NHL players are a step closer to dissolving their union, which would clear the path for players to file antitrust lawsuits against the NHL in their protracted labour dispute.
Union members voted this week to give the players' association's executive board the power to file a "disclaimer of interest" until January 2.
A person familiar with the outcome of the vote said the measure passed easily, drawing more than the two-thirds majority that was necessary. However, the executive board hasn't made plans yet to meet to discuss whether to file the disclaimer. If the January 2 deadline passes, another authorisation vote could be held to approve a filing at a later date.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the results of the vote had not been announced.
If the executive board files the disclaimer, the union would dissolve and become a trade association, allowing the players to file lawsuits against the NHL.
Negotiations between the NHL and the union have been at a standstill since talks ended on December 6.
Time is running short to save the season, with all games through January 14 already canceled. A new labour agreement would need to be in place by about that time to salvage a 48-game schedule, the minimum in Commissioner Gary Bettman's opinion for the season to proceed.
The NHL is the only North American professional sports league to cancel an entire season because of a labour dispute, losing the 2004-05 campaign to a lockout.
The NHLPA now appears set to follow the lead set by NFL and NBA players. Both dissolved their unions during lockouts last year.
The NBA's labour dispute ended less than two weeks after the union was disbanded. Jeffrey Kessler, the lead negotiator for the National Basketball Players Association in that dispute, contends the NHLPA would be wise to go ahead with the "disclaimer of interest."
"I think this is much more likely to lead to a settlement sooner," Kessler told The Canadian Press last week. "The players have concluded that they are on the verge of possibly deciding that it is better not to be a union and using the antitrust laws to attack the lockout, which all fans should be happy with because it'll work."
The legality of the lockout is already set to be tried in US federal court after the NHL filed a class-action lawsuit last week against the NHLPA. The NHL also submitted an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
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