Tuesday, September 23, 2014

In memory of the holdout

NHL training camps opened last week, and all players have now reported, completed their fitness testing, and started playing preseason games.

Well, almost all players. A few aren’t there yet, because they’re sitting at home waiting for a new contract. The most notable name in that group is Blue Jackets star Ryan Johansen, whose increasingly ugly contract dispute has left him millions of dollars away from the team’s best offer.

Except that Johansen isn’t holding out. Neither are Torey Krug and Jaden Schwartz, and neither was P.K. Subban two years ago nor Drew Doughty the year before that. A restricted free agent without a deal isn’t holding out — he just doesn’t have a contract, and he’s not allowed to play without one. Stop calling RFAs holdouts. I feel very strongly about this.

No, a real holdout comes when a player has a valid deal and refuses to honor it, usually because he wants to renegotiate for more money. And those holdouts are essentially nonexistent in today’s NHL, thanks to the 2005 CBA, which made it impossible to tear up an existing contract. That change eliminated the incentive to stay home, and basically made long holdouts obsolete.

That’s a good thing, because it wasn’t always that way. Years ago, true holdouts happened all the time in the NHL, often involving superstar players who’d sit out for months or even a full year in an attempt to get their way. Somehow, this didn’t seem like all that big of a deal at the time — everyone just kind of accepted it.

Usually, those old-school holdouts eventually ended with a new contract and some hurt feelings. But sometimes, the impact was far greater. Here are five players who decided they didn’t like their contracts and held out, and who helped change NHL history along the way.

Ken Dryden lawyers up

For a team that spends so much time celebrating its many legendary stars, the Montreal Canadiens have dealt with a surprisingly long list of holdouts over the years. Guy Lafleur once threatened to walk out and take Larry Robinson with him. Patrick Roy’s infamous tantrum behind the bench was essentially a midseason holdout, although it didn’t last long. And in maybe my favorite contract dispute story of all time, the Canadiens once forced a reluctant Jean Beliveau to finally sign with them by buying his entire league.

Dryden’s case wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it came close. In 1973, the towering goaltender had played two full seasons as the Canadiens’ starter, and had already amassed two Cups, a Conn Smythe, a Calder, and a Vezina. He was the best goalie in the league at the age of 25. And he figured he deserved a raise.

That was a bit of a problem, because the Canadiens weren’t interested in reworking his deal, which reportedly paid him $80,000. That wasn’t bad money back then, but in an era where superstars were starting to get six-figure deals, Dryden knew he was worth more. He didn’t have any leverage, though. After all, what was he going to do — go out and find another job?

Yes, as it turns out. Unable to come to an agreement with the team, Dryden took the entire 1973-74 season off. He used the time to finish his law degree and got some experience working at a Toronto firm. When time permitted, he suited up for Vulcan Industrial Packaging of the Toronto Lakeshore League. He played defense.

Dryden’s holdout lasted until he re-signed with the Canadiens in time for the 1974-75 season, getting the sort of big-money deal he’d wanted all along. He went on to win four more Vezinas and four more Stanley Cups in Montreal before retiring for good in 1979, at the relatively young age of 32.

Then he enjoyed a successful post-playing career as a best-selling author, general manager, politician, Grantland contributor, and yes, it goes without saying, a lawyer.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

1 comment:

  1. How about Lindros sitting out his entire rookie season because he didn't like who he was drafted by?