NEW YORK Anticipating a possible antitrust suit, the NHL has brought its labor fight against hockey players to federal court.
The league Friday filed a class-action suit in U.S. District Court in New York, seeking to establish that its now 90-day lockout is legal. In a separate move, the NHL filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the players association has bargained in bad faith.
The NHL said it believes the unions executive board is seeking authorization to give up its collective bargaining rights, a necessary step before players could file an antitrust lawsuit.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined to comment on the leagues actions Friday. The moves were made after the sides held a bargaining teleconference, following two days of talks that included federal mediators.
Players association special counsel Steve Fehr, meanwhile, declined to comment on the lawsuits or to confirm the unions plans regarding a so-called disclaimer of interest. Fehr, who took part in the conference call earlier Friday, said the league didnt make its legal plans known during its discussions.
If players choose to pursue a disclaimer of interest, the union essentially would stop being a collective group to negotiate a labor deal with the NHL. The Canadian Press, citing unidentified sources, said the unions executive board requested a vote from its membership Thursday night that would give it the authority to file a disclaimer.
Such a move wouldnt necessarily doom the entire hockey season that already has been long-delayed and shortened.
During the NBA lockout last year, the basketball union made a similar move. But negotiations continued anyway, and a tentative agreement was reached within a couple of weeks.
The union then reformed in time for players to ratify the new deal and begin a shortened season. NFL players took the same route last year, as well.
By filing the complaint in New York, the NHL guaranteed the legality of the lockout would be decided in a court known to be sympathetic toward management. The league is concerned that if the union dissolves and seeks to have the lockout deemed illegal, players could be due triple their lost salaries if they are successful.
The sides had spent the previous two days in talks with mediators in New Jersey.
On Wednesday, union officials and league brass spoke separately to mediators and not with each other.
There were face-to-face talks between the two sides Thursday, but no progress of note was achieved.
Without the presence of mediators Friday, a small group of negotiators four aside without Commissioner Gary Bettman or union executive director Donald Fehr taking part got on the conference call.
The NHL is looking for an even split of revenues with the players. When it agreed last week to increase an offer of deferred payments from $211 million to $300 million a package aimed at making the lower percentage of revenue easier for the union to take it was part of a proposed package that required the union to agree on three non-negotiable points. Instead, the players association accepted the raise in funds but then made counterproposals on the issues the league stated had no wiggle room.
All games through Dec. 30 have been canceled, 43 percent of the season, along with the New Years Day Winter Classic and the All-Star game.
A 48-game season was played in 1995 after a lockout stretched into January. Bettman said he wouldnt have a shorter season than that. The 2004-05 season was lost completely to a labor dispute.