Fehr won't halt decertification chatter

The NHL still hopes to have a settlement by Thursday and start an 82-game season on November 2. (File photos)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- For NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr, a trip to Caesars on Saturday night was like hitting the jackpot.

It was a chance to address nearly 30 of his constituents in a two-hour meeting and address the media without a rebuttal from the NHL.

Naturally, the hot topic of decertification came up, the ‘word du jour’ during this 71-day NHL lockout. Since presenting a full-length proposal on the NHL on Wednesday in New York for the first time, the idea of decertifying the union has been repeatedly leaked to the media.

Not surprisingly, Fehr wouldn’t lead the media down the path of thinking decertification is a possibility, but he certainly wasn’t about to squash the idea, either.

Here’s the most important question and answer of the session:

Question: Is it too soon for the media to be talking about decertification?

Fehr: “I don’t want to tell you what’s too soon. You can look at what’s happened in the other sports and make your own judgment about that.”

In other words, Fehr hints at the possibility but won’t commit to it. It’s what you do in negotiations. As we wrote on Black Friday, the NHLPA needs to leak the threat of decertification, it’s part of the MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) game theory.

Hockey is engaged in its own “Cold War,” with the owners threatening the cancelation of the season and the players threatening to decertify and fight the lockout’s legality in court. Both would blow up the season. Continue the threat, continue the possibility for compromise.

“There are two sets of laws which govern these situations, and what happens is from time to time, unions and sports unions have essentially said that there are circumstances in which the members would be better off without a union and taking action under the anti-trust laws,” Fehr said of decertifying. “And that’s all I can say about it. You can check what’s happened in the other sports. I’m not going to discuss whether we’ve had any such discussions or if so what they are. I never discuss internal communications.”

In more or less words, Fehr outlined the blueprint for making a deal. He continued to stress the players’ interest in contracting rights. It would seem like in order for a season to be played, the NHL needs to bend a bit on their demands on player contracting rights and the NHLPA needs to continue to bend on the core economics.

The NHLPA and NHL are finally on the same page when it comes to definitions, language and they are using the same calculators. They are off on the dollar figures and percentages.

Ignore the rhetoric, focus on the facts. 

“[We’re] in a circumstance in which – if the cap is going to be limited – the player contracting rights, which is where the individual player has an opportunity to get his share of the pie, have to be constricted too,” Fehr said. “And those become more, not less, important to players as cap space is limited. When you add to that that the rights of the players they believe they must maintain are what they got in the last negotiation in return for massive concessions there, it becomes very difficult.”

No new meetings are scheduled at this point.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers