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NHL Lockout Watch 2012: Negotiations as of December 17

NHL and the Players' Association prepare to bring their battle to the courtroom.

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As the NHL lockout turns into a courtroom drama, keep in mind that the two sides are still free to keep talking, in hopes of reaching a new collective agreement.

That said, they haven't met since a brief get-together last week, with no meaningful talks since everything fell apart on December 6.

It should also be noted that the recent flurry of filings and complaints between the NHL and NHL Players' Association is very similar to what the NFL and NBA went through in their latest lockouts.

Both disputes were ultimately resolved. So an optimist could argue that it's all part of the process.

With the lawyers apparently taking charge, this fight won't get any simpler.

For now, we'll cut through the jargon and provide basic explanations of the latest legal jockeying.

But keep in mind that these are simplified explanations, and don't account for various nuances and details that could come into play as the process grinds on.

The NHLPA and the "Disclaimer of Interest"

A couple of weeks ago, everyone was talking about "decertification" as an option for the NHL Players' Association, a process that would effectively dissolve the union.

The "disclaimer of interest" is a shortcut to a similar end.

While decertification can be a lengthy legal process, a disclaimer can be achieved within days.

NHL players are currently voting on whether to approve a disclaimer of interest filing.

Once approved by two-thirds of the NHLPA members, the executive board has until January 2 to formally end its representation of he players.

Then what?

In theory, the now-unrepresented employees of the NHL go to court and seek to have the lockout declared illegal.

U.S. law prohibits an employer from locking out workers who are not represented by a union.

Without a union or collective agreement, the players could also sue the league for antitrust violations, a case that could spend years in court.

The NHL Takes the Players' Association to Court

The NHL knew the NHLPA's disclaimer vote was coming (anyone who followed the NFL and NBA lockouts has seen how all these steps are choreographed in advance).

So the league is trying to grab an early lead in the courtroom game.

The NHL's suit, filed in New York, seeks to have the lockout declared legal before any player has a chance to claim otherwise.

The league argues that the lockout does not restrict competition in the hockey player marketplace, because many locked-out NHL players have found work in other leagues in North America and Europe.

The league also says that if the NHLPA is allowed to dissolve, all existing agreements made with the players will be void, including all individual player contracts.

In a second move, the NHL has gone to the National Labor Relations Board with an unfair labor practice charge against the NHLPA.

In essence, the league alleges that the disclaimer move is dishonest: the players don't truly want an end to their union. The disclaimer vote is a negotiating ploy designed to put pressure on the league.

That, the NHL argues, is a "perversion" of labor law.

What Happens in the Meantime?

While we await the result of the players' disclaimer vote, we can only hope that the legal maneuvering prompts both sides to renew their efforts at a negotiated settlement.

"Ultimately, a deal will have to be agreed to, regardless of the forum," NHL VP Bill Daly told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune this week. "I suppose it is ultimately up to them to choose what forum that will be, but the Union pretending it's not a Union anymore certainly isn't going to expedite things."

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