The wheels have already been set in motion.
As the NHL enters the final days under its collective bargaining agreement, both the owners and players have meetings scheduled in New York where they’ll discuss an impending lockout. But unless the sides can find a way to get back to the bargaining table and hammer out an unlikely deal before 11:59 p.m. ET on Saturday, it’s a mere formality.
“The commissioner doesn’t need specific board authorization to institute or implement a lockout,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press in a recent interview. “That has been granted already in connection with his authority to conduct collective bargaining.”
Essentially, the NHL is back where it started when the current CBA was signed in July 2005. That six-year deal — extended through a seventh because of an option held by the NHL Players’ Association — ended a lockout that saw the league become the first in North America to ever have an entire season wiped out by a work stoppage.
The union is planning its largest gathering since that deal was ratified with more than 200 players expected to attend meetings Wednesday and Thursday. A number of stars, Sidney Crosby among them, are expected to take part in the show of strength.
“We want to brief the broadest possible group of players and it’s always better to do it in person,” said Donald Fehr, the NHLPA’s executive director. “Whenever you’re facing the possibility of a lockout what you need to do is make it as easy as possible for the maximum number of your constituents to hear it directly.
His phone has already been ringing off the hook. With very little progress to report during negotiations, a number of players have started looking around at other options.
“We have to,” said Fehr. “We basically have to say ‘You have your contracts, you have the circumstances, this is what we think is likely to happen in negotiations. . . . If you’re going to consider playing elsewhere, here’s the things we think you need to think about.’”
There will be some immediate changes if a deal isn’t reached by Sunday. The NHL plans to adopt a policy similar to those instituted by the NBA and NFL during recent lockouts that forbids team employees from being in contact with players.
One important difference from the league’s last labour disruption is that the owners and players are fighting to divide up $ 3.3 billion in annual revenues — a significant jump from the $ 2.1 billion it was generating seven years ago.
“We’ve already damaged our business and I imagine if we go past (Sept.) 15th and we engage in a work stoppage that it will obviously do further damage to our business,” said Daly. “All of this is adding up, it’s a cumulative effect, it’s a fact of life. . . .