This Day In Sports: When the NHL was historically cross-checked

February 16, 2005: The National Hockey League becomes the first major professional circuit in sports history to lose an entire season to a work stoppage when commissioner Gary Bettman announces the official cancellation of the 2004-05 campaign. The two sides had been trying to salvage at least some of the season, but by mid-February it was deemed to be too late. The Stanley Cup was not awarded for the first time since 1919, and substantial damage was done to the already-struggling NHL product. There were two attempts to form alternative professional leagues in North America during the lockout, but both failed.

Bettman had tried to convince the NHL Players Association to accept a salary plan that tied salaries to the league’s revenue, which lagged far behind the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA (and still does). It was reported that some small-market teams (the Canadian franchises, for example) were happy about the lockout, as it saved them a lot of money. After a winter of misery, players and the league agreed to an adjustable salary cap as well as a salary floor. The stalemate finally ended July 22, 2005. Nothing elsewhere in major pro sports comes close to what happened to the NHL.

The most infamous NFL work stoppage came in 1987, when players went on strike two games into the season in a dispute over free agency. Then the league controversially hired replacement players to keep the season going. Week 3 of the season was cancelled, but Weeks 4, 5 and 6 were saved. About 15 percent of players crossed the picket lines, and those three games, widely dismissed by the fans and the players union, still counted in the standings. It did provide an opportunity for six former Boise State Broncos to get their only action in regular season games: Barry Black, Jim Ellis, Jon Francis, Carl Keever, Lance Sellers and Jon Zogg.

The NBA has had two contentious in-season stoppages, with both starting on July 1. The first was in 1998-99, a 191-day lockout over the collective bargaining agreement that lasted into January. The CBA was also at the heart of the second one in 2011—it finally ended in early December.

MLB has had two noteworthy stretches of regular season agony. The one that stretched from August, 1994 to April, 1995 was over the salary cap and caused 938 games to be missed, including the entire 1994 playoffs and World Series. It took baseball years to recover from that one (if it truly ever did). In mid-summer 1981, there was a strike over free agency that lasted 50 days. When play resumed in August, MLB divided the season into two halves, creating the first four-team playoffs in baseball history that fall.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

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