The old adage is that history tends to repeat itself, and that certainly resonates in the annals of labor disputes in the National Hockey League.
Under the provisions of the current collective bargaining agreement, the league can opt out on September 1st, 2019, and two weeks after, the NHL Player’s Association has the option to opt out of the current labor agreement. One could argue that the NHL has become more prominent for its frequent labor stoppages than it has for promoting the sport as one of its top governing bodies.
Since 1993, there have been three lockouts in the NHL, and that includes the 2004-2005 one which resulted in a fully canceled season, the first time ever that a professional sports league in North America had lost an entire season.
The primary grievances the players around the league have pertain to escrow payments, the player-owner hockey-related revenue distribution format (which is currently entrenched at 50/50, though players had a 57% share of hockey-related revenue under the previous CBA); the Olympics, signing bonuses, and contract length.
With a new team in Seattle having just been approved, the NHLPA may have some leverage, leverage that it did not have in previous negotiations. Additional leverage may also include the capricious circumstances surrounding the Arizona Coyotes and Ottawa Senators arena leases and relocation possibilities.
Historically, the NHLPA has underrepresented the hundreds of players it is supposed to protect, and has a nefarious history. It had infinitesimal leverage back in 2004-2005, and a revenue split that was once 75-25 in favor of the players had dwindled to half. Alan Eagleson, who was the first executive director of the NHLPA when it was founded in 1967 and hockey’s first player agent, was found guilty on charges of fraud after numerous investigations conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and FBI exposed his deliberate mismanagement of the NHLPA’s pension fund, which had included the fact that his travel expenses were not subject to review, as well as the correct assertion that he had lent pension money to associates and friends.
This represents a chance for the NHLPA to finally get back at the owners after losing the past several labor agreements. Of course, neither side could potentially not end up opting out, but the NHLPA is almost certain to opt out regardless of what happens.
At a time when an NHL team is, on average, worth $630 million, and when operating income has skyrocketed so rapdily, coupled with lucrative television deals both nationally and on regional sports networks, the players see an opportunity to expand free trade for themselves and their future constituents. The question is whether any games will be lost.