The NHLFA hopes to give fans, like these ones in Buffalo, a singular voice. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Hockey News called and asked if I would join their big league blog team. I insisted a no-trade clause be included in my deal, but GM Sam McCaig told me he didn’t negotiate no-trade clauses. I told him it was the trendy thing to do, but he started rambling about his long-term job security and that such clauses would be passé in coming seasons. I relented. I was, after all, representing myself after giving my last agent the boot. (Sorry, Mom. I guess our Ovechkin experiment didn’t work out. Love, Jim).
Most hockey fans have never heard of the National Hockey League Fans’ Association, or NHLFA. Yes, there is such an organization representing the common, fifth-line fan.
Many people are surprised at the stats of this little not-for-profit organization. The NHLFA has been battling much bigger opponents for a respectable 10 seasons.
It all started in 1997, when two Ottawa schmucks vented over the astronomical offer the New York Rangers had made to restricted free agent Joe Sakic ($21M over three years, which the Avalanche matched to retain his rights). Bob Goodenow was five years into his impressive tenure leading the NHL Players’ Association. The schmucks, along with millions of hockey fans, feared rising ticket prices would severely damage the sport we loved. We knew something had to be done to protect the fans.
A few months later, in early 1998, the Carolina Hurricanes rammed hockey fans headfirst into the boards. The Canes offered restricted Detroit Red Wings free agent Sergei Fedorov $38 million over six years. The real pain was in the structure of the deal. It had front-end loaded bonus money amounting to $26 million ($14 million for the 1997-98 season and $12 million spread out over the next four years, unless the team reached the conference finals – which Detroit did – then the $12 million would have to be paid in one lump sum). The Wings matched the offer while hockey fans lay motionless off the ice.
Fans needed a representative body, so that other schmuck, Jim Spendlove, and I agreed to start the NHLFA. We built a simple website and distributed a news release. We would not, could not, charge a membership fee. We launched during the 1998 playoffs and set a target of 1000 fans in the first month, which we easily accomplished (we recruited 5400 our first year).
In the coming seasons, two things were assured. One team would win the Stanley Cup and player salary escalation would continue to haunt fans.
Then a sickening off-ice incident unfolded prior to the 2004-05 season. Business interests in “our” game slugged away at each other. Despicably, fans were scratched from the lineup. On the sidelines, the NHLFA stayed sharp. It practiced an aggressive forecheck and picked its spots to come to the defence of its teammates – the fans.
Of course, we hold no illusions of grandeur. The NHLFA’s influence on the outcome of the lockout was miniscule. However, that little voice of the fans was indeed heard.
Today, 30,000 fans are on our team (60 percent are American and 40 percent Canadian).
My future blogs will contain thoughts and ideas surfacing from opinions collected from the largest group of NHL fans in the world.
The National Hockey League Fans’ Association website is located at nhlfa.com.
The co-founder of the NHL Fans' Association, Jim Boone is the chief operating officer for the Canadian Resident Matching Service and the president of Litnets Inc.