As lockout heads into regular season, NHLPA loses board battle
Alberta Labour Relations Board rules against players in bid to declare lockout illegal
The Alberta Labour Relations Board shot down Wednesday the NHL Players’ Association’s challenge to declare illegal the lockout of the players of the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers.
“We would have hoped that the (ALRB) would have sided with us and we could get back to playing hockey — that was the main goal,” Flames players representative Matt Stajan said from Toronto. “As players, we really want to be playing, and the fans really want to be watching. So we’re trying to use every tool to end this lockout. Unfortunately, the board didn’t side with us on this one. So we’ll continue to work.”
Despite the league-wide lockout, the Flames and Oilers players — and the union — had been demanding that training camps open as usual in Calgary and Edmonton.
“I really didn’t know (what to expect),” Stajan said of the ruling. “Obviously, there’s always a little bit of optimism . . . but we would have been only two teams out of 30. Who knows how that would have played out with the league’s stance? We were hopeful, but, obviously, it didn’t work out.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league was pleased with the ruling.
“We are hopeful that this will enable both the league and the NHL Players’ Association to focus all our efforts and energies on negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement in order to get our game and our players back on the ice,” Daly said in a statement.
Meanwhile in New York, the NHL and the NHLPA met for five hours but the talks did little to move the sides closer to a deal in the nearly one-month work stoppage.
Daly and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman met with the NHLPA’s main negotiators — executive director Donald Fehr and special counsel Steve Fehr — for nearly an hour in the morning to assess where the sides were on Day 25 of the dispute, but there was no concrete discussions on the troublesome core economic issues preventing a deal.
A four-hour session that stretched into Wednesday evening centred on player health and safety issues, along with other miscellaneous legal topics.
The sides will meet again today, but how hopeful can anyone be now?
After all, this is Day 26 of the lockout. The Flames were supposed to open their regular season tonight against the visiting Vancouver Canucks.
“That’s the date you circle on your calendar at the start of summer — now that we’re here and we’re still locked out, it’s for sure disappointing,” said Stajan. “But we kind of saw this coming. The owners . . . they just want us to negotiate against ourselves. Nothing that they’ve offered to us benefits us in any way, so it’s very frustrating and we continue to explore options.
“We’re not just going to give in to what the owners want.”
Which leaves the NHLPA to try long-shot tactics, like its recent challenge to the labour board in Alberta.
It had been the union’s contention that the NHL had not followed provincial protocol. Simply put, they contended the league rushed the process, meaning the lead-up to its request for a lockout vote was faulty.
The two sides presented their cases to the ALRB in a hearing nearly three weeks ago.
And, in the matter of Board File No. GE-06474, the puck-chasers lose. Their application is dumped.
“We are of the opinion this is a case where it makes labour relations sense to exercise our discretion not to make a declaration of unlawful conduct and not to issue any remedy,” wrote ALRB chairman Mark Asbell.
Asbell, however, does get points for mocking both parties, who, in his eyes, simply embrace whatever stance suits their needs — no matter how contrary it is to their previous positions.
“In this sense, it is like they were squeezing jello to watch where it lands in order to determine what approach to take, in what dispute, in whichever jurisdiction the argument is being advanced,” Asbell wrote. “As Ed Whelan (sic), a famous former Calgary sportscaster used to say, the parties have adopted the players’ credo of “doing whatever it takes to put the biscuit in the basket”. These positions reflect neither a consensus between the parties nor any consistency in their individual positions.”
— with files from The Canadian Press
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