Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

The Hockey Lockout of 2004-05: The Epic Lockout Resulted in the Loss of the Entire 2004-05 National Hockey League Season and Produced an Outcome Slanted Largely in Favor of the Owners; a Salary Cap, a Pay Cut for Players, New Free-Agency Rules, a New Drug-Testing Policy, and Changes in the Rules of Play Were among the Agreements Reached in the Settlement

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

The Hockey Lockout of 2004-05: The Epic Lockout Resulted in the Loss of the Entire 2004-05 National Hockey League Season and Produced an Outcome Slanted Largely in Favor of the Owners; a Salary Cap, a Pay Cut for Players, New Free-Agency Rules, a New Drug-Testing Policy, and Changes in the Rules of Play Were among the Agreements Reached in the Settlement

Article excerpt

The lockout in the National Hockey League (NHL) gave new meaning to the old sports adage "Wait till next year." The aborted schedule of games in 2004-05 set records that the fans would rather not see: the first professional sports league to lose an entire season, the most games lost (1,230) due to a work stoppage, and the longest-lasting shutdown (310 days) in sports history. Moreover, there was no guarantee that there would even be a "next year," as key issues on the bargaining table remained unresolved. But in July 2005, the NHL and its players' union finally reached a new collective bargaining agreement, allowing the 2005-06 season to start on time.

Lengthy work stoppages in professional sports are not new. In 1994-95, major league baseball lost 921 games over a period of 232 days from a strike, and the National Basketball Association cancelled 428 games during its 1998-99 lockout. (1) Hockey had a lengthy shutdown in 1994-95 when 468 games were wiped out during a 103-day lockout.

Team owners have increasingly relied on lockouts to put pressure on players to accede to their demands. Lockouts usually occur before or early in a season, when players have not received much, if any, of their pay. However, it is not uncommon for players to strike late in a season, when they have received most of their salaries while owners have yet to take home big payoffs from postseason television revenues.

These conflicts are costly, and perhaps it is past the time for the parties to pursue new approaches that promote a partnership between owners and players. This is especially the case with hockey, because the future of the league is threatened by the frequent wrangling over money and power. Unless a more cooperative model of negotiations is developed, the NHL could continue to recede from public view and lose its standing as a major professional sport.

Background

The National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) was formed in 1957 by players protesting a television deal between the league and CBS that gave all of the money to the owners. Detroit Red Wings star Ted Lindsay was the first president of the union, which was able to secure a minimum salary of $7,000 and additional pension contributions from the owners. But a lack of player solidarity and failure to achieve recognition from the owners caused the union to falter after only about a year of operation. (2)

The union came back to life in 1967 when Toronto lawyer and players' agent Alan Eagleson took over the reconstituted NHLPA. Eagleson quickly established formal recognition of the union by the league and became the most powerful operative in the sport by gaining control of staging international hockey events and continuing to serve as an agent for several players. However, he also mishandled the financial affairs of Bobby Orr, the famous Boston Bruins defenseman, and manipulated union funds to his advantage. These missteps forced Eagleson to resign, and in 1994, following a 2-year FBI investigation, he was convicted of 32 counts of racketee: ing, embezzlement, and fraud. As a result, he served 6 months in prison?

Eagleson was replaced as executive director by Bob Goodenow in 1992. Goodenow was captain of the hockey team at Harvard University, where he earned a degree in economics and government. He later received a law degree from the University of Detroit and, as a labor lawyer in that city, served as an agent for several players, including Brett Hull, then of the St. Louis Blues. A tough negotiator, Goodenow was able to achieve a 3-year, $7.3 million contract for Hull, an immense increase over his previous salary of $125,000 a year.

In sharp contrast to the "company union" approach of Eagleson, Goodenow adopted an adversarial posture with the owners. To demonstrate his tenacity, he led the union in a 10-day strike at the end of the 1992 season the first ever in hockey. The union won concessions such as the right to choose arbitrators in salary disputes, a reduction in the age for unrestricted free agency from 31 to 30, and an increase in the players' postseason revenue share. …

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