on the other side of the table and called for votes of confidence by the opposition. Both have claimed that the other side doesn’t really want to negotiate.
I am of the belief that the players’ support of Donald Fehr has been underestimated by the owners. Even though their own law firm warned them in the spring of what Fehr would bring to the table. What will be telling is the final tally of the upcoming vote by the players to demonstrate their support for Don.
I also believe that Fehr’s voluminous knowledge underestimated the resolve of the NHL owners. I don’t care that he doesn’t know hockey, but I do believe that he misjudged hockey people (and that includes the Commissioner).
As harmful to the business as this lockout has been, we have no idea the damage that these legalities may bring.
It’s just plain sad.
The NHLPA feels it has given away far too much in this negotiation. The NHL feels it can’t move any more than it already has. And the gap, the chasm, the Grand Canyon between the two appears as if it will never be bridged. The two parties couldn’t build the bridge. The U.S. Federal Mediators couldn’t build the bridge. Now it appears we are on the verge of seeing if a judge in a U.S. Federal Court can tell them how to build the bridge.
Now we are at the point where the union is on the verge of saying it does not represent its membership, and the league is saying that it has always bargained with the union as a whole, and therefore it can lock out players no matter what.
To me, the players lose, the owners lose and the fans lose.
The only winners appear to be the lawyers.
I’m far from naive, but we may look back at these past few days as the time when professional hockey truly lost its innocence.
In our business, you are always asked to tell stories or make an analogy. To me, this is the first Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed. Both boxers on the verge of exhaustion trying for one last great punch, and they knock each other out. But in the reality we are watching, no one gets up. I’m sure hope we are not at that point, but it sure looks like it.