September 22, 2004

2029 Sports Lesson

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“Ok, class. Open your history textbooks to Chapter 16: Sports Stories of the Past Century and turn to page 274. Since today is the 25th anniversary of the 2004 NHL lockout, we’re going to read about how this labor dispute affected the players and the game of hockey itself.”

… and it was clearly shown on the replay that Terrell Owens did not have possession of the ball as he fell out of bounds. Vikings coach Mike Tice then became the first NFL coach of the instant replay era to throw the challenge flag just so he could yell at the refs for messing up a game-altering call.

The Lockout: Hockey Gets Put on Ice

With hockey writers predicting a lockout almost two years in advance, the NHL work stoppage became official on Sept. 16 at 12:00 a.m. The two sides met several times in the weeks leading up to the lockout, but could not work out a deal. The players’ union proposed a new plan in the 11th hour, which included a luxury tax, revenue sharing, a five percent rollback in player salaries, and changes to the entry-level salary structure. This plan was rejected by the owners, who wanted a salary cap instituted to limit player salaries.

In the 2003-04 season, the 30 NHL owners reported a loss of $224 million, of which 75 percent came from just six teams. Out of the four major sports, hockey was the only one without a salary cap or luxury tax in place. With 75 percent of the league’s total revenue going towards player salaries, the owners needed a cap on salaries to turn a profit.

A last-minute deal might have been reached had the owners and league executives not been watching the World Cup of Hockey, which took place the first two weeks of September in 2004.

Players Move On

With the league’s operations halted, many players signed on with teams in Europe and fledgling leagues in North America. Unfortunately for players like Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund, who had hoped to play in the Swedish Elite League, that league’s collective bargaining agreement also had expired, meaning they would have to wait out another lockout if they wanted to play in their home country. Leagues in the Czech Republic and Russia were in similar straights, and for the multitude of players who jouneyed over to Europe, the only option to play hockey was way back in North America.

The Original Stars Hockey League, which formed only a month before the lockout, capitalized on the labor situation in Europe. With its new brand of hockey and a multitude of former NHL players, the OSHL completed eight 20-game seasons in the span of one year, awarding the Assante Wealth Management Trophy to three different teams. The league enjoyed wide success thanks to its free admission and free alcohol at every game. However, hockey fans were irked at the $100 parking fees instituted at every arena.

The World Hockey Association did not enjoy similar success. Thanks to a substandard website and the loss of the AVCO Trophy, the league floundered in the first months of its season. Commissioner and former WHA great, Bobby Hull, resigned in mid-2005 to go play for the Detroit franchise of the OSHL. Isiah Thomas, having failed to get the New York Knicks to the playoffs, took the reins, and the league folded soon after.

The Next One And The Next Next One

Eric Lindros, whose career was plagued by numerous concussions and sour dealings with the Philadelphia Flyers, found himself short on money after investing a substantial amount of his savings in the WHA. Taking a page from Jose Canseco, Lindros started a service where people could pay him $10,000 to hang out with him for a day. Unfortunately for Lindros, a group of about 100 Flyers fans signed up for the first slot. Needless to say, by the end of the day, Lindros had sustained his seventh and eighth concussions.

Sidney Crosby, the young hockey prot