Capitals associate goalie coach Olie Kolzig is caught in the middle now – part of management, but not really belonging to either side as the NHL Players’ Association and the league’s owners negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. He really is a man without a country waiting like the rest of us to find out if and when hockey will start its 2012-13 season. But that doesn’t mean Kolzig forgets what it was like for players during the 2004-05 season when a disastrous labor battle cost the NHL an entire season. That had never happened before to a major North American pro sport.
“It was awful. It was awful. I don’t think our union was prepared for how tough a stance the owners had. I think we were waiting to call their bluff, and they didn’t blink,” Kolzig said. “We didn’t really have a Plan B, and as a result we missed the whole season. It is money that I’ll never make back. That was the peak of my career. A lot of other players, it was the end of their career. It was just an ugly situation that I don’t think anybody wants to ever see happen again, no matter what sport it is.”
Kolzig was scheduled to make $6.25 million that season – part of a five-year contract signed in 2001 that was worth $31 million overall. Instead he played eight games with the Berlin Polar Bears, a team in Germany’s top league. It was the way of the world for many of his contemporaries that winter. And when players finally returned to the ice the following season a 24-percent rollback in salaries across the league dropped him to $4.94 million instead of the $6.5 million he was scheduled to make. Could it happen again?
“It’s the not-so-fun part of sports. But I suspect that both sides understand that the NHL has grown so much the last few years that they don’t want to slow any momentum down or give any kind of negative outlook toward the NHL,” Kolzig said. “So they’re going to try their hardest to get it done, and if for whatever reason it doesn’t get done by [the Sept. 15 deadline], I would assume it would get done in a short amount of time. I don’t think you’re going to see what happened in 2004.”
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