New season, new CBA, looking back on 50 years as an association
With the ink barely dry on a new collective bargaining agreement with the NHL that will see us through to the end of the 2023 season, the NHLOA and it’s members are excited to kickoff the league’s 102nd season tonight!
This year, we are celebrating 50 years as an association and would like to look back on a little history of where we came from:
The NHLOA (National Hockey League Officials’ Association), was born in 1969 out of a need to improve working conditions, salaries and other benefits for officials of the National Hockey League. All members are active Officials under contract to the NHL who are working in the NHL and designated minor leagues.
Bill Friday was the first NHLOA President and played an important part in the birth of the Association. With the arrival of a competitor in professional hockey in 1972, the Officials finally gained some leverage in negotiating with the NHL It also triggered the negotiation of the first Collective Bargaining Agreement that was going to take place before the start of the 1973-74 season.
Over the next few years, Matt Pavelich, Wally Harris, Bryan Lewis and the late John McCauley took turns as presidents for various terms over the NHLOA until 1980-81 season.
With the death of the WHA, 4 teams joined the ranks of the NHL and some WHA Officials would do the same.
Dave Newell took over in 1981 for the longest single reign that would last until 1988.
The playoffs of 1988 were quite eventful from an Association standpoint. After a game between the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins, a verbal altercation took place between the referee and the New Jersey coach, which resulted in his suspension for one game. Not happy with the league’s decision, the New Jersey Devils turned to the judiciary system to obtain an injunction that would allow their coach to take part in the next game. Their demand was granted.
Dissatisfied that the suspension was not upheld, the Officials threatened to strike until the matter was resolved to their satisfaction. Since an agreement could not be reached, the Officials did not work the game and the game was played with minor Officials dressed as referee and linesmen. Threats of firing and fines did not deter the resolve of the NHLOA Members from getting justice in this case.
From the late 1980’s going in to the 90’s, a boom in the sports economics caused the athlete’s salaries in Professional Sports to rise at a rate never seen before. In the meantime, some of the other areas were left quite far behind. That was the case with the NHL Officials.
In the fall 1989, Terry Gregson became the seventh President of the NHLOA and in the summer of 1992, the NHLOA, at a special summer meeting decided to turn to the player’s agent Don Meehan to lead them into the negotiation of their next Collective Bargaining Agreement.
After ongoing negotiations that lasted the whole summer, training camp, exhibition games and the first month of the season and seeing little progress, a special meeting was held in Toronto in November 1993. On the agenda, whether or not a motion for a strike would get the approval of the Membership.
Unanimously, the NHLOA decided that, in order to make things move forward, a strike was in order and after working their next day’s game, everybody would go home and wait for a tentative agreement to be reached between the NHL and the NHLOA.
The NHL decided to go on with their schedule using replacement officials.
This venture was far from successful mainly because the best Officials in the other spheres of hockey decided to support the NHL Officials and refused to act as replacement Officials while the strike was taking place. So, Officials from the CAHA, USA Hockey, Major Junior Hockey, College Hockey and numerous minor professional hockey leagues joined their brothers from the NHL in their battle for a better CBA for them and their families.
Needless to say, their support was instrumental in the success of these negotiations.
It was also the consensus amongst the media, players and fans that something needed to be rectified and this overwhelming support resulted in the ratification, after a 17-day strike, of a new and improved Collective Bargaining Agreement for the NHL Officials.
Important enhancements were achieved in the severance, pension, retirement and playoff compensation sectors.
In 1994, Kevin Collins became the first linesman to preside over the destiny of the NHLOA for the 1994-95 season and was succeeded the next year by Andy Van Hellemond for the 1995-96 season. In 1996, Terry Gregson returned as President until a new format was implemented in 2000: the election of an Executive Board.
In 1999, with the introduction of the 2-referees system, this number would jump to 76 creating new jobs for a number of Officials. The experience of veterans already in place would never be so much appreciated and necessary to help make this transition as smooth as it could possibly be done. It also gave these young Officials the opportunity to learn much faster what this job was all about at the NHL level.
The year 2001 will certainly not be remembered for the NHLOA-NHL negotiations. The events of September 11 put a dark cloud over the beginning of the activities in the NHL.
Prior to the beginning of Training Camp 2001, the Membership was invited to a meeting where they were asked to ratify the agreement in principle that had been reached between the NHLOA and the NHL.
Once again the Members showed a united front and accepted unanimously the tentative agreement and were ready to start the 2001-02 season.
Harry Radomski was once again reconfirmed in his position as Legal Counsel for the Association and a new Executive Board was elected.
The 9/11 events would prove to have an important impact on the Membership with the delays in awarding Working Visas to the Canadian part of the Membership, the US residents ended up working more than 80% of the pre-season games. No doubt their physical fitness was seriously put to test and passed with overwhelming success.
Another consequence was most obvious in the traveling habits of the Officials. The added security at the airports made flying a lengthy and strenuous process that made the whole experience a less than enjoyable experience. These necessary security measures certainly made everybody safer and after a period of adjustments from the authorities rendered this part of the job a little less arduous.
With all that happened still fresh in mind, the Member’s professionalism was rarely more evident in this off-ice facet of an Official’s job. After all, it was a very little price to pay compare to those who had lost cherished ones in this tragedy.
Over the years, numerous Officials worked with the various Presidents to make the Association run smoothly, there is too many to list here but their contribution is not forgotten.
The NHLOA has now reached a point in its development where it wants to reach out to those who have a special interest in the officiating at the NHL level. The creation of this web site makes the NHLOA Members more accessible to the public and wish to present a side of them that is rarely available to hockey fans, whether they be Officials themselves or simply curious about this aspect of hockey.