BY GEORGE RICHARDS
Locked out hockey players working out in small ice rinks across North America do so wearing black or white jerseys with their union's letters -- NHLPA -- printed across the chest.
The National Hockey League Player's Association could be closer to breaking up and being decertified come Friday morning.
Following the lead of the players' associations from the NFL and NBA, the NHLPA's 700-plus members are expected to overwhelmingly vote to authorize its executive board to "file a disclaimer of interest" and decertify the union.
Decertifying would allow individual players to file antitrust lawsuits against the league in an attempt to end a lockout about to enter its fifth month. Players represented by the union cannot file suit against the league, hence the decertification.
It should be noted that even if the measure passes - as expected - the NHLPA won't necessarily be broken up. But it will be a much easier process if that becomes the course of action.
"Right now, anything different to make the process move forward has to be looked at as good news,'' Panthers goalie Jose Theodore said.
"We have tried pretty much everything so far. I think we have given up a lot and have always offered to talk. They are the ones who always want to take breaks and don't want to negotiate. If you see things aren't moving, you have nothing to lose. We're not playing. Things aren't going in the right direction.''
High-profile football players such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning filed a class-action suit against the NFL soon after they were locked out and the NFLPA decertified.
Both the NFLPA and NBPA came back together not long after agreements were reached to officially negotiate with the league again.
The NFL lockout lasted four-plus offseason months after the NFLPA disbanded; the NBA lockout ended less than two weeks after the NBPA decertified. Both of those lockouts ended as league owners didn't want to lose a season -- or in the NFL's case, any meaningful games.
The NHLPA is most definitely taking a risk because NHL owners haven't shown they collectively care if there is a season or not.
The NHL, after all, is the only North American professional league to lose a season to labor strife (2004-05).
"We have been left in a position of last resort with what has gone down,'' Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "I still have confidence in the system that something is going to get done. I've been through this before and had a little more patience. This is frustrating.''
Electronic voting by the NHLPA's members began on Sunday with a deadline of midnight Friday. Results of the voting -- some players have said 99 percent of the union will vote in favor of it -- should be available Friday morning.
The measure needs two-thirds approval to pass. If it does, the NHLPA -- led by former baseball union boss Donald Fehr and his brother Steve -- would have until Jan. 2 to file the disclaimer with the National Labor Relations Board.
The NHL is led by commissioner Gary Bettman -- an attorney by trade --and anticipates the measure passing and eventual decertification.
The league proactively filed a class action complaint in New York Federal Court saying it has every right to lockout players in order to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
The league also filed an unfair labor charge with the NLRB.
"Things worked out for the other leagues, but will it work out for us? Time will tell,'' Jovanovski said. "You look back now and we're somewhere around 100 days. I didn't think it would take this long. I'm running out of things to do. It's nice being around your family, but we're athletes. We want to be out there on the ice.''
Through all the legal wrangling, time to save a portion of the 2012-13 season is running out.
On Wednesday, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Toronto's 590-AM that a deal needs to get done soon as Bettman doesn't consider anything less than a 48-game schedule to be realistic.
A 48-game season was salvaged after the 1994-95 lockout although the 2004-05 season was completely cancelled in February of that year when a new CBA couldn't be agreed upon. That lockout didn't end until the summer of 2005.
The league is announced the cancellation of another swath of games on Friday as games through Jan. 14 are gone.
With an abbreviated scheduled, however, cancellation of games now really doesn't matter as a new schedule -- think East vs. East and West vs. West games only -- will need to be drawn up.
In 1994, the NHL ended its lockout on Jan. 11 with teams kicking off what would be a 48-game schedule a few days later. If this lockout were to end, players would begin reporting immediately -- although a short training camp wouldn't open for a few days.
"I didn't follow the NBA lockout but everyone is bringing it up now,'' Theodore said. "We have to try something new. After meeting with a lot of players and reps, I think this is the best option. We want to play, but we wanted to play in 2004 and that didn't happen. It takes two to Tango. I don't know if they want us on the ice as much as we want to be there.''