The NHL Lockout: A Watershed or a Waste?

Andrew IlesCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2008

As an avid hockey fan, it was painful filling the void left by the NHL during the lockout season. 

All I can remember about those 310 days in 2004-2005, which was to be the 88th NHL season, was Gary Bettman and Bill Daly vs. Bob Goodnow and Ted Saskin or the NHL vs. the NHLPA. 

I grew tired of seeing these 4 men publicly negotiating the new Collective Bargaining Agreement like children. 

Was it worth it?  Is the game better today than it was before the lockout?  Are we heading for another lockout?

The NHL said it was cost certainty that would save the NHL.  It was perceived by the NHL owners that player salaries were too high, that teams were going broke, and that player salaries should be tied to league revenue.  It was also true that scoring was reaching all time lows in the NHL. 

The NHL and NHLPA both agreed that there was too much clutching and grabbing prohibiting the more talented players from displaying their speed, skill, and natural scoring ability.  There wasn’t enough excitement.  It was also thought that teams like Toronto, Detroit, and the New York Rangers had unfair advantages because their team’s payroll was worth double than that of other small market clubs. 

The commissioner believed that there wasn't enough parity in the league and that teams like Tampa Bay and Carolina were in danger of folding due to this. 

So where is the league at now?  Was a one year labour dispute what the NHL needed to improve the game?  Or has the game improved at all?

I can tell you: It wasn’t worth it.  Salaries are now linked to league revenue, which isn’t a bad idea, however, the contracts are bigger than ever, with deals for 7, 12, 13 and 15 years and summing up to a $124 million. 


Was the NHL telling the truth about league revenue during negotiations in the first place?  Or are general managers still spending owner’s money like it isn’t their own? 

One bad move could be catastrophic to a team’s future.  Ask the New York Islanders about Alexei Yashin’s contract.  Now ask them about Rick DiPietro’s contract. 

Only time will tell if history will repeat itself. What did the new CBA do to increase skill and scoring?  It prohibited goalies from playing pucks in the corners, removed the red line to allow 2 line passes, and put rules in place to take obstruction out of the game, calling penalties every time a player puts his hand or stick on another. 

Sure, this helps players like Datsyuk and Nash to display pond-hockey-like moves but conversely it has taken the battle and excitement out of the game.  It is a lot like “no body contact hockey” aside from the odd career crippling hit.  Scoring has gone nowhere. 

This year Ovechkin is on pace for a 60+ goal season, which hasn’t happened in more than a decade, but the goals per game average hasn’t moved drastically.  It has become the team with the best power play who wins.  Now the NHL is talking about making the nets bigger. 

What happened to the breakout?  Now NHL defensemen just shoot the puck up the ice and pray that one of their “cherry picking” forwards tip it into the other team’s zone so he can get off the ice. 

Where is the skill in that?  If you ask me it isn’t a whole lot different than icing.

What did the NHL do about parity? They inputted a salary cap and a salary basement that was linked to league revenue.  Again, this is not a bad idea.  Except that there are virtually no more trades, which is extremely exciting to NHL fans.  Teams are trading contracts instead of players, which is something Mr. Bettman must have brought with him from the NBA. 

The league has good, young ambassadors like Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla.  The Hurricanes and the Lightning, two small market teams, both won Stanley Cups, which is great for hockey USA.  Neither team, however, fills their bleachers.  

Nashville is on the brink of moving again and other small market teams are having trouble spending up to the salary basement while turning over a profit.  Why is Mr. Bettman so focused on introducing hockey to small market cities in the United States when the majority of the fans are in Canada? 

I like that hockey is in Arizona and Texas but now that the Loonie and Greenback are pretty much par. I think it is time to bring some teams north.  Why did the NHL leave Winnipeg and Quebec again?  It wasn’t because the fans weren’t there.  It was because Canadian teams, like American teams, have payroll in American dollars while Canadian teams earn Canadian Dollars and American teams earn American dollars.

There is no reason to have more than one team in Florida and/or California. 

So all in all, it was a year wasted in the NHL. The first pro sport to ever miss an entire season and the first season in which Lord Stanley wasn’t awarded to the most deserving team. 

It wasn’t worth it and I wish the NHL and NHLPA would recognize that and take some time to study the game and make some meaningful changes.  Make the schedule so fans can see all of the teams and all of the players every year. 

It isn’t all about the Benjamins—it's all about the fans.