The 2004-2005 season for the National Hockey League was cancelled by Commissioner Gary Bettman on February 16, 2005. This was due to a breakdown in communications between the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA), and the league owners. The breakdown led to a lockout, and the lockout killed the season. It was the first time since 1919 that the Cup had not been awarded. (In 1919, the world was facing the global influenza pandemic.) That year also marked the first time a North American sports league had lost an entire season. The loss of the season was so momentus it was permanently marked into hockey history. On Lord Stanley’s cup, the 2004-2005 season is remarked upon. In simple letters it is etched “2004-05 Season Not Played“.
Back in May, the league’s owners officially notified the NHLPA in writing that it would like to end the current collective bargaining agreeement (CBA). The owners were required to inform the NHLPA no later than 120 days of the CBA’s expiration date of September 15, 2012. Had they not done so, the current agreement would have remained in effect for the 2012-2013 season. While this may look like the beginning of another disaster, it looks like all sides want to avoid a work stoppage this year.
The NHLPA is currenly being led by Donald Fehr. Mr Fehr has been the executive director of the ‘union’ since December 2010. When he was pressed at a news confrence about the approaching September 15th deadline, Director Fehr was pretty straightforward. “There’s nothing magical about September 15th. The law is that if you don’t have a new contract, and as long as both sides are willing to keep negotiating, you can continue to play under the terms of the old one until you reach an agreement.” He went on to discuss how he felt about the possibility of a lockout.
“The problem that we’ve had in salary cap sports going back twenty plus years now is that in many instances, historically…I’m not saying it’ll be true this time; a lockout has been the negotiating strategy of choice. It’s unfortuante because it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Hopefully, that’s not going to happen this time.” When asked about the players using it as a play this year, Mr.Fehr stated their position directly “None of that is coming from our side. That’s the first thing. Secondly, we have not made a proposal. We haven’t heard an owners proposal.”
The league did not have a comment, yet previous thoughts from the commissioner shed light on the owner’s position. Gary Bettman appears to be on the same side of the issue. Before game one of the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals (Yea, its safe to say that it still stings a little.), Bettman was upfront with the media. “If someone is suggesting this it’s either because there’s something in the water or people have the NBA or the NFL on the brain or they’re just looking for news on a slow day.” Bettman is not well liked by the hockey fans, as he has presided over one cancelled season, and one cut short by player/owner disputes (1994-95).
The current NHLPA representative for the Boston Bruins is forward Daniel Paille. Boston’s own #20 was also quite clear. “I think both sides know what’s at stake, I think just having two lockouts in a row (NFL,NBA), especially one after the other is not helpful to either side. I think hopefully both sides realize what’s at stake and realize that we want to build the fan base and the way to do that is to keep playing.”
The fans however… the NBA had a reduced season last year due to a labor dispute. The NFL lost its offseason training program and had to delay its training camp a year before that. The last thing Bruins Nation, or all hockey fans in general wants to see is a breakdown at the negotiating table. It would be bad enough to have the third sports league in two years cut its season short, but it would be gut wrenching to see another blank space on the Cup that says “Season Not Played“.