Top Shelf: Owners, players running out of options

For a brief moment on Wednesday it seemed like the breakthrough everybody was waiting for had finally come to the NHL labor negotiations.

Even though the new collective bargaining agreement proposal put forth by the NHLPA showed considerable movement towards the owners, the latest effort to gain traction was as fruitless as the previous attempts.

Since the lockout officially began on Sept. 15, every new proposal submitted by either side has illustrated how much ground separates the owners and players. The side behind the proposal boasts of significant movement on key issues while the other side claims the opposite to be true.

"We're still far apart," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman after the owner's rejected Wednesday's offer.

No optimism was found in Donald Fehr's comments either, as the NHLPA executive director claimed "on the big things there was as of today no reciprocity in any meaningful sense."

Two days after Wednesday's emotional roller-coaster ride the league announced that they have scrapped the 2013 All-Star Game as well as all regular-season contests through Dec. 14. This latest round of cancellations means 422 games have been wiped from the schedule, or 34.3 percent of the 2012-13 regular season.

Sadly, this is where we stand. After months of negotiating we're still stuck in this maddening cycle that is frustrating for the owners and players, and even more so for the fans who just want to get their NHL back.

Since traditional negotiations have yielded little or no progress on the CBA front, there is now a sense emerging that the NHLPA will decertify its union in order to force a conclusion to this stalemate.

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller threw his support behind the decertification argument via an email to The Globe and Mail newspaper on Thursday. Unlike the players who have hurled insults at Bettman and the owners in recent weeks, Miller has taken a less emotional approach when speaking about the lockout and his words carry more weight as a result.

Miller cites the recent NBA and NFL labor disputes in his endorsement of decertification. The unions for both leagues went that route and their respective lockouts were solved without a season being canceled.

The former Vezina Trophy winner views decertification as a way for the NHLPA to empower itself in the battle to shape the next CBA.

"They (the owners) want to see if we will take a bad deal because we get desperate or if we have the strength to push back," Miller told The Globe and Mail. "Decertification is a push back and should show we want a negotiation and a fair deal on at least some of our terms."

Decertification would allow the union to fight the league with anti-trust lawsuits. However, in terms of getting the NHLPA what it wants, the strategy is anything but a sure thing.

Taking Miller's advice is a gamble because the union would yield its right to collectively bargain and leave this squabble to be determined by lawyers who may or may not be on their side.

Also, there is no guarantee that decertification will bring about an end to the lockout. It worked that way for the NFL and NBA but there a many folks who argue decertifying could be the final nail in the coffin for the 2012-13 campaign.

Although Miller's opinion is only one voice, he seems to be on the right track here. For months Fehr has referred to decertification as a last resort, but with time running out on the season it may be the only option left.