Case | HBS Case Collection | February 2006 (Revised March 2006)

Negotiating on Thin Ice: The 2004-2005 NHL Dispute (A)

by Deepak Malhotra and Maly Hout


On September 15, 2004, the existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) expired. Because the two sides had failed to negotiate a new CBA by that date, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman locked out the players--no hockey would be played, no revenues would be collected, and no salaries would be paid. The key issues in the negotiation were the league's demand for a salary cap and for the linking of salaries to league revenues. The players opposed both of these demands. After months of near-fruitless negotiation, Bettman threatened to cancel the entire season, a move that would destroy billions in revenue. Provides a rich history of the two sides' relationship and an account of the negotiations that led up to the season cancellation threat. Asks students to analyze the power tactics that each side has used to its advantage in prior negotiations and to propose strategies that might help either side pull off a successful negotiation in the current context, which involves entrenched positions, complex issues, and severe distrust.

Keywords: Negotiation Tactics; Negotiation Participants; Trust; Sports; Compensation and Benefits; Sports Industry; United States;


Malhotra, Deepak, and Maly Hout. "Negotiating on Thin Ice: The 2004-2005 NHL Dispute (A)." Harvard Business School Case 906-038, February 2006. (Revised March 2006.)