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NHL Labor Dispute Threatens Hockey Season - 2004-09-15

For the second time in 10 years, the National (ice) Hockey League (NHL) has decided to lock out its players and suspend operations. A dispute over a player salary cap and other issues could leave hockey fans out in the cold.

The NHL Board of Governors voted to lock out players and suspend all team operations at a meeting in New York Wednesday. The main dispute is over a salary cap that team owners want and players say they will never accept.

Owners say player salaries have risen 90 percent more than revenues in the last 10 years. The players say salaries are up only 10 percent more than the clubs have earned.

The NHL also says it lost more than $224 million last season. The average player salary last year was more than $1.8 million. NHL Chief legal officer Bill Daly says the league has to cut costs, but the players will agree.

"We want to move the process forward and we want to miss as few games as possible," he said. "But again we need to have a negotiating partner on the other side of the table, I understand that that is their [the players'] position as well. But right now we are not seeing the common ground."

This is the second time in its history that the NHL season has been interrupted by a labor dispute. The last time the NHL locked players out was 1994-95, when nearly half the season was lost. NHL Players' Union representative Ted Saskin says the fans are the ones who lose.

"We feel terrible about that," he said. "This is something players since they have been kids have been working hard to get into the NHL. There's nothing more that the players love to do than to play hockey. But they also want a fair deal for both sides. And until that happens unfortunately there are a lot of other casualties."

The last lockout lasted 103 days. The team owners have $300 million in a so-called lockout fund, with each of the teams contributing $10 million. The money will keep the teams from going bankrupt during the labor dispute. NHL Training camps were supposed to open this week. The season was scheduled to start October 13. Unless the two sides can reach some sort of agreement, there might be no NHL hockey anytime soon.