The NHL lockout appears to be moving from the boardroom to the courtroom, as the NHLPA takes a step toward voting on disclaimer of interest, while the NHL launches a preemptive strike by filing a class action lawsuit against the players. Read on for the details, analysis and reaction.

NHL lockout moving from boardroom to courtroom?

THE GLOBE AND MAIL: James Mirtle reported yesterday afternoon the NHLPA had taken a step toward legal action in their standoff with the NHL, as the executive board decided to ask “for a full membership vote on the issue of giving the board the authority to file a disclaimer of interest.” Such a move would allow the board to dissolve the union, allowing players “to file antitrust lawsuits in an attempt to get an injunction to end the now 90-day-old lockout or win damages.”  The respective player unions of the NFL and NBA did the same thing in their labor standoff with their respective leagues last year.

The NHL, however, launched what many consider a preemptive strike later in the day, filing “a class-action lawsuit naming 36 players – including the entire negotiating committee of the NHL Players’ Association – in federal court in New York “seeking a declaration confirming the ongoing legality of the lockout.” The league also filed an unfair labour practice charge with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board alleging that the NHLPA “has engaged in an unlawful subversion of the collective bargaining process.”

TSN.CA: cited a Canadian Press report indicating NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had ensured the NHL Board of Governors was thoroughly briefed during their December 5th meeting on the possibility of the NHLPA going the disclaimer route.  “And we don’t view it in the same way in terms of its impact as apparently the union may”, said Bettman.

SPORTSNET.CA: obtained a copy of the NHL’s class action lawsuit filing, listing 36 players (including all the members of those on the NHLPA’s negotiating committee) as defendants. Earlier in the day, Mark Spector wrote a column suggesting NHLPA director Donald Fehr was making a mistake if he hoped for the same results in this labor standoff as he achieved in major league baseball, while Scott M0rrison wondered while Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn’t getting involved to try and end the lockout.

NATIONAL POST: Sean Fitzgerald reported yesterday legal moves came as no surprise to either side, as they were both likely planning these moves for some time,but puts them no close to ending the lockout. He also noted Sidney Crosby wasn’t among those listed by the league in its class action lawsuit against those 36 players. Fitzgerald noted there’s uncertainty how this might play out, but cited a legal expert suggesting that uncertainty might be a possible benefit for the players, being that final piece of leverage which could get a deal done.

CBC.CA: Elliotte Friedman noted the league is using quotes and “tweets” from players to try to establish disclaimer of interest is nothing more than a bargaining tactic. The league also wants to have its lockout declared ” lawful and protected by antitrust act by virtue of labour exemption in Clayton Act”. Another key part of the league’s filing  affects player contracts. ” “In event court does not grant these declarations, it requests another one indicating if NHLPA’s decertification or disclaimer were not deemed invalid and the collective bargaining relationship between the parties were not otherwise to continue, all existing contracts between NHL players and NHL teams would be void and unenforceable.” While Friedman notes the PA is following the same tactic as the National Basketball Players Association last year to bring their labor standoff with the NBA to a close, there are also people on the NHL side willing to see if this fight can be won. As for the different number of players listed in the league’s filing, Friedman cited Tulane law professor Gabe Feldman. “Different classes of players will have different claims under antitrust law because they will arguably have suffered different damages and be in different legal situations”, said Feldman.

Dan Oldfield, meanwhile, suggests “mob rule” has taken over this NHL labor dispute. He feels both sides have lost sight of the greater good with these legal moves, which he considers a hardening of positions rather than attempting to reach resolution.

ESPN.COM: Pierre LeBrun suggests the moderate owners, despite the league’s filings yesterday, may fear the hardliners are winning over the moderates in the players camp, and that what seems a small gap separating the two sides on key issues could widen if this turns nasty. LeBrun hopes the moderates on both sides will continue their back-channel efforts toward getting a deal done.

USA TODAY: Kevin Allen reports the NHL filed its lawsuit in the state of New York, which is considered “employer-friendly”, but it still remains to be seen how this turns out if it proceeds through the court system. Allen also cited Gabe Feldman, who said the “obvious hope” on both sides is these legal battles don’t play out to completion, for it that were to happen, there won’t be NHL hockey this season.

NEW YORK POST: Mark Everson claims the NHLPA’s vote on disclaimer would be “mainly symbolic” by  “tacitly threatening the poison pill that would kill off the rest of this unplayed season.” Everson also suggests if the NHLPA stops representing the players, ” the league may be entitled to start the season using replacement players.”

YAHOO! SPORTS: Nicholas J. Cotsonika feels it’s now up to the NHL owners to give a little in CBA talks and end this lockout.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Various reaction abounds regarding yesterday’s moves by both sides. Some see it as this labor dispute taking a darker turn resulting in another cancelled season, others see it as “the final act” toward a season-saving resolution. This may well be public legal posturing by both sides, but the league’s mindset appears to be victory at all costs, even though the two sides seem close to a new CBA. Obviously, the next move comes down to the NHLPA, which last night issued a statement saying the league’s moves yesterday were “completely without merit”. In the meantime, there’s nothing preventing the two sides from continuing negotiations. Here’s hoping those who believe yesterday’s moves will hasten an end to this lockout and bring about a season-saving deal are right.