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It's time for hockey to ban the term 'holdout'

Ryan Johansen and the Columbus Blue Jackets are miles apart in contract negotiations and there's no resolution in sight. But if he misses training camp or even part of the regular season, is he holding out? No. In fact, nobody holds out anymore.
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

With no signs of progress and the two sides still light years apart, the possibility of Ryan Johansen sitting out training camp, and possibly even part of this NHL season, is becoming more real with every passing day.

And as that day draws nearer, you can expect an avalanche of reports that will indicate Johansen is “holding out” on the Columbus Blue Jackets. Should they fail to reach contract terms with their respective teams, the same will go for Nino Niederreiter and Darcy Kuemper of the Minnesota Wild, Danny DeKeyser of the Detroit Red Wings, Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins and Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues.

But the fact is, not a single one of them is a holdout. In fact, the term “holdout” is antiquated and should be banned from the hockey lexicon altogether. Not a single player has held out since the collective bargaining agreement of 2005.

But that doesn’t prevent people from using it. It’s a common mistake. Heck, even THN talked about players holding out recently in this very blog. Just the other day, I heard a prominent agent use it when he was talking about Johansen.

But Johansen is a restricted free agent without a contract at the moment. There’s an enormous difference between being that and being a holdout. Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Yashin? They were holdouts. In fact, if you want to get all technical about it, even all-round good guy Scott Niedermayer was a holdout in 2007-08 when he took a couple months off from the Anaheim Ducks to decide whether he wanted to retire or not. If you want to go back even further, Ken Dryden held out on the Montreal Canadiens in 1973 when he went to article for a year after the Canadiens refused to renegotiate his contract.

But players who don’t have contracts in the first place can’t very well hold out on them, can they? And as the NHL deals with more and more players coming off entry-level deals and looking for long-term contracts instead of bridge deals, this situation is going to come up more often. (As a side note, look to the NHL to go after these guys in the next round of CBA negotiations. It’s the last frontier to be conquered. The league isn’t concerned about unrestricted free agents and it has entry-level salaries capped, which leaves the young players coming off entry level.)

And the reason why holdouts should be banned is that they’ve been collectively bargained out of existence. Since the 2005 CBA, renegotiating existing contracts is forbidden, so there is nothing to be gained by holding out. (The only exception to this is if a player with a contract refuses to report and demands a trade. That would be a holdout.) Players can have their deals extended before they expire, which was a concession the league was willing to make after originally not allowing any early extensions on entry-level deals in the 2005 CBA.

Of course, much of this is the league’s doing. For whatever reason, the league seems spooked by the process of arbitration, despite the fact it has proved to be the best impetus for serious contract negotiations that either side has. The problem is players coming off their entry-level deals, generally speaking, don’t have arbitration rights for two years. Now if either Johansen or the Blue Jackets had been able to take the other to arbitration, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation about him right now. A deal would have been done, or one would have been forced upon them, about a month ago.

Until then, we all wait for Johansen to sign. In the meantime, just don’t refer to him as a holdout.


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