Lockout Looks Likely For NHL
By Stephen London
The NHL's preseason is in serious jeopardy after Thursday’s and Friday's talks between the NHLPA and the NHL representatives produced nothing substantial. Numerous times during this grueling process, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said there would be an immediate lockout if a deal was not made by 11:59 p.m. Sept. 15.
"The league is not in a position, not willing to move forward with another season under the status quo," Bettman said during a press conference Thursday.
Despite the ultimatum, the NHL players have maintained a united front. From executive director Donald Fehr down to each of the 200-plus players in New York City for the labor talks, all are carrying the same message: The lockout is not our decision.
"The players very much want to reach a decision," Fehr said Friday.
"It's their decision," said Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver, referring to the potential lockout.
The fact that nothing was gained during the talks Thursday and Friday means that, inevitably, the lockout will begin tonight. The owners simply want the players to take a cut in hockey-related revenue in one way or another. The first proposal by the NHL had the players taking a percentage cut from 57 percent to 43 percent.
Saturday night would mark the third lockout during Bettman's reign as commissioner. The 1994-95 lockout led to 468 games being canceled during a span of 103 days. In 2004-05, the entire NHL season was called off. After the entire season was lost, the players accepted a CBA that included a 24-percent drop in salaries. Former NHL executive director Bob Goodenow resigned within two weeks after signing the newest CBA. After getting a great deal from the NHLPA, the owners are seeking yet another sizeable piece of the players’ proverbial pie.
What makes things interesting is the labor hearing between Quebec and Alberta labor boards. In an attempt to sidetrack the owners, Fehr brought a labor dispute in Canada because the NHLPA is not a certified labor union in those specific provinces.
Because the NHLPA is not recognized as a union north of the border, the players that suit up for the NHL teams in those areas would have to be paid regardless of a lockout. The reason for this is the NHL did not have a mediator, among other requirements, for the labor talks to be deemed legitimate.
The NHLPA was seeking an immediate injunction on the NHL, while the NHL wanted a dismissal. Neither side got what it wanted, but both sides seemed pretty happy considering their opponents did not achieve what they had hoped.
"We are hopeful that this ruling will cause the players' association to cease pursuing these needless distractions and instead focus all of its efforts and energies on making progress at the bargaining table," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.
"While the commission denied the players' request for emergency relief, it also rejected the NHL's request to dismiss the case," Don Zavelo, the players' association's general counsel, said in a statement after the ruling. "The ruling acknowledges that the players have raised issues about the legality of the NHL's planned lockout that requires a full hearing on the merits."
Although it did not produce immediate results, Fehr's decision to be heard in front of the labor commissions in Alberta and Quebec is the kind of thing that has upheld Fehr's reputation as one of the most respected negotiators in sports-labor disputes.
Fehr is most notably remembered as the leader of Major League Baseball's player union, when he kept the owners from installing a salary cap. Basically, Fehr has fought for multiple players' unions and has won battles against some notorious franchise owners.
The NHL and Bettman may not be scared by Fehr's history, but that will probably change. But the Fehr fear factor might not kick in until regular season games are canceled and the full hearings are carried out in front of the labor commissions. So what happens to the players while negotiations take place between Bettman and the owners? For starters, players have already been signing contracts with other leagues in case there is a lockout.
But, according to a story by Pierre LeBrun on ESPN.com, there are a few rules and special cases during a lockout. For example, injured players are entitled to their full salary until team doctors clear them to return. The players that were just recently drafted from the junior leagues and are 19 or younger will be sent back to their junior league teams. Also, all signing bonuses will still be paid out in full.
If a player sustains an injury while playing in another league, the team reserves the right to suspend him without pay until doctors clear him to return.
With the Sept. 15 deadline looming, more and more players will sign tentative contracts with European or Russian teams. At this point, a lockout is inevitable, but whether regular-season games will be canceled remains to be seen. The preseason games start Sept. 2, while the regular season is scheduled to start on Oct. 1.
Posted Sept. 15, 2012