Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the point in the production where both sides put on their big boy pants and actually hammer out a deal that ends the NHL lockout and gets players back on the ice.
Neither side wants to go down the path that has been laid before them.
For those who missed it, a quick recap of where we stand.
Word was leaked (or not, depending on who you want to believe) that the NHLPA was considering making the only move that it has left, as reported by TSN Canada's Aaron Ward, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings (via Twitter):
NHLPA Executive Board voted last night,to give players a vote to AUTHORIZE Exec Board to chose to proceed on Disclaimer of Interest #TSN— Aaron Ward (@aaronward_nhl) December 14, 2012
#CBANHL pre-emptively files class action suit in NY federal court -- a place believed to be favorable to pro leagues -- to affirm lockout— Katie Strang (@KatieStrangESPN) December 14, 2012
#CBA NHL also files an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with the NLRB, alleging that NHLPA's threat to disclaim interest is bad faith bargaining— Katie Strang (@KatieStrangESPN) December 14, 2012
Or, as Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer so aptly puts it:
Carchidi (@BroadStBull) December 15, 2012
With what has transpired, now the players have no choice but to go through with a vote if to do nothing else but save face.
But for a second, let's say that the players do decertify and file an anti-trust lawsuit.
What's their leg to stand on?
They can't claim that the NHL is a monopoly and the owners are leaving them with no way to earn a living. Between the KHL and multiple leagues in Europe—leagues that hundreds of current and former NHL players have and currently do play in—players have ample opportunity to hone their craft.
As for the owners, they run the risk of the courts ruling that the lockout is not legal, which would open up an entirely new can of worms, something they would surely like to avoid.
Not only that, but union boss Donald Fehr took on MLB in the courts and won.
Do the owners want to run the risk that Fehr could emerge victorious a second time?
I think not.
We have reached the point of no return in the NHL.
If the union decertifies, the owners will cancel the rest of the season, more than happy to bide their time in the courts and see how things play out.
At the same time, the owners have to realize that dropping a bomb on the season—that cancelling the entire season for the second time in less than a decade—would be the move that finally destroys the NHL.
There's only one thing left to do, and that's hammer out an agreement.
Neither side really wants to see the bomb dropped on the league.