Well, how about that. It turns out there is a third party that might be able to prevent a lockout.
Now, before you get your hopes up -- no, it isn't Unfollow NHL. Sorry. According to Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette, it's the Quebec Labour Board.
Remember that the NHLPA is willing to go ahead with the next season while negotiations on the new CBA continue. It's the owners that will be locking the players out if an agreement can't be reached by Sept. 15.
But in Quebec, employers can only lock out employees represented by a union, and this poses an issue for the NHL, because, in Quebec, the NHLPA isn't a union.
If the Montreal Canadiens' players are correct, they're lockout-proof. From the Montreal Gazette:
The Canadiens players, the NHLPA said Sunday night, have the right to apply to the QLB for an order that would prevent Canadiens ownership from locking players out after Sept. 15, when the CBA expires.
Canadiens players, through their Montreal-based lawyer, Michael Cohen, sent a 'cease and desist' letter to the owners of the Canadiens and to the NHL on Friday, Sept. 7. Unless they cease their threats to lockout, the players will make an application to the Quebec Labour Board this upcoming week seeking to stop the Canadiens from locking out their players.
If the Quebec Labour Board agrees, the NHLPA contends, it could order the owners of the Canadiens not to lock out the players or to end a lockout in Quebec if one has started.
"The NHL seems content to lock out the players if an agreement isn't reached this week," Canadiens' winger Erik Cole told Stubbs, "and we would like the Quebec Labour Board to step in and inform them that their lockout would be in direct violation of the Quebec labour laws."
The irony is that the players' union actually went to the Quebec Labour Board to become certified during the 2005 lockout, as certification would have prevented the NHL from using replacement players if the lockout lasted a second year. The NHL opposed the move, but when the labor dispute was settled, the NHLPA didn't pursue it any further. Now they might be glad they didn't.
The players' association is also looking into the legality of a lockout across Canada. It's possible that locking out the players violates other provincial labor laws.
But don't get too excited just yet. Stubbs also reports that the province of Ontario has been very cooperative with the NHL thus far. According to the NHLPA, it even helped "pave the way" for a lockout in Ontario by accepting the NHL's resistance to a conciliation board.
It's possible that Quebec could be just as accommodating, and this ploy could fall flat.
Either way, this certainly adds a wrinkle to the final week of negotiations before the deadline. Clearly, the NHLPA isn't about to budge. On the contrary: It just used its ace in the hole.