One year later, did NHL benefit from lockout?

One year later, did NHL benefit from lockout?
September 15, 2013, 12:30 pm
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Already comfortable, Caps preparing for season

It was a year ago today that the NHL’s 30 owners locked their doors and told their fans and players to go away.

One year has passed since the NHL staged a 119-day lockout that wiped away 510 games, including the 2013 Winter Classic, and reduced the season to 48 games.

Eventually, the players came back. And so did the fans.

Which begs this question: Was last year’s lockout worth it?

A year ago, the NHL owners wanted a 57-43 split in hockey related revenue and a hard salary cap. And when negotiations between the owners and players stalled, there were threats of non-guaranteed contracts and redefining hockey relates revenue.

“It would have turned nuclear in a hurry, and then who the hell knows?” St. Louis Blues captain David Backes told last month. “Those issues were almost sacred ground, in my opinion. When those things are being taken away the hair on the back of your neck stands up and you dig in.”

The NHL players battled hard for what they believed was fair – a 50-50 split in revenue, guaranteed contracts, better pensions for retired players – while accepting a reduction in the league’s salary cap and limits on the length and value of future contracts.

“There’s nothing more fair than 50-50,” Backes said. “I hope the money is not a fighting point in the next agreement.”

Today, the NHL seems light years away from those dark months of 2012. In fact, fans came back in droves when the league resumed in January, with average attendance increasing 2.6 percent over the previous season.

“I’m thankful, very thankful,” Capitals right wing Troy Brouwer said. “You look at who was fighting and over what money and it’s hard to stomach, I understand that.

“But hockey fans are very passionate fans and we’re happy and really thankful they came back in such strong numbers.” 

So, one year later, was the 2012 lockout a necessary evil?

“It’s in the past now,” Brouwer said, “but the things we fought for – better pensions, better health benefits – those are the things we needed to fight for. A lockout, we feel, was never warranted. We always felt there was a better way to do things and we had time to do it, but what happened, happened.”

If you poll the 700-plus members of the NHLPA most will tell you that one of the biggest victories of the new 10-year agreement with the owners was a significant increase in fixed pensions, which improved by $1 million in the first year of the agreement.

“A lot of people don’t realize that our careers might be one or two years,” Brouwer said. “Not very many guys get those 10- or 12-year careers. We’re very fortunate to do what we do, but we still need to take care of ourselves after hockey is done and we’re usually done in our early or mid 30s and that’s 30 years trying to make sure we’re paying bills until our pensions kick in. That’s something we really felt was worth fighting for.”

There were, however, smaller victories made by the players.

Like scheduled days off and the right to have their own hotel rooms after completing their three-year entry level contracts.

“Some coaches were very responsible with giving days off,” Backes said. “But if I know on the 15th of October I can take my family out to t a movie or go to a fair for the day I can schedule that and not have to worry about a pop-up practice.”

Brouwer, who has a young daughter, said it was important for players to have their own rooms after three years in the league.

“I liked having a roommate when I was young,” he said, “but now that I’m a little older and I have a family I want to Skype with my kids or talk with my wife without having to go in the bathroom.”

Backes said that with a slew of outdoor games, the upcoming Winter Olympics, a reduction in goalie pads, mandatory visors and hybrid icing, the game is safer and more fun to watch than ever before.

And if it took a lockout for the league to get to this point, so be it.

“I think everyone can agree that not having hockey was not a good thing,” Backes said. “Did it anger a lot of fans who won’t come back? That may be true. Did it also click in a few people’s heads that they were really missing NHL hockey and glad they have it back? Yes.

“But I think the length of the agreement [10 years, with a mutual opt-out after eight years] gives us some stability. There’s a relationship between the NHL and NHLPA that is hopefully being cultivated so that it doesn’t happen again and those dark days and lockouts, which seem to be a trend, can hopefully be over.

“I’d like to see us take the momentum of this agreement right into another one.”