It's possible the stalled NHL talks could move from a mediator's office to a courtroom.
The executive board of the NHL Players' Association decided Thursday night to allow players to vote on whether to dissolve the union via a disclaimer of interest, TSN reported this afternoon. If the players vote "yes," the NHLPA would walk away from its role as a representative of the players, who could then sue the league for antitrust violations.
"The consequences are you would not have collective bargaining anymore, so the owners would have potentially some antitrust exposure," Richard D. Furlong, a Buffalo labor lawyer for Lipsitz, Green, Scime and Cambria, said by phone. "The owners could not collude and basically join together to set the price of labor outside the context of collective bargaining. There are exceptions in collective bargaining that would otherwise be illegal.
"So if you’re not engaged in collective bargaining, it would put the owners in a precarious situation with respect to antitrust laws."
Commissioner Gary Bettman scoffed at the possibility of a disclaimer of interest last week.
"We don’t view it in the same way, in terms of its impact, as apparently the union may," Bettman said. "It’s not something that we focus on."
Furlong, a certified agent for Professional Lacrosse Players Association
and a former agent for the National Football League Players Association, said the league should focus on the possibility.
"I think they should be worried about it," Furlong said. "The bottom line is that this has been done before by unions within the context of collective bargaining in sports, and it has put the employers back on their heels with respect to the antitrust statutes.
"Bettman probably is and should be worried about this."