The NHLPA’s vote on declaimer of interest and the NHL’s efforts to stymie that possibility (filing a class action lawsuit to establish the legality of it lockouts while also filing a complaint against the PA with the National Labor Relations Board) signals a shift between the two sides from negotiation to litigation.

If (as expected) the PA executive obtains the two-thirds majority authorization from the players for disclaimer, it remains only an option at this point. Tthe threat of it, however, could set the stage for players to file antitrust suits against the league.

The NHL’s moves were a preemptive strike, attempting to nullify the antitrust threat by having a US federal court deem their lockout legal, whilst accusing the players before the NLRB of negotiating in bad faith.

Pundits and bloggers who’ve been following this lockout saga seem torn on the matter. Some see it as the end game to the CBA talks, pushing the two sides toward a new collective bargaining agreement within weeks. Others, however, believe this is a bad turn in negotiations, widening the gap between the owners and players, eventually leading to the cancellation of the season.

Right now, most folks really don’t know which way this will turn. Most who claim they do, for the most part, are merely guessing.

I hope the optimists are right. I’m losing money every day the NHL lockout continues, so I’d be thrilled if the two sides reaching a lengthy deal which brings the NHL back to action in January.

But we’re close to late-December now,  a period which a number of pundits and bloggers – including me – thought this lockout would end. We were wrong, misjudging the resolve on both sides to try to squeeze each other for as much as they can.

It’s obvious little separates the two sides now, just a bit more haggling over the fine print. That’s what is so damned frustrating. So close, as the old saying goes, but yet so far.

The two sides seem to be pressuring other to give a little more before reaching an agreement.

The owners want the players to accept their last offer, which will include the $300 million “make whole” provision Commissioner Bettman said was off the table. I think we all know by now that whenever Bettman says something is off the table, it isn’t.

Meanwhile, the players – having already agreed to a 50-50 split in revenue, a limited “make whole” provision, term limits on contracts and no amnesty buyouts or caps on escrow – simply want the owners to just show a little more flexibility in the terms.

A middle ground is within reach, and as 10CC once sang, a compromise would surely help the situation. The problem, however, is both sides seem reluctant to do so.

With Commissioner Bettman’s recent claim that anything less than a 48-game wasn’t feasible for a season with integrity, it’s expected his eventual “drop dead date” (which he claims he doesn’t have, but of course we all know he does) will be sometime around mid-January.

So, with about another month until “D-Day”, the two sides have decided to extend their standoff from the boardroom to the courtroom.

Whether or not they allow this labor dispute to spill into federal court and the NLRB remains to be seen. Despite these legal machinations, nothing prevents the two sides from continuing negotiations while their respective lawyers prepare their cases.

It also seems a risky ploy on the league’s part, considering they request in their class action filing that, if the court rules against the NHL, it would request a declaration that, if the PA disclaimer (or decertification, if they voted to go that route) wasn’t deemed invalid, and collective bargaining didn’t continue between the two side, all existing NHL contracts would be void and unenforceable.

I’m not making that up, that’s from the NHL’s class action filing. Section 14. Sportsnet has the full details on its website if you want to read it for yourself.

Does every NHL team really want to run the risk of losing their marquee players that way? It seems unfathomable, yet it is contained in the league’s filing as a means of trying to scare the players into rejecting disclaimer or decertification and accept the league’s CBA proposal.

Will it get that far? Who knows? This is foreign territory for the NHL owners and players. It would truly be a nuclear option, setting the league spiraling off on a course which could have serious consequences for both sides.

We all hope they will return to their senses. There’s really no need to take things to far, to where we possibly lose a season to months of legal wranglings and courtroom drama.

Still,  many of us a year ago thought a lockout was avoidable, then we assumed it wouldn’t last beyond the end of November. Now, we’re hoping for a season-saving deal by mid-January.

Like a number of you, I’m trying not to give in to negativity, and keep hoping they’ll reach a season-saving resolution.

Maybe all of this is simply posturing, the last stage before the two sides finally reach an agreement, and NHL hockey returns sometime in January.

Or maybe, this is the start of something much worse.

At this stage, folks, I’m hoping for the best…and expecting the worst.