With a lockout looming over the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens’ players are attempting to take advantage of legal loopholes to stay on the ice, and defenseman Josh Gorges offered an articulate explanation for their motivation.
As Katie Strang of ESPNNewYork.com notes, Quebec does not recognize the NHL Players’ Association as a union, and this opens the door for Gorges and other Canadiens players to prevent the team from locking out its players.
Strang also reports the NHLPA is exploring similar legal strategies with other Canadian teams.
Strang quotes Gorges saying the following.
As players we want to play. More than anything, the desire to play is what's guiding us. The owners, on the other hand, seem determined to impose a lockout. And so the players are going to use every tool at our disposal to stop them. Nothing is more destructive to bargaining than a lockout.
A lockout should be a last resort. But the owners are treating it as their preferred option.
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly was succinct and dismissive in his response to these developments, and Strang quotes him saying, “Different arguments in different provinces. All inconsequential other than to impede and delay bargaining process."
Daly is also quoted in an Associated Press article via WJLA.com saying, “This is a joke,” in response to the situation.
Daly’s position views the players’ actions through the union actions as sinister and destructive to getting a deal done, but he is far away from the truth. The players’ motivation for taking this roundabout path to earning a paycheck is pure.
As Gorges so plainly says, they just want to play hockey, and this solution allows them to do that in the short term.
The nature of any lockout inherently favors the owners in negotiations. Firstly, organizing a few dozen owners is significantly easier than getting a union representing hundreds of players to agree on a single position.
In addition, there is a vast difference in how the two sides are prepared for a work stoppage when salaries and revenue freeze.
As Chris Rock said, “Shaq is rich. The white man that signs his check is wealthy” (video is NSFW).
Pushing the stalled negotiations to a lockout puts the owners in a favorable negotiating position. As months go by and players are not receiving paychecks, the union will become more desperate and soften on issues such as revenue sharing and splitting hockey related revenue.
Gorges is completely correct when he identifies a lockout as the owners’ “preferred option.”
Stalling these negotiations until the current collective bargaining agreement expires on September 15 is the best strategy for the owners, but it is neither honest nor fair. The only way to justify these stalled talks is to claim that the NHLPA is refusing to negotiate, when the union is actually being completely reasonable in suggesting the league should explore reforms to revenue sharing between teams instead of slashing the players' share of hockey-related revenue.
The action the Players Association is taking in Canada is a way to level the playing field, and allow at least some players to continue earning their salary. It will likely continue to anger the owners and it will not be conducive to the two sides coming together, but the NHLPA is out of options.