The NHL players came one step closer to breaking up their union on Friday, two members of the NHLPA confirmed.
The NHLPA’s 700-plus membership overwhelmingly voted to allow its executive board to file a disclaimer of interest with the National Labor Relations Board if it sees fit.
By filing that disclaimer, the NHLPA would basically break itself up.
Doing so, the players hope, will help bring an end to a lockout that nears its 100th day and has been going on since September.
“We need to start playing already. This has been a long four months,” Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky said after Friday’s workout with a handful of teammates at Glacier Ice in Lighthouse Point.
“Obviously, it’s tough to negotiate when you don’t have a partner. Negotiating isn’t take it or leave it. It’s finding solutions. There is only one side doing that, and it’s frustrating. We’re trying to find the positives. We’re skating, working out and hoping for the best.”
By sticking together as a union, the NHLPA would be able to negotiate as one large group. But by breaking up, individual players would be able to file suit against the NHL.
The league’s owners could certainly survive a lengthy legal process. But if the players were to win an antitrust lawsuit, the whole way the NHL does business could be threatened.
And that may be enough to jump-start negotiations to end the lockout.
This week’s vote by the NHLPA doesn’t mean the union will break up. But it could do so soon with no further vote.
“I’m still hoping to get something done,” Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver said. “It’s in everyone’s best interest — from the players to concession-stand workers to bars around the arenas — to get a deal done.
“Forget about everything else. We need to get something done. And to do that we need a fair agreement. We as players have been more than fair.”
The NHL already has filed a federal class-action lawsuit in New York defending its right to lock out its players. The league also filed an unfair labor charge with the NLRB.
Players hope the lockout ends soon enough to salvage at least a 48-game schedule as it did in 1994-95 after a lockout.
The NHL canceled the entire 2004-05 season in February 2005 when an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement couldn’t be reached. The two sides finally agreed to a new deal in the summer of 2005 — and that CBA recently expired.
Players don’t want to lose another year of their career — or the money that comes with it. A deal would need to be reached by mid-January for a season to be played this year.
“It’s tough but you’re not going to beat yourself up over it. It is what it is,” said Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who lost about $4 million the Vancouver Canucks were to pay him in 2004-05. Jovanovski was scheduled to make around the same amount from the Panthers this season.
“I have confidence in the people we have working for us, and there are smart people on the other side as well. Hopefully, we can find some common ground.”
Said goalie Jose Theodore (who was making around $5 million during the previous lockout): “I know the numbers are huge. Players are making money, and the owners are making money. There’s money there. But you need a fair deal not one that is one-sided. You have to make the best deal possible.”
The NHLPA said it would have played this season under the previous CBA — one in which the players took in 57 percent of the league’s record $3.3 billion in revenue last year.
The NHL rejected that idea and officially locked the players out on Sept. 16.
“If the owners wanted hockey to be played, we would have been on the ice in September under the old CBA,” Kopecky said. “They were the ones who designed the CBA we agreed to and helped grow record revenues. The whole business is growing. It’s mind-blowing to me that we’re not playing. It’s tough.”