The Lockout: A Guide to NHL Work Stoppages for all Sports Fans

Gary Bettman
Gary Bettman (Tom Turk/THW)

I think it’s safe to say that for the average sports fan who enjoys following hockey, the articles about the current NHL lockout read like the DSM-IV-TR (a book that I can only assume most of us have either never opened or would not be able to understand even if we did open it). Let me say that I am the first person to enter into a conversation about the lockout and throw around terms such as collective bargaining and revenue sharing. However, the only reason I can do this with some level of confidence is because I have spent countless hours Googling what exactly these terms mean and creeping on other peoples’ private conversations about the past and current situations. Quite honestly, I’m tired of it, and I’m sure the two older men I was blatantly listening in on at the gym are tired of it as well.

So, for those of us who want an easy read about the past NHL work stoppages as well as some clear insight into the present situation, search no further! Below is a brief history of each that I have compiled and am willing to share because, unlike Gary Bettman, I am not selfish. The great news is that there is no way the obnoxious Devils fan who sounds like he has been at every meeting during the lockout will ever know you read this article…you’re welcome.

[Related: Gary Bettman and the Good Fortunes of the NHL]

In the history of the NHL, there have only been four serious work stoppages:

The 1992 strike started on April 1 and lasted 10 days. It was the first league-wide strike, and it wouldn’t be the last. The National Hockey League Player’s Association (NHLPA), or the players union, called the strike toward the end of the regular season; the players hoped this would have the biggest impact on the pockets of the NHL owners, pushing them to reach an agreement. The NHL Player’s Association wanted a new collective bargaining agreement, or a new contract with the owners. Not much was accomplished as a result of negotiations. The players did gain more control of marketing rights and saw an increase in their revenue, or in the money they would make, in the playoffs. The owners saw an increase in their revenue with the addition of four games to the regular season. The 30 regular season games that had been lost were rescheduled, so the full season and playoffs, although pushed back, were played. That year, the Pittsburgh Penguins swept the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals and took home the hardware.

(Enter Gary Bettman, Commissioner of the NHL for three work stoppages)

The 1994-95 Lockout began on October 1. The major issue was the introduction of a salary cap, or a limit to the amount of money teams can spend on players. Led by Bettman, the owners were strongly in favor of a salary cap to help out smaller market teams. The players, whose pockets would be affected by a salary cap, instead supported revenue sharing in which the top teams contribute money to the bottom teams. The NHLPA and the owners collectively agreed to dismiss the idea of a salary cap, but the owners did introduce a rookie salary cap. The lockout lasted until January 11 and led to a shortened season, from 84 to 48 games, as well as the loss of the All-Star game. The New Jersey Devils swept the Detroit Red Wings in the Finals and took home the Stanley Cup.

The 2004-05 Lockout saw the cancellation of all season games. The NHL went down in the record books for being the first professional sports league to cancel an entire season due to a labor dispute. The organization must be so proud. The lockout began on September 15, 2004. The unresolved issue of the salary cap was again the main source of contention. This time, the owners were insistent on introducing a salary cap. Initially, the NHLPA thought the owners were being dramatic with their numbers and took a hardcore stand against them. As the threat of a season-ending lockout became real, though, they eventually broke their stand to resume talks. Unfortunately, neither side could agree on a figure in time, so the entire season was cancelled. Following the cancellation, the owners implemented a salary cap and player contracts saw a 24% rollback (pay cut for the players). Since the 04-05 lockout, team revenues have significantly increased, so the cap has also been raised.

And now for a discussion of the current predicament…

The 2012 lockout began on September 15, 2012 when Bettman declared a lockout of the members of the NHLPA. The major issue centers around hockey related revenues (HRR), defined as money made from NHL games, ticket sales, concession sales, broadcasts, merchandise, etc. The owners want to reduce the player’s share of HRR from 57% to 50%. Also, they want to lower the salary cap and put limits on contracts. As NHL correspondent Cait Platt explains, “Lowering the salary cap and putting limits on contracts will mean what players have been signed for this off season will mean nothing.” (

Crosby is the face of the players during the current lockout. (Mike Colligan/THW)

The “make whole” provision constantly being referenced in discussions about the lockout means that the players want a guarantee that they will receive the money for which they signed contracts. The season is currently scheduled to begin Dec 1, 2012. With the recent cancellation of the Winter Classic, many are questioning whether there will be a season at all. Others remain hopeful that talks could resume soon. According to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, talks could resume in “the relatively near future.”

LATEST NEWS: Both sides met for four straight days trying to hash out a collective bargaining agreement that would allow the players to get back on the ice (starting Tuesday, November 6 and ending Friday, November 9). Many people seemed optimistic that the long hours of talks and limited statements to the media from either side meant the lockout was coming to an end. However, when talks ended Friday, they seemed no closer to an agreement than they were before the meetings. Could this breakdown in talks foreshadow an inevitable cancellation of the entire season?

And that concludes the history of NHL work stoppages. Like my sister says after reading a book to her kindergarteners, “If there are any questions, I will not answer them, so put your hands down.” Just kidding, she tells them to please put their hands down. I’m hoping this article is helpful in understanding the past and present situations, and if there are still any questions or comments, please contact me or comment below! Or, just listen to the guys discussing the issue in Panera- just watch out for that Devils fan.

Check out some other great articles about the lockout from!

Mark Rappaport writes about revenue sharing:

Ian McLaren discusses the make whole provision:

Mark Ritter also talks about the make whole provision: