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NHL

Complications grow in NHL labor dispute

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 2:18 p.m.
Sidney Crosby practices with six of his fellow teammates Wednesday January 2, 2013 at the team's practice facility in Southpointe. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The NHL labor situation appeared to slide backwards Thursday.

It featured another vote that could lead to disbanding the Players' Association, another lawsuit, federally mediated meetings and negotiations focused on revenue and players' pensions.

There also was the customary lack of significant movement toward a new labor contract that would end a nearly four-month lockout.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's deadline to save the season is Jan. 11.

Two big issues — pensions and the cap ceiling — are preventing a deal between owners and players, multiple sources said.

Bargaining update

The pension dispute, in particular, is a significant sticking point with the union, the sources said. The union believed it had an agreement on pensions after two days of meetings on Dec. 4-5 in New York.

The NHL and NHLPA also disagree on a salary-cap reduction in Year 2 of a new deal.

The NHL is adamant that the cap be $60 million in 2013-14. The union wants no less than $65 million. The cap for the 2013 season would be around $70 million.

Common ground was reached Thursday on a definition of revenue, which will be split 50-50 on any new labor contract, the sources said.

The sides have traded proposals several times since face-to-face bargaining resumed Monday in New York. A federal mediator was part of negotiations Thursday, though union executive director Donald Fehr was not part of that session, the sources said.

Second disclaimer vote

More than 700 players began voting at 6 p.m. Thursday to authorize their union executive board to file a disclaimer of interest with the U.S. Department of Labor. They have 48 hours to complete the vote.

If two-thirds of players vote in favor, the executive board could immediately dissolve the union and open the league to antitrust lawsuits from players.

Fehr would no longer represent a disbanded union.

Players conducted the same vote from Dec. 16-21, but the union allowed a midnight Wednesday deadline to pass without filing the disclaimer.

Jared Simmer, an adjunct public policy professor at Carnegie Mellon, said the NHL viewed the disclaimer of interest as “a real threat,” citing recent revised proposals from the league.

Union lawsuit

In response to a league lawsuit, the union brought action Thursday in the U.S. District Court of Southern New York. The NHLPA seeks to dismiss a class-action complaint from Dec. 14, arguing the NHL's claim of an impending disclaimer of interest filing was “hypothetical.”

League and union officials declined to comment.

Emily Town, who specializes in employment law with Stember Feinstein Doyle Payne & Kravec in Downtown, said the union contends there was no “actual controversy” raised in the NHL lawsuit because the NHLPA never filed a disclaimer of interest.

The NHL has until 5 p.m. Monday to file a response to the union lawsuit, sources said.

The local legal experts said the union's maneuvering Thursday should not prevent the sides from reaching a deal.

Simmer said he expected a deal “at the midnight hour.”

“If there is a settlement, look for one closer to the drop-dead date the league had previously announced,” Simmer said. “That allows both parties to claim that they fought as hard as they could to get the best deal under the circumstances.”

The circumstances

The lockout dates to Sept. 15, and games are canceled through Jan. 14. Training camps must open Jan. 12 for a 48-game season to begin a week later, Bettman said.

Several NHL players have taken to social media to announce they are returning to North America after playing with European teams, though Penguins' league MVP and scoring champion Evgeni Malkin said he will wait to leave Russia's Kontinental Hockey League until the league publicly confirms a start date for training camps.

Penguins players added an extra day to their Southpointe practices this week.

“We're just trying to be patient for the next 10 days here, and we'll see what happens,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

Note: Penguins defenseman Kris Letang will soon be in Russia to play for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. Letang has agreed to terms to play with that club for the duration of the NHL lockout.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rrossi@tribweb.com or @RobRossi_Trib.

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