Hint of disclaimer clever move by players

A week that produced zero progress at least produced en eye-catching storyline before the weekend arrived.

The NHL Players’ Association sent a strong message to the NHL when news broke Friday that the players’ executive board voted unanimously in favor Thursday night of asking the entire membership of 700-plus players to vote on whether to give the executive board the power to execute a disclaimer of interest.

The key here is that executive board isn’t saying it’s going to definitely go down this route. But it just wants the hammer IF it decides to go down this route.

It’s actually a clever play by the players. On the one hand, you get across your message loud and clear to the NHL, your prototypical pressure tactic to try to get the league to move off its latest offer, and yet you haven’t actually filed the disclaimer of interest. You’re just hinting at it.

Now, it’s not as if the NHL didn’t see this coming. The league, in fact, prepped the board of governors for such an occurrence last week when it met in New York. And in conversations with league sources throughout this lockout, it’s clear they’ve been ready for this.

On Friday, the league made a preemptive strike by filing both a class-action complaint in Federal Court and an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

The league's play here was a preemptive lawsuit to get the court to declare any disclaimer by NHLPA as disingenuous. The Unfair Labor Practice Charge is to establish that threats to disclaim/decertify is bad faith bargaining. Whether or not the NHL gets its way here, that's way above my paygrade and understanding.

But it's official: the gloves are off in a whole new way now in the NHL's labor impasse.

But it doesn’t mean that those moderate owners trying through the grapevine to keep reasonable dialogue going -- look no further than the governor who gave his idea of a solution/proposal to Scott Burnside -- won’t be alarmed by Friday’s news from the NHLPA camp.

What those moderate owners might fear is that the hardliners are winning over the moderates in the player camp and that what seems like such a small gap separating both sides on the key issues might now widen if this thing gets nasty.

And believe me, it will get nasty if the players go down this route. The league and its owners will just bomb the whole season if the players ever actually officially file a disclaimer of interest. That’s my guess, anyway.

So, in the meantime, for those hockey fans who still care to see hockey this season, and I think I can count you on my fingers now, the hope is that the moderates on both sides step up their back-channeling efforts to get a deal done.

It’s clear from my conversations with a few players Friday that if the NHL ever moved its player contract term limit to six years instead of five, and compromised a little more on the transition rules (compliance buyouts), that would be greatly appealing to many players. At least enough to bring a vote, anyway.

My sense is that the NHL would only consider this if the NHLPA put it on paper in an official new proposal. And I’m not saying the NHL would accept it, but I think they’d look hard at it.

Thing is, my sense is that the players want the league to make that its next proposal, not the other way around.

And so while they stare at each other like Grade 9 students at their first dance, the wheels are suddenly in motion on the other end of things -- nasty, nasty legal options that could guarantee no hockey this season.

Let’s hope option No. 1 still wins out.