IF COMMISSIONER Gary Bettman cancels the season, look for him to start talking about an "impasse" in negotiations. To have an impasse legally recognized, the owners would have to prove to a judge they bargained in good faith and became hopelessly deadlocked with the Players' Association. The owners would then try to implement their final offer--i.e., a system with a salary cap--though exactly what that offer was can be tricky to prove. (In 1995 baseball owners tried to implement a system that, among other things, ended arbitration but were blocked in the courts by a players' union challenge.) If implementation were achieved, then the NHL, like the NFL in '87 and baseball in the spring of '95, would hire replacement players and try to open camps in the fall.
Meanwhile, look for NHLPA head Bob Goodenow to go before the antitrust courts or the National Labor Relations Board. Both are difficult, time-consuming processes, but they've paid off for other unions. (The NFL union won antitrust cases in the early '90s and got greatly expanded free agency.) If the NHLPA goes the antitrust route, it would decertify and charge the league with being a monopoly; then it could seek an injunction to end the lockout, as well as treble damages for wages lost. If the players go to the NLRB, they'll claim the owners illegally insisted on a hard salary cap in the face of the players' good-faith offer of a 24% salary reduction and a luxury tax. Either way, the union would hope to force the owners--compelled by the courts to be more sympathetic to the players' concerns--back to the bargaining table. -- Lester Munson