NHL Lockout: Legal Action Is Only Option When League and NHLPA Won't Negotiate

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2012

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
NHL commissioner Gary BettmanBruce Bennett/Getty Images

Taking legal action is the only option left for the NHL and NHLPA in this lockout because neither side is willing to negotiate in good faith right now.

However, if these legal actions don't lead to more negotiating, the NHL could operate a lot differently in the fall of 2013.

There are so many possibilities if both sides pursue further legal actions, and all parties involved have a lot to lose in court. It's not worth risking what each side already has now.

According to TSN's Aaron Ward, the players' union is exploring another legal option in their labor battle with the NHL.

NHLPA Executive Board voted last night,to give players a vote to AUTHORIZE Exec Board to chose to proceed on Disclaimer of Interest #TSN

— Aaron Ward (@aaronward_nhl) December 14, 2012

The league quickly responded on Friday (via NHL press release):

Today, in response to information indicating that NHL Players have or will be asked to vote to authorize the National Hockey League Players' Association's Executive Board to proceed to "disclaim interest" in continuing to represent the Players in collective bargaining, the National Hockey League filed a Class Action Complaint in Federal Court in New York seeking a Declaration confirming the ongoing legality of the lockout.

Simultaneously with the filing of its Complaint, the NHL also filed an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that by threatening to "disclaim interest," the NHLPA has engaged in an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process and conduct that constitutes bad faith bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act.

The NHLPA then reacted to the league's decision:

The NHLPA has just received a copy of the National Labor Relations Board charge and has not yet been served with the lawsuit. However, based on what we’ve learned so far, the NHL appears to be arguing that Players should be stopped from even considering their right to decide whether or not to be represented by a union. We believe that their position is completely without merit.

Can we really expect the two sides to go down this legal path all the way through? No, because the consequences are too severe for both sides.

Anything can happen in the courts, and it's possible that the owners could end up losing a lot of money in the courts, as well as the salary cap, and it's also possible for the players to lose even more than they already have.

If the system is blown up, it's hard to imagine a few teams being able to survive. According to Forbes.com, 13 teams weren't able to make money last season, including nine teams that lost $9 million or more.

The players understand they have already lost this lockout, which was expected. They have agreed to a smaller share of hockey-related revenue (HRR), they have given up contracting rights by proposing eight-year term limits and they could lose on CBA term, too.

The end-game for the players is to frustrate the owners and scare them because it's too easy for the league to lockout the players when a CBA expires.

For the players to prevent the owners from being quick to lock them out down the road, the union has to make this process as frustrating and difficult as possible.

If the union doesn't show a high level of resolve now, they will continue to lose labor negotiations well into the future, and lockouts will become an regular part of the NHL every decade.

Hopefully both sides are not foolish enough to wipe out an entire season and pursue lengthy legal battles over easily negotiable issues such as player contracting rights. Hockey fans will hope that these legal decisions force both sides to stop the nonsense and negotiate a deal.

When the NBPA began to take legal action during last year's NBA lockout, a deal was reached in the near future because both the owners and players made compromises and softened their stance on some issues.

Will we see a similar willingness to negotiate between the NHL and NHLPA as the legal actions commence?

For both the owners and players' long-term success, neither side should go much further with legal actions and get back to the bargaining table so they can reach a deal.