Well, since we can’t talk about the pre-season, or make any solid predictions over what player will score the most, or even start our brackets for fantasy hockey… we might as well do something a little productive with our time here. So, what’s a hockey fan and a history buff to do? I’ve joked about the ghosts of lockouts past in previous blogs. I guess we might as well take a look at those previous work stoppages and see what we can learn from them. Hopefully after this last soul-sucking, nerve grating, life sucking affair, both the NHL and the still active NHLPA can learn from them.
STOPPAGE # 1 (1992) The players went on strike for ten days in the month of April. It was the first work stoppage in the history of the NHL. Both sides realized quickly that this could be fixed and reached an accommodation. The games lost in that time period were re-schedueled.The settlement gave the players an increase in bonuses(for playoffs),and more control over the licensing of themselves. There were also corrections made for the free agency system. It was pretty clear the players won this one. (END OF FIRST PERIOD: NHLPA 1, NHL, 0)
STOPPAGE # 2 (1994) Gary Bettman(at behest of the ownership) engaged in a three month lockout of the players. This lockout, which spanned from October 1st to January 11th pushed back the start of the NHL’s 1994-95 regular season. It also sliced the season nearly in half, reducing the number of games played from 84 to 48. The salary cap was the hot button issue of this one, with the league in favor to capping player salaries and the union opposed. The NHL/NHLPA reached a compromise. Entry-level player contracts would be two-way deals. (Contract pay determined on playing at the NHL/AHL level). There was also an agreement on rookie contract pay. (END OF SECOND PERIOD: NHLPA 1, NHL, 0)
STOPPAGE #3 (2004) The salary cap once again made its way into a work stoppage. This time, Gary Bettman (the NHL’s new “trigger man”.) engaged in a lockout. This 310-day work stoppage cancelled the entire 2004-05 season. It became the first time since 1919 (when the influenza epidemic killed 2% of the world’s population.)that the Stanley Cup championship trophy was not awarded. It even says it on the cup. The 2004-2005 season is engraved with ‘Season Not Played’ . The owners wanted a structure linking salaries to league revenues. The ‘cost certainty’ principle which was brought about by the Levitt report, would in the owners eyes provide stability. The NHLPA just regarded this as a fancy way of saying ‘salary cap’. The season was lost. The salary cap was brought into being that year. This CBA also brought into being a salary floor. (Minimum allowed expense by a team.) (END OF REGULATION: NHLPA 1, NHL 1)
STOPPAGE # 4 (2012) The league has recovered from the angry fans and has rebuilt itself. Like a phoenix of old, the league rises from the ashes of the previous lockouts. HRR(hockey related revenue) has increased from $2.1 billion to $3.3 billion in the last seven years. The owners want a rollback of another twenty percent of the top. They’d also like to end all salary arbitration, and cut contract lengths (all the while giving out ten year plus deals to players.) The players come up with a rather brilliant idea. Yes, we’ll give up the money they said. However, instead of lining your pockets lets give it to the league to make more teams financially stable. Let’s make the entire league a healthy league. Gary Bettman dismisses this idea out of hand, and after a second proposal which wasn’t any better decides to give an ultimatum(although he claims otherwise) to take the owner’s deal or face a lockout. The players’ refused and a four month lockout ensued.
The negotiations came down how the HRR would be split, and it ended up at 50/50. (First SOG by owners- score) The players did get $300 million for the “make whole” proposal though. (First SOG players-score). The contract length was reduced to seven years(or eight if they are re-signing) (Second SOG by owners- off the crossbar.) A pro-rated salary cap of $70.2-million for the shortened 2012-13 season followed by a salary cap of $64.3-million in 2013-14. (Second SOG by players – score! Owners wanted $60M, players wanted $65M.)The salary floor will be set at $44 million for both years. Now teams will only be able to walk away from a player in salary arbitration who is awarded at least $3.5 million.(Third SOG by owners- wide of the net)
(END OF SHOOTOUT: NHLPA 2, NHL 1)
The players had to respond to the lockout by using a weapon that in normal circumstances would have been insane. The disclaimer of interest. That weapon of last resort was loaded into the silos twice. The first time, it actually brought the owners around to make an initial compromise that led to the final CBA. The second time, it finally made both sides see that enough was bloody enough. Had we had another ‘Season Not Played’ on Lord Stanley’s Cup, it would have left a permanent scar on the brand name. The NHL has lost an estimated one and a half billion dollars from this fiasco. With a ten year CBA now being ratified, it will extend the amount of healing before the next potential crisis (2021, or as early as 2019 if one side chooses to opt out.)
This will be a lesson for the Tyler Seguin and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins era players. As those young men evolve into the ‘elder statesmen’ of the league, they will have seen the disaster first hand and hopefully be able to guide the league and the players’ union into less destructive and more harmonious negotiations in the future.