Canadiens Might Not Be Able to Lockout Players

June 22, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on stage at the 2012 NHL Draft at CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Interesting news on the CBA negotiation front.

The NHLPA and the players of the Montreal Canadiens roster have filled with the Quebec Labour Board to prevent the team from locking out their players on September 15th, which the league has threatened to do. Similar cases have been brought in for the Ontario, BC and Alberta jurisdictions and has been considered being used in Manitoba.

This appears to be an NHLPA tactic to exploit differences in law between different legal jurisdictions, a tactic they did not pursue in the previous lockout. The provincial courts in would have standing in Canada, while in the United States the

The NHLPA’s argument rests on the fact that the NHLPA is not registered as a union in the province of Quebec. therefore it does not count as a union in Quebec law. Thus the NHL has no right to lockout their employees because that is exclusively the right of an employer negotiating with a union.

If the PA’s legal efforts are successful, the Montreal Canadiens must honour their contracts with their players, in particular pay them their established salaries. But this also has other effects, as there would be no lockout for the Hab’s players they would be free to use team facilities and the team would have no right to bar them from attending the scheduled training camp this fall.

If successful this would put financial pressure on Geoff Molson to push for a resolution to the CBA dispute as he will be forced to pay player salaries without his typical revenue streams from NHL games.

Speculation of what else this can mean has been rampant, some of which I will try to address to the best of my knowledge although I am by no means a legal expert.

1. What would this mean for the players?

Without a lockout for the Canadiens, much is business as usual even if the rest of the league is undergoing an impasse. The players collect their contractually negotiated salaries set by their previously signed contracts, as well as enjoying their contractually mandated perks as players. All of this is spelled out in a standard player contract, which is a standardized document that for rule negoiated in previous CBA’s is essentially the same for all players, except salary numbers and bonuses.

According to Josh Gorges, access to team facilites, including team doctors and trainers and the like, is a reason why the Habs players are doing this.

This would also prevent any of the Habs players from signing on to play in another league as they would still be under contract with Montreal.

2. Would the Canadiens win all games by default?

Official NHL league games are scheduled through the NHL commissioner’s office and presumably occur at the discretion of the league’s head offices. Therefore the Canadiens can’t just show up to an arena, note that their opponents aren’t there and declare victory by forfeiture.

3. Would the Canadiens be able to play games?

I’ve gone over the league’s constitution and bylaws and according section 24, no team can play an exhibition on game without league approval. The teams players are also forbidden from taking part in exhibition games without league approval as well. I doubt Bettman is interested in allowing teams to play non-NHL games and make money during the lockout.

I don’t believe the team would be particularly interested in doing this however. The Canadiens have plenty of cash and wouldn’t want to undermine the NHL by playing outside its strictures.

I think putting on regular intra-squad scrimmages might be something they’d do though. This ruling would force the Canadiens to put on a training camp anyway. Might as well keep it going and sell tickets to watch. These regularly sell out anyway during normal years and bring in tidy sums to ownership.

4. Can this actually happen?

Hard to tell. A similar suit was brought to the courts in Ontario and they ruled in favour of the NHL. However, Quebec is a famously labour friendly jurisdiction and has a different legal structure than the rest of Canada (Civil vs. Common law). I know a similar legal gambit was used in 94 MLB strike to use Ontario and Quebec jurisdiction to prevent use of replacement players was successful. At this point the question appears up in the air.

5. Would it Help the Habs?

Depending how this plays out, the Habs (and maybe the Oilers and Flames) would be the only teams practising and training as a team together with their coaching and support staff. If there is a lockout for the start of the season and training camp is shortened or eliminated but a truncated season is played, Montreal would probably have a leg up on the competition. It would cost the Habs money, but they make more in revenue than they can spend on their team in a given year.

Topics: Montreal Canadiens, NHLPA

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