TORONTO -- With a lockout seemingly inevitable, the NHL may be planning to divide and conquer. If a new collective bargaining agreement is not in place at midnight tomorrow, the NHL will likely lock out its players.
But if the lockout drags on until next September, the word is NHL commissioner Gary Bettman may try to break the players' union by declaring an impasse under United States labour laws.
Yesterday, a league source said he's heard that Bettman and the league might try to reopen the NHL in September, 2005 if there's no CBA in place with the NHL Players' Association.
Under the plan, the following could be put into place.
After bargaining in good faith, the NHL could declare an impasse under U.S. labour laws and institute a new CBA with different work rules for the players.
The league could attempt to impose:
- A $31-million (all terms US) salary cap.
- Non-guaranteed contracts, along with reduced qualifying offers.
- Contracts would all be two-way deals.
- Dramatically reduced pension and medical benefits.
The source said once the league declares the impasse, Bettman could then open the doors for business. Since the NHLPA wouldn't want to return under those types of rules, it could force the union to hold a vote.
"If the league uses this tactic, then this is nothing more than an attempt to break the union," said the source.
"I would think the league would hope that 40-50% of the players would decide to return.
"Let's face it: At that point, these guys wouldn't have received paycheques in 18 months."
Though this seems a little far-fetched and wouldn't take place unless the lockout dragged on until next year, there's enough bad blood between the two sides that this scenario could unfold.
The NHL's board of governors will meet tomorrow in New York at 11 a.m. to get an update on talks from Bettman and league VP Bill Daly before making a final decision to cancel the start of training camps and impose a lockout.
The meeting probably won't take long because the league has been preparing for this day for a long time.
The governors are simply expected to rubber stamp Bettman's recommendation.
One guy who won't be getting involved in the talks initially is Phoenix owner Wayne Gretzky. He said he remains hopeful the two sides can find a resolution.
"This is way over my head," said Gretzky with a smile. "Quite frankly, Bob Goodenow works really hard for the union and (Gary Bettman) works really hard for the owners. It's in their hands."
- The NHL's labour impasse needs to be resolved by January to ensure the league's participation in the 2006 Olympic Games, the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation said yesterday. Rene Fasel stressed that wasn't his organization's deadline.
He said the January cutoff is based on a conversation he had with Bettman.