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Saturday, December 15, 2012
NHL lawsuit is a pre-emptive strike

By Craig Custance


It wasn’t an entirely unexpected legal move, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Examining the lawsuit filed Friday by the NHL answers some of the questions raised during decertification speculation in recent weeks. The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the lockout does not violate antitrust laws, but that’s just the beginning.

Perhaps most interesting is a request made by the NHL that says if the judgment rules that a disclaimer of interest or decertification by the NHLPA is ultimately found to be valid, then all standard player contracts signed under the previous CBA would be void and unenforceable.

“In the absence of a valid CBA or collective bargaining relationship, the provisions of the NHL SPCs will no longer have any force of effect,” the lawsuit reads.

So, basically, everybody becomes a free agent in that scenario. Sure, it might lead to two or three years of court fights, but the idea is a wild one to consider.

“I’m pretty sure the Edmonton Oilers won’t like that scenario, or any team with good young players,” said one NHL source. “Steven Stamkos might get $20 million [a season] from the Toronto Maple Leafs.”

Yes, this is the start of the nuclear option.

The move is a pre-emptive strike that argues that any move toward decertification isn’t a permanent dissolving of the union but instead a tactic designed “only to misuse the antitrust laws in an effort to secure more favorable collective terms and conditions of employment and deny the NHL its right to engage in a lawful lockout."

On Friday, colleague Pierre LeBrun reported that the union’s executive board has been cleared to gauge its membership with a disclaimer of interest vote. The lawsuit says that vote is to be taken over the next four days.

Many players and union leadership have been careful in saying decertification is an option of last resort. Still, the lawsuit argues that “many Union members have publicly asserted that they intend to decertify the Union.”

Among the players the league singled out as mentioning decertification as a “strategy” were Ryan Miller, Brad Richards, Ray Whitney, Shawn Thornton, Cory Schneider, Matt Stajan, Dan “Clearly” [sic; should be Dan Cleary], Chris Campoli, Jonathan Toews, Troy Brouwer, Daniel Alfredsson, George Parros and Andrew Ladd.

The lawsuit cites everything from local radio and newspaper interviews to comments from player Twitter accounts. It’s clear the NHL has been watching.

Other points of interest in the lawsuit:

-- According to the lawsuit, the NHL has produced more than 200,000 pages of NHL and team financial information to the NHLPA, “documents relating to officiating records and broadcast contracts, and other highly confidential and proprietary information of the League.”

-- In case you lost track, the lawsuit breaks down all the CBA offers made between both sides: “... the NHL made oral and/or written proposals on July 13, July 25, July 31, August 28, October 16 and November 8 and the NHLPA made oral and/or written proposals on August 14, August 23, August 28, September 12, October 18, November 7 and November 21."

-- What monopoly? The league argues that professional hockey leagues in Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and other European countries are “viable substitutes for the NHL, as evidenced by the fact that NHL players routinely elect to play in a European league instead of in the NHL.” The league points out that there are currently more than 100 NHL players in Europe and that 400 players played in Europe during the last lockout. “For this reason, the impact of the NHL lockout on the market for the services of professional hockey players is minimal.”