NHLPA approves disclaimer of interest
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As Brooks Orpik recalls, it first came up in the conversation in August.
That's when Donald Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, was speaking with some constituents and noted that filing a "disclaimer of interest" was a move the group would have at its disposal if developments in its collective bargaining agreement negotiations with the NHL made it prudent.
Which doesn't mean it was one he was eager to use.
"Don made it clear to us, right from the start, that he didn't view it as a negotiating tool, or a pressure point," Orpik said after a player-organized workout Friday at Southpointe.
Maybe not, but Fehr has the option to use it now that voting by NHLPA members has given the union's executive board authority to make that move if it deems it appropriate.
Such a disclaimer would entail notifying the league that the NHLPA no longer represents the players in the negotiations.
That would pose a challenge to the legality of the lockout the NHL imposed Sept. 16 because workers cannot be locked out if they lack representation of the sort provided by the NHLPA and would allow players to file antitrust lawsuits against owners on an individual basis.
NHLPA officials have been noncommittal about whether they will take that step.
They have until Jan. 2 to do so.
The union declined to reveal the details of the balloting -- or to announce the outcome -- because, a spokesman said, it is viewed as "an internal matter." Various reports subsequently said there were 706 "yes" votes and 22 "no" votes.
Word that the executive board had gotten clearance to file the disclaimer of interest began to filter out in early afternoon. Not that there had been much suspense, since virtually every public remark by an NHLPA member during the past week had been a statement of support.
The NHL filed a lawsuit eight days ago contending that if the NHLPA files a disclaimer of interest, it would constitute a negotiating ploy, which would violate federal law.
Orpik pointed out that players in both the NBA and NFL filed such disclaimers in their most recent negotiations -- the NBA had a new CBA in place less than two weeks later -- but said the NHLPA has taken a more cautious approach.
"[NBA and NFL players] did it a lot earlier," he said. "I can't speak for them, but just looking at their situations from an outsider's point of view, I think they did it as a negotiating tool to try to apply pressure."
Orpik said he doesn't know if Fehr will decide to file a disclaimer before Jan. 2 or even have an opinion on whether he should -- "I don't have any feelings, nor does [my opinion] matter," Orpik said -- but suggested there is at least one set of circumstances under which doing so would be an obvious choice.
"If the season gets canceled, I think for sure we're going to do it," he said. "That's the only thing you can do, if you lose a whole season."
That's becoming more of a possibility by the day, in part because the sides haven't negotiated for more than a week, and apparently have no plans to do so in the immediate future.
Games have been canceled through Jan. 14, and the best-case scenario at this point looks to be that a 48-game regular season can be salvaged if the players and owners forge an agreement in the next few weeks.
Orpik and his teammates -- the ones who have been working out at Southpointe, at least -- are not ready to write off the 2012-13 season, even though a deal doesn't seem particularly close more than three months after the lockout started.
"I've been pretty optimistic throughout the whole thing," Orpik said. "Don's been really good about telling us that in these situations, the hardest thing to do is to be patient, but that that's the most important thing to do.
"That's the toughest thing, mentally, just trying to stay sharp and, at the same time, trying to stay patient. The harder you go, working out, you want something to [reflect] what you're doing, work-wise.
"A game or a meaningful practice, not just something [informal]."
Exasperating as the process has been, however, the players insist they'll stick it until all hope of saving a portion of the season is gone.
"If we've waited this long," Orpik said, "we definitely have the ability to wait another two weeks or three weeks."
NOTE -- Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist in Metallurg Magnitogorsk's 5-3 victory against Torpedo in a Kontinental Hockey League game Friday. He also won just nine of 19 faceoffs, a rare sub-.500 day for him this season.
First Published December 22, 2012 12:00 am