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Canadiens' lawsuit won't impact U.S. clubs, CBA talks

| Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, 8:53 p.m.
AP NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to reporters about on going labor talks with the NHL Players Association outside the league's headquarters Tuesday, July 31, 2012, in New York. (AP)

A lawsuit filed by Montreal Canadiens players in Quebec to legally to block an impending NHL lockout will not impact U.S.-based clubs or labor negotiations, a legal expert said Monday.

The NHL can enforce a lockout of its Players' Association if the current collective bargaining agreement expires at 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

“Under the National Labor Relations Act, a lockout can be used by an employer to exert bargaining pressure on union employees at any time — not just when a bargaining impasse has been reached,” said Emily Town in an email to the Tribune-Review.

Town, who specializes in employment law with Pittsburgh's Stember Feinstein Doyle Payne & Kravec, represented the Arena Football League's union (AFLPU) in labor dispute with that league this past season.

Canadiens players hired lawyer Michael Cohen, who sent a cease and desist letter to club owners and the NHL last Friday. The players claim a lockout is illegal because the union is not certified by the Quebec Labour Board.

The NHLPA also intends to challenge a lockout before the labor board in Alberta. If successful, that move could force the NHL to pay players on the Canadiens, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers during a work stoppage.

The pursuit of lawsuits by players on NHL teams in the provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba are also being considered, Montreal Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges said on a conference call Monday.

Labor law in Canada is provincial, not national. The NHLPA opted against similar lawsuits during the last NHL labor dispute, which forced cancellation of the 2004-05 season.

Gorges said the Montreal players' lawsuit was filed to “pressure owners to try to get the deal done.” However, the NHL is a week removed from receiving its latest proposal from the NHLPA.

“The filings are intended to interfere with the broader labor negotiating process,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in an email. “They will have absolutely zero impact on the broader negotiation, or on the deal we ultimately agree on.”

Gorges admittedly lacked details regarding possible fallout from the Canadiens players' lawsuit.

He was not sure if new coach Michel Therrien would agree to oversee practices even if the Quebec Labour Board ruled in favor of the players. He also could not say if players on other clubs supported the lawsuit, especially the potential for Montreal players to exclusively collect salary during a lockout.

“Other players may be disappointed that we're getting a salary, and they're not, but that's not the reason we're doing this,” Gorges said.

Penguins winger Chris Kunitz, who has been skating with teammates at Southpointe for the last couple of weeks, said the Canadiens players' lawsuit had not been “really talked about much.”

“There are a lot of important things that need discussed,” he said, “which is why this trip to New York this week is so important for all of us.”

The NHL and its union had met only six times over the previous 21 days as of Monday. No negotiations had taken place since talks were recessed Aug. 31. Neither side has agreed on which called for the recess.

Bettman and Daly met last Friday for two hours with the union's top two officials, brothers Don and Steve Fehr. That session was intended to lay parameters for future negotiations, though none were scheduled as of late Monday.

More than 200 NHLPA constituents are expected to attend union meetings Wednesday and Thursday at temporary offices in New York. Perhaps a dozen Penguins players, including captain Sidney Crosby, plan to attend, club union representative Craig Adams said.

The NHL's Board of Governors is scheduled to meet Wednesday. The Penguins will be represented by CEO David Morehouse. Owners continue to back Bettman, whose latest proposal called for a six-year CBA that will redefine hockey-related revenue (HRR), a first-year salary cap under $60 million, and an eventual 50-50 split of revenue.

Players receive 57 percent of revenue on the current CBA. The union favors maintaining current HRR definitions, though players are willing to receive a slight reduction of revenue share.

The union will be locked out if a new CBA is not in place Saturday.

Training camps are set to open Sept. 21, with exhibition games to begin as soon as three days after. The regular season is slated to begin Oct. 11.

Staff writer Josh Yohe contributed. Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rrossi@tribweb.com or 412-380-5635.

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