Legal Look: Do players lose contract year on a lost season?

Eric Macramalla, TSN Legal Analyst

11/13/2012 4:07:19 PM

We know that NHL players don't get paid their salaries during a lockout. From the NHL's standpoint, being in a position to deprive players of income represents pretty meaningful leverage during CBA negotiations.

What represents even more leverage? Players never getting that money back - or that year.

If a full season is lost to a lockout, a player loses that entire year on his contract even though no hockey is ever played. That means that a lost year does not somehow carry over to the following year. The year is gone; the money is gone.

The reason goes back to how a player contract is structured (or as it's called, a Standard Player's Contract or its short form, SPC). When a player signs a contract, he agrees that each contract year is counted as a "League Year". Under the CBA, a "League Year" is defined as July 1 of one year to June 30 of the next year.

So NHL players don't sign for a defined number of NHL seasons; they sign for a defined number of years that may or may not include NHL hockey.

Put another way, a player is employed for a year and not a season.

Like the CBA that expired in September, expect the new CBA to even include a release agreed to by the NHLPA and its players barring a claim against NHL teams for "back pay" (see Section 27 of the CBA). Of course, it is possible that the sides could negotiate a deal whereby players get some compensation for a lost season. However, don't bet on it.

This has an impact on a lot of teams, players and fans. When the league resumed play in 2005 after losing all of the previous season, the NHL never saw some of its more notable players again, including the likes of Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Scott Stevens, Mark Messier, Vincent Damphousse and Adam Oates.

This time around may be no different. There are a number of players in their late thirties that will be free agents in 2013-2014. Some of these players may decide to retire or may not find a place to play. Here's a partial list of players that could be free agents in their late thirties next season: Kimmo Timonen, Patrik Elias, Sergei Gonchar, Tim Thomas, Daniel Alfredsson, Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Nikolai Khabibulin, Roman Hamrlik, Evgeni Nabokov, Vinny Prospal, Adrian Aucoin, Milan Hejduk, Jose Theodore and Jamie Langenbrunner.

Remember if the salary cap comes down significantly, which is expected, teams may want to sign some of these players but may not have the cap space to do so, and instead may opt for cheaper talent.

Apart from retirement, there is also the issue of turnover. With over 200 unrestricted free agents set to hit the market in 2013 if this season is lost, fans will likely see old faces on their teams replaced with new ones.

As well, some fans may never even get a chance to see new players their teams have signed. Case in point: Carolina signed Alexander Semin to a one year deal, which means it's possible Hurricane fans may never see him play for the team.

So for players, there is a lot to lose by missing a season. And for some of these players, we may never see them again play NHL hockey.

Eric Macramalla is TSN's Legal Analyst and can be heard each week on TSN Radio 1050. You can follow him on Twitter @EricOnSportslaw.