Looking back at the NHL’s shortened and postponed seasons

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Like pretty much every other sport in North America, the 2019-20 NHL season is currently suspended with little idea as to when — or if — it will resume due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This is not the first time an NHL season has been interrupted or cut short.

The league has been stopped by global pandemics, lockouts, and a strike. One thing that did not bring the league to a stop, though, was World War II as the league continued on as a means of attempting to boost morale in North America.

Let’s take a look back at the previous stoppages.

1919 Stanley Cup Final

This is easily the most similar example as to what we are dealing with right now — a global pandemic shutting down, well, everything.

During the 1918-19 season it was an outbreak of the Spanish Flu that impacted the Stanley Cup Final between the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s Seattle Metropolitans and the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.

There had already been five games played in the series (each team won two games and tied one) with a deciding Game 6 set to be played on April 1 in Seattle. But several players on both teams had become ill, with Montreal’s Newsy Lalonde, Joe Hall, Bill Coutu, Louis Berlinguette, and Jack McDonald all either hospitalized or bed-ridden. Hall died four days later due to pneumonia that was brought on by the flu.

Game 6 was officially cancelled hours before the scheduled puck drop.

Montreal briefly considered using players from the PCHA’s Victoria team, but was ultimately prohibited from doing so. At that point Montreal attempted to forfeit the Stanley Cup to Seattle, a gesture that was refused by the Metropolitans due to the circumstances.

No Stanley Cup was awarded that season.

The 1919 season is included on the Stanley Cup with the following engraving:

1919
Seattle Metropolitans
Montreal Canadiens
Series Not Completed

The Hamilton Tigers walk out

Technically this wasn’t a league stoppage, but it did impact the on-ice results in a significant way.

During the 1924-25 season players for the Hamilton Tigers went on strike after demanding a pay raise due to the season being increased from 24 to 30 games. Players were not given a pay increase. The team’s argument was that players were contracted between specific dates regardless of the number of games played. The player’s sat out, with then-league president Frank Calder declaring the Montreal Canadiens league champions. Montreal went on to play in the Stanley Cup Final where they would lose to the WHL’s Victoria Cougars, making it the first time an NHL team had lost the cup to a team from a rival league.

Following that season the Tigers were purchased by a bootlegger named “Big Bill” Dwyer who moved the franchise to New York where they would become the New York Americans.

The 1992 Players’ Strike

This was the first time labor negotiations put a halt to the NHL season.

The NHLPA called the strike on April 1, just before the conclusion of the regular season and the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The major factors involved in the strike: free agency, arbitration, playoff bonuses, and how to share revenue from trading cards.

The players felt that by walking out so close to the start of the playoffs it would give them an advantage in negotiations because teams were so dependent on playoff revenue. A Federal Mediator eventually joined the negotiations and after 10 days the strike was settled, allowing for the completion of the regular season and playoffs.

The result: An expanded regular season from 80 games to 84 games, two neutral site games per season to gauge interest for potential league expansion, larger playoff bonuses for players, and changes to the free agency and arbitration process.

The Pittsburgh Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup, their second Stanley Cup championship in a row.

The 1994-95 lockout

At the conclusion of training camps for the 1994-95 season, the league locked the players out as CBA negotiations were unable to result in a new deal.

This would be the first time a league fight over a salary cap would impact the season. The league eventually softened on its hard cap stance and proposed a luxury tax system, something that the players viewed as another form of a cap on salaries.

The lockout lasted for more than three months, resulting in 468 regular season games being lost.

In mid-January, a 48-game season was started. It was, at the time, the shortest NHL season in more than 50 years.

The New Jersey Devils would go on to win their first ever Stanley Cup, defeating the Detroit Red Wings in a four-game sweep.

The 2004-05 lockout

This turned out to be the first — and currently only — time a major North American sports season was cancelled in its entirety.

It was also the first time since 1919 that the Stanley Cup was not awarded.

The issue, just as it was in 1994-95, was the introduction of a league salary cap. The league eventually got what it wanted (a salary cap) with an agreement between the two sides finally being reached in July, 2005.

Along with the financial impact, there were several rule changes that followed, from the introduction of the shootout, to the elimination of the two-line pass, to the three-point game that gives teams a point in the standings for losing in overtime or a shootout.

With no season to play and no results, the league used a weighted lottery draft to give all 30 teams a chance at winning the No. 1 overall pick in 2005. The system gave teams with the fewest playoff appearances and No. 1 overall picks over the previous three seasons the best chance to win it. It was ultimately won by the Pittsburgh Penguins who selected Sidney Crosby with the top pick.

The 2012-13 Lockout

The third lockout in two decades began on Sept. 16, 2012 and was finally resolved on Jan. 6, 2013. The main issues were the NHL’s attempt to cut player’s share of hockey related revenue from 57 percent to 46 percent, change the definition of hockey related revenue (cutting the player’s share even further), term-limit on contracts, free agency rights, and salary arbitration.

The new agreement ultimately put a limit on free agency contracts of seven years (eight years for players re-signing with current teams),  mandatory acceptance of arbitration awards under $3.5 million, and an amnesty buyout period that would allow teams to buy out contracts that did not fit under the new league salary cap.

A 48-game season was played beginning on January 19 with all games being played within each conference.

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup, their second in three years, by defeating the Boston Bruins in six games.

The 2019-20 pause

Now we have the 2019-20 season, currently paused due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

There is still no timeline on when the season will resume.

Here is a look at where the season stands as of this moment.

MORE:
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Uncertainty awaits as NHL puts season on ice — for now
How grassroots hockey has been affected by COVID-19
Where the NHL left off with 2019-20 season in limbo

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.