NHL Lockouts (Why they happened & When)

The NHL, or National Hockey League, is the professional hockey league in North America. The sport and league are Canada’s most popular countrywide, and one of the four major sports leagues in the U.S. The NHL has had a lot of highs throughout its history. However, with those highs come lows, and those lows have come in the form of lockouts. Why were there NHL lockouts and when were they?

The NHL lockout can refer to any of the four lockouts in league history. In professional sports, a lockout is the shutdown of a professional sports league by team owners. This is usually due to a disagreement on payment conditions or other league matters with the players association.

NHL lockouts

When Were The NHL Lockouts?

The NHL has had four major lockouts in its history. Each lockout represented a different issue between the NHL owners, NHL representatives, and NHL players. The lockouts differed in length and reasons, but all had their purpose to bring us the league we have today. The four NHL lockouts were:

  • The 1992 NHL Strike – The 1992 lockout canceled 30 NHL games and lasted ten days.
  • 1994-95 Lockout – The 94/95 lockout canceled 468 games including the All-Star Game, and delayed the season. The regular season was limited to 48 games and zero non-conference games.
  • 2004-05 Lockout – The most significant lockout in NHL history. The 04/05 lockout canceled the entire NHL season.
  • 2012-13 Lockout – The 12/13 lockout was very similar to the lockout of 94/95 in terms of a delayed season and the canceling of 510 games along with the All-Star game. The season was shortened to 48 games as well with zero non-conference games.

What Caused The Lockouts?

There are constant disputes between the NHL and the NHLPA, most of which get brushed under the table. The majority of the time the issues are resolved behind closed doors, or rather quickly. However, with these lockouts, this was not the case. Each lockout had its own personal reasons and objectives behind them, so let’s check out what those were:

1992 NHL Strike – The 1992 strike began on April 1st, lasting for ten days, and was started by the walkout of players. The 1992 lockout’s purpose was to give the players larger playoff bonuses, increased control of licensing, and changes to the Free Agency system.

In addition to these changes, the league expanded to an 84 game regular season and revisions to have two games per team in non-NHL cities. On April 10th the strike was resolved, with the two sides agreeing on a two-year deal. This would be later revised to a 1-year deal, not to the wishes of the players, which lead to the 1994-95 lockout.

1994-95 Lockout – This lockout came as a result of the previous season not having a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The increased push from NHL owners for a salary cap was the main reason for this lockout, something the players did not want. Owners sought to help franchises that had a weaker market and make sure they could cap the rising salaries of players.

The implementation of a luxury tax was pushed for, which the players viewed as essentially a salary cap and refused. A luxury tax is a financial penalty that is issued by the league, put on salaries that were higher than the average.

Eventually, talk of a rookie salary cap, changes to the arbitration system and loosened free agency was discussed and agreed upon.

A salary cap for rookies was instituted at the end of the day, and all players signing a rookie contract needed to sign two-way contracts. This allowed teams to send them down to the minors at minor league-level pay rather than the pay rate they received while playing for the NHL club.

The lockout ended on January 11, 1995. Another result was the league shortened the season from 84 games to 48.

2004-05 Lockout – The 04/05 lockout was the most significant of the four because of the fact that the entire season was canceled. This was put into action due to the owners coming down hard on the players in an attempt to implement a salary cap. What caused this lockout was:

  • The former 94/95 CBA expiring
  • Not being able to reach an agreement on a new deal in time to start the season.
  • 76% of NHL clubs revenues were spent on team salaries prior to the end of the 2003–04 season

The league was very concerned with the 76% stat of NHL teams spending on team salaries. During the 02/03 season, teams lost roughly $273 million due to their gross revenues on player salaries.

The results of this lockout would be:

  • A new 8 year CBA
  • NHL becomes the last of the four major professional sports leagues to implement the salary cap.
  • Team salary revenues reduced from 76% to 54%.
  • Rules changes to the game, including the creation of the shootout.
  • All player salaries are guaranteed

    The 2004/05 lockout was finally resolved on July 22nd, 2005, after 1230 NHL games were not played. Among the four major professional sports leagues, this 04/05 season in the NHL marks the only time a season was canceled due to a labor dispute.

2012-13 Lockout – This dispute began on September 15, 2012, with an agreement being reached on a new CBA on January 12, 2013. This was 119 days after the expiry of the former CBA. Key issues the owners identified that they wanted to implement were:

  • A maximum term of four years on all new players’ contracts.
  • Eliminating signing bonuses and setting a uniform salary for each year of a contract. This would then eliminate the front-loading of contracts.
  • Extend entry-level contracts for players entering the league from three years to five.
  • Extend qualification for unrestricted free agency from seven years in the league to ten.

The two sides proposed multiple different offers, with no agreement being reached. However finally on January 6th, a new CBA was tentatively agreed on, eventually being signed on January 12th. The outcomes of the negotiations were:

  • A limit of eight years on contract extensions and seven years on new contracts.
  • A salary floor of $44 million and a salary cap of $60 million. This would be a two-year transition period, with teams being able to spend $70.2 million in the deal’s first season and $64.3 million in the second season.
  • Maximum of 50-percent variance in the salaries over the course of a contract.
  • Mandatory acceptance of arbitration awards under $3.5 million.
  • No league realignment
  • A transition period to buy out contracts that do not fit under the team’s salary cap.

This new CBA agreement was a new 10 year deal between the NHL and the NHLPA. This lockout resulted in 510 NHL games being canceled, roughly 41% of the season.

Thank you for reading this article! I hope you gained a bit of understanding into the lockouts of the NHL, and all that came with them. They are frustrating for sure, but those lockouts have helped grow the game at the end of the day and make it the sport it is today.

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