NEW YORK – As hockey prepared for its first work stoppage since the 2004-05 season was wiped out, the NHL Players Association planned to challenge a lockout before the labor board in Quebec.
A hearing before Alberta's board was canceled the night before when the NHL withdrew, The Canadian Press reported.
The moves, if successful, could force teams to pay players on the Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers during a work stoppage.
The sport's labor contract expires at midnight Saturday night, and a lockout appears certain. It would be the league's fourth work stoppage since 1992.
Donald Fehr, who took over as union head two years ago, said his players are resigned to a work stoppage, which would follow lockouts last year in the NFL and the NBA.
"A lot of them think that pure and simply they were taken advantage of last time and the owners want to take advantage of them again," he said during an interview Monday at the union's New York office. "It sorts of looks exactly what happened in hockey the last time and exactly how it played out in basketball and football so far. But I hope not."
Industry revenue has grown from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion annually under the expiring deal. Owners asked players to cut their share of hockey related revenue from 57 to 43 percent, then modified their offer to 46 percent during a six-year deal. Players are concerned management hasn't addressed its problems by re-examining the teams' revenue-sharing format.
The sides haven't had a full bargaining session since Aug. 31 and the strife is threatening regular-season openers scheduled to start Oct. 11.
"It seems to be the direction things are going, but there's still time if they want to talk," Fehr said.
None of the Boston Bruins who attended a charity golf tournament in Bolton, Mass., on Monday were optimistic that the full season could be salvaged.
"I hear November, December and New Year's," Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. "But no one really knows."
Asked if anyone was talking about October, he said: "No."
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly dismissed the provincial challenges in Canada.
"This is a joke," he said in a statement.
About 200 players are expected to gather in New York on Wednesday to discuss negotiations — or rather the lack thereof. NHL owners meet in New York the following day.
This would be the third work stoppage since Gary Bettman became commissioner in 1993.
"We've already damaged our business and I imagine if we go past (Sept.) 15th and we engage in a work stoppage that it will obviously do further damage to our business," Daly told The Canadian Press.
An 11-day strike in April 1992 caused 30 games to be postponed, and a 103-day lockout in 1994-95 caused the cancellation of 468 games and delayed the season's start until Jan. 20. The 2004 lockout started Sept. 16 when training camps were to open, as they are this year, and wasn't settled until July 13.
"A lockout should be a last resort, but the owners are treating it as their preferred option," Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges said.
Fehr led the Major League Baseball Players Association through two strikes and a lockout. He said NHL players have been prepared for a work stoppage of indeterminate length.
"Players have been saving for a couple years now," he said.
Labor law in Canada is provincial, not national, complicating a lockout. NHLPA general counsel Don Zavelo said players on the Canadiens had sent the team a "cease and desist" letter. An application will be made to the Quebec Labour Relations Board claiming that because the union isn't certified in that province and has no right to strike, the players may not be legally locked out.
A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday before the Alberta Labour Relations Board, but canceled on Monday night. Mediator Steve Morrison was appointed on Aug. 21, but Zavelo said Morrison abandoned talks after three days rather than the 14 required by law.
"We filed objections to a lockout vote based on several defects," Zavelo said. "They missed some deadlines and they failed to do a few things they needed to do."
If players are successful in their challenges, they would be paid during a lockout and probably would be allowed to use team facilities.
A four-month NFL lockout ended in July 2011 with the loss of only one exhibition game, and an NBA lockout caused each team's schedule to be cut from 82 games to 66 last season.
"What they're trying to cure is that they'd rather have more money," Fehr said. "If you went to a non-cap system of course you could solve all this sort of immediately, but we haven't proposed that because we think the owners are in love with the cap system. ... It's consistent with what's happened in the other cap sports quite apart from what the economic circumstances are in the sports. They're all the same. The bargaining approaches are all the same."