Haggerty: If NHL lockout hits courts, unknown awaits

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Haggerty: If NHL lockout hits courts, unknown awaits

Maybe this legal gambit will work out fantastically and end the lockout. Or maybe it will be the final nail hammered into the 2012-13 NHL regular season's coffin.

Those are the kind of wide-ranging legal opinions being tossed out as both the NHL and NHLPA weigh their arguments in case the lockout heads to court.

Legal experts can opine and give their educated takes on how things will play out if it does get to that point, but the truth is that nobody really knows. The NBA settled before things got to that point. And though the NFLPA decertified during last years lockout, the circumstances were different.

Both the NHL and NHLPA would probably like to avoid court. That would open up the possibility of a giant labor defeat for the NHL if the players win. Or, if the league wins, it could mean the voiding of all current contracts. Neither of those options are good ones for the long-term health and well-being of the NHL.

Heres what we do know: The NHLPA is currently holding an electronic vote among their 700 plus members on whether to give the Executive Committee permission to potentially file a disclaimer of interest that would essentially dissolve the union. The results of the vote should be known by Thursday, and then the NHLPA Executive Committee would have until Jan. 2 to decide on their action.

The players feel like they have done their part. They made the last offer and moved toward the NHL in CBA length, player contract rights and transitional rules. From day one, it hasn't ever felt like a negotiation to members of the NHLPA, and that certainly hasnt changed with the lockout hitting Day No. 93 on Tuesday.

The one message weve come away with over these last few months is that the league has no desire to negotiate, said a source on the players side of the table. In most negotiations both sides will give a reason why theyre standing pat on certain issues. Theyll tell you why they need something. With the NHL all you hear them say at the table is 'because thats what we need' when you try to find out what their thinking is. They dont want to have give-and-take to negotiations, and that can be difficult to deal with.

The lockout will hit Day No. 100, by the way, on Christmas Day. So theres a nice little yuletide kick in the Santa pants for hockey fans.

NHL owners, Gary Bettman and Bill Daly feel like they are done. The league has made their final offer with a 10-year CBA, a 300 million make whole provision to offset the 5050 split, five-year limits on personal player contracts and strict transitional rules with no escrow cap. Theyve repeatedly said it was the best offer they had to make, and its in the take it or leave it mode if its even still on the table. They also believe the NHLPA disclaimer of interest is a charade meant to create negotiating leverage.

Both the NHL and NHLPA feel like theyve done all they can do, and both sides are simply waiting for the other to end the stalemate.

Thats what everybody wants to hear, right?

At this point there are no winners. The owners and league are universally viewed as the entity responsible for both the lockout itself and the hard feelings that have characterized it. But the players are also taking a major hit, especially in Canada where the economy is feeling the bite of hockeys absence. Many hardcore Canadian hockey fans seem to view this as simply a battle of millionaires versus billionaires," and they've swung their support to the NHL owners, something players are keenly aware of.

The middle ground is still there for both sides, and they could hammer out a workable CBA within a few hours if thats what the NHL and NHLPA wanted. A conversation this week could make all of this moot, but sometimes the most difficult part of negotiations is when both sides sense the finish line is near.

Now it becomes about perceptions of winners and losers, and keeping promises that were made before this began in September. Realistically the NHL and NHLPA have until at least mid-January to finally agree on a CBA preceding a 48-game shortened hockey season. So neither side is in last ditch mode quite yet.

But if the union dissolves, lawsuits ensue, and the lockout moves to the federal court system, odds are that everyone loses. Then things could get awfully dark for the world of hockey. Once things are out of the hands of the players and owners, just about anything could happen.

That the situation could possibly get any murkier and gloomier than it has already become is a scary thought.