Last lockout was “massive philosophical divide,” says former NHLPA president Linden

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Depending who you ask, former player and NHLPA president Trevor Linden was either the hero that helped end the 2004-05 lockout, or a traitor.

Arguing for the former, here’s The Vancouver’s Sun Iain McIntyre:

He should have been honoured for saving the National Hockey League eight years ago, working through back channels to broker peace and build an exit lane from a destructive dispute that scuttled the 2004-05 season. Instead, Linden was vilified by some as the traitor who toppled NHL Players’ Association czar Bob Goodenow and “caved” to league owners, who got their salary cap.

Caved? Really? After a full season lost and no end in sight to the labour war? How many winters without the NHL needed to pass in Canada before it would have been honourable to devise a Plan B?

Not only did Linden, as the union president, get the NHL back on the ice, the NHLPA just about ran the table on contract items. The players’ “defeat” was so complete they collected $12 billion US in salaries over the life of a Collective Bargaining Agreement that enabled owners to generate record revenues and dramatically escalate the value of their franchises, as evidenced by Forbes’ current valuation of the Canucks at $342 million and the Toronto Maple Leafs at $1 billion.

And for the latter, The Vancouver Province’s Tony Gallagher:

The players are now feeling the consequences of the work of Trevor Linden and his henchmen, who stabbed their leadership in the back during the last tough lockout, taking the easy way out and letting Ted Saskin give the owners everything their hearts desired. Now the players have swallowed the salary cap, all the owners have to do now is get them to accept an increasingly lower percentage of the revenue every time a CBA expires.

Regardless of his legacy, Linden believes there’s a dramatic difference between the last lockout (the owners wanted a salary cap, the players didn’t) and the current one.

“It was a massive philosophical divide,” Linden said Thursday. “It was a huge philosophical divide on the economics of the game. … This isn’t.”

Linden’s role in the 2004-05 lockout is especially noteworthy today as the players consider the league’s offer to meet with owners without commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA leader Donald Fehr.

In January of 2005, Linden met with former Flames owner and NHL chairman of the board Harley Hotchkiss (without Bettman or then union executive director Bob Goodenow) in a last-ditch effort to save the season.

While the season was ultimately scrapped, the Linden-Hotchkiss relationship was considered a key factor in finally ending the dispute.