Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE
Owners in pro sports leagues have been using lockouts as their tactic of choice. Dissolving unions to file antitrust lawsuits has been one tactic to counter that.
As the NHL announces that games have been canceled through December 15th, there are two things you need to know about the state of the lockout:
1. The two sides are not very far apart, despite what the NHL keeps claiming as loudly as possible.
2. After the NHL rejected their last proposal, the players' frustration is mounting and may lead them to decertify the union.
What effect could decertification have? If successful, the breakup of the NHLPA would leave the players free to file antitrust lawsuits against the owners. In the last round of NBA negotiations, CBA talks were wrapped up shortly after that step was taken. Decertification is difficult, costly, and has no guarantee of success, but that legal uncertainty could also produce leverage.
If the owners begin taking the players seriously, this could produce results. Alternatively, they could continue to underestimate the players' resolve, react with more anger than sense, and kill the season over a paltry amount rather than cut a deal.
It may sound crazy, but that's the state of the NHL. Jeremy Jacobs, the biggest hawk of all, heads the board of governors. Three other hardliners sit on the negotiating committee with him. They only need 8 votes to block any moderates, and the NHL owns Phoenix.
Common sense suggests that a deal to bridge the small gap will be made swiftly -- following the pattern set by the NBA -- but with a rogue minority in charge of this league, I can't rule stupidity out.
Here are some good articles which cover the latest issues in labor talks and get into the nitty-gritty of decertification:
LeBrun argues that if you tune out the noise, they're closer to a deal. [ESPN]
The NHL appears obsessed with the idea that Fehr is misleading his union members, but his long history with the MLB shows otherwise. [Washington Post]
Ryan Miller goes on record an explains why he thinks decertification would push the NHL to deal. [Globe & Mail]
Friedman does a Q & A with a sports law expert and explains the risks and benefits of decertification. [CBC]