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The collective bargaining stalemate between the National Hockey League players and owners worsened Friday, with the league filing a lawsuit and unfair labor practice charge against the players union and the union moving toward dissolving itself. The Toronto-based National Hockey League Players’ Association’s (NHLPA) 700-plus members were to begin a five-day vote Sunday to determine whether the NHLPA executive board will file a so-called disclaimer of interest that would pave the way for the union’s dissolution and the filing of an antitrust against the league, which has locked players out since September. Like a stout defenseman taking aim at a speedy winger racing toward the net, the NHL sought to head off the NHLPA’s maneuver with the lawsuit filed in U.S. district court in Manhattan by its regular lawyers from Proskauer Rose and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom on Friday. The two Am Law 100 stalwarts have long shared the league’s outside legal work, according to our previous reports, with Proskauer currently taking the lead on labor and employment matters and Skadden providing antitrust counsel. The relationships make sense given that the NHL’s executive office in New York is populated with alums of both firms. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and league general counsel David Zimmerman once worked at Proskauer, while the NHL’s deputy commissioner William Daly is a former Skadden antitrust associate. Advising the NHL on its current legal battle with the players union are Skadden antitrust practice leader Shepard Goldfein and partners James Keyte and Paul Eckles, along with veteran Proskauer labor partner L. Robert Batterman and labor and employment partner Joseph Baumgarten. The 43-page civil complaint filed by the NHL late Friday against the NHLPA [PDF], which claims that the union’s potential decertification is a ploy, and seeks a court order preemptively declaring that its current lockout of players does not violate federal antitrust laws. NHL owners—who claim the league’s last labor deal, signed in 2005 after a protracted standoff that wiped out an entire season, has them financially hamstrung—could be hit with trebled damages if the players prove successful in their threatened antitrust suit. The NHL is the third major professional sports league in North American to face the prospect of antitrust litigation. Both the National Football League and National Basketball Association had to contend with similar suits over the past two years after the unions representing their respective players disbanded in order to comply with federal law and press antitrust claims against the leagues. (Click here and here for stories from The Am Law Daily about the lawyers involved in those disputes.)

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