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January 16th 2014 9:26 am
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Labor Unrest and Further Expansion:

The 1990s were yet another decade of great change in the NHL. When the ‘90s began, there were 21 teams in the NHL. When the calendar changed to the year 2000, there were 30. Two sets of expansion created a larger league than ever before; the first set began in 1991, when the San Jose Sharks joined the league. The next year the Tampa Bay Lightning were added along with the Ottawa Senators (with no connection to the old Senators other than the name). The following year, the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks brought the NHL’s total to 26. The Mighty Ducks inclusion was a source of great contention, particularly among hockey purists. The Ducks, owned by the Disney Corporation, were named after a team of children from a 1992 Disney film. Hockey fans thought this embarrassing; despite their objections, the Ducks stayed around, though the team was later sold, and their named changed from the Mighty Ducks to just the Ducks – it was only after this change that the team finally won a Stanley Cup.

The second wave of expansion occurred at the close of the decade. In 1998, hockey came to Nashville in the form of the Predators; a year later, the Thrashers brought hockey back to Atlanta. Finally, the 2000-01 season began with two new teams: the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild. Of the nine teams that were added to the NHL lists in the ‘90s, only two have won the Stanley Cup finals: the Ducks and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In addition to adding teams, the NHL moved several teams around in the 1990s. .The Minnesota North Stars packed up and moved to Dallas in 1993, becoming the Dallas Stars. In 1995, the Quebec Nordiques headed southwest, making their home in Denver and calling themselves the Colorado Avalanche. The Winnipeg Jets also left Canada, moving to Phoenix and renaming themselves the Coyotes in 1996, while in ’97, the Whalers abandoned Hartford and relocated to North Carolina, rebranding themselves the Carolina Hurricanes.

However, as the league enjoyed unprecedented expansion in the ‘90s, it also suffered through its first significant labor disruptions. The first came in 1992, when, after new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) could not be reached, the players announced, on April 1, that they would go on strike, the first league-wide player strike in NHL history. It would last ten days, as an agreement was signed on April 10. Of the 30 remaining regular season games, 11 were played. The playoffs were not interrupted. The second, and more serious disruption, came just two years later. In 1993, the CBA that had been negotiated in ’92 expired, and the entire 1993-94 season was played under the expired CBA. On October 11, after months and months of fruitless negotiating, the owners announced a lockout. This would not last a short time; the lockout lasted over 90 days, with the owners and player’s association finally reaching an agreement on January 11. The season began on January 20, lasting only 48 days.

While the ‘80s belonged to Gretzky, the early ‘90s belonged to Mario Lemieux. Lemieux had been the Pittsburgh Penguins’ first round pick in 1984, and as the ‘80s wound down and the ‘90s started up, “Super Mario” came into his own, winning three Hart Trophies, winning the Art Ross Trophy six times and winning the Conn Smythe trophy in both of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup finals appearances (which they won both times). In the minds of many, Lemieux’s talent was second only to Gretzky’s.

The other star of the ‘90s was undoubtedly Patrick Roy. The goaltender began playing for Montreal in the mid-‘80s, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy his rookie year, 1986. He would go on to win two more, though one was not for the Canadiens. In the middle of the 1995-96, Roy was traded to the Colorado Avalanche, and that spring backstopped them to a Stanley Cup championship. He would win a second with the Avs in 2001, winning his third and final Conn Smythe. He also won three Vezina trophies, all while with Montreal. When he retired, Roy held almost several major goaltending records and was considered by many to be the best of all time. Since then, he has lost some of those records to a new challenger to the throne of greatest goalie of all time, Martin Brodeur.

Hockey’s Darkest Days:

As the new millennium dawned, hockey’s fortunes appeared bright. They had finally reached a level of stability – no new teams were added or moved in the entire decade, while only one team changed its name (the Mighty Ducks to the Ducks). Parity had reached the NHL as well: only two teams won multiple titles in the 2000s, the Devils and the Red Wings, and those victories were three and six years apart, respectively. Several teams made or won the Finals for the first time, including the Carolina Hurricanes and Ottawa Senators, the Ducks and the Lightning. However, the middle of the decade saw a dark cloud descend on the sport.

Leading up to the 2004-05 season, the CBA had expired, and negotiations between the league (led by Commissioner Gary Bettman) and the NHLPA hinged primarily on the issue of a salary cap. Contracts had been going up and up, and with no kind of cap, there was no end in sight. The players stood firm, refusing to back down, and on September 13, 2004, the owners imposed the second lockout in history. This one, however, would be far more damaging than the first. This lockout lasted 310 days, causing the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season and playoffs, the first time the Stanley Cup had been cancelled since 1919, when the flu epidemic shut it down. When the lockout finally ended in July of 2005, severe damage had been done. Only in the last few years has the NHL finally been able to recover somewhat from the lockout, in attendance, TV ratings and revenue.

Out of the lockout, the NHL got itself a hard salary cap (including significant pay cuts for its players). The NHL also, in an attempt to win back fans (and perhaps gain new ones) also changed some of its rules, opening up the ice (by shrinking the neutral zone), prohibiting contact in the neutral zone and introducing “touch-up offsides,” all in an attempt to increase scoring.

Hockey Today:

As the NHL and professional hockey enters the next decade, it is in a far better place. Its new stars, including Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, are major figures in the sports world. The Detroit Red Wings returned to dominance in the late part of the decade, winning the 2008 Stanley Cup. In fact, the 2008 and 2009 Finals included both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Red Wings, with the Wings winning the first matchup and the Penguins the second, the first time since ’83-’84 that’s happened, and only the fourth time in history. The next season, the most recent Stanley Cup finals, the Chicago Blackhawks captured their first Cup victory since 1961. Interestingly, winger Marian Hossa, one of the major NHLers of the 2000s, played in all three Stanley Cup finals from 2008 to 2010 – each for a different team, the first time in NHL history that has occurred. Hossa played with the Penguins when they lost in 2008, played for the Red Wings when they lost in 2009, and finally took home the title with the Blackhawks in 2010.

With the NHL finally starting to recover, they are starting to see TV ratings and revenues pick up. However, another CBA expiration is looming, and if the NHL fails to learn from its mistakes of the mid-2000s, it could spell doom for the sport. Time will tell.


Leave A Comment | 1 person already has

Purred by: King Whiskers (Catster Member)

January 16th 2014 at 1:56 pm

My Mom remembers the 2004 lockout, when a lot of her friends at work who were big hockey fans, became very angry and disillusioned by the cancellation of games, at the fans expense. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself!

You're doing a great job my furiend! I left a fishy treat for you.

Purrs and warm hugs.

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