History of the National Hockey League/1992–present/Labour issues/1994–95 lockout

Four months later, the players were locked out by the owners due to the lack of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The 1994–95 NHL lockout lasted 104 days and resulted in the season's being shortened from a planned 84 games to 48. The owners wanted to control salary growth and insisted on a salary cap, changes to free agency and salary arbitration. The union instead proposed a luxury tax system that would penalize teams that spent above a set figure on player salaries. The negotiations were at times bitter, as defenceman Chris Chelios famously issued a veiled threat against Bettman, suggesting that he should be "worried about [his] family and [his] well-being", because "some crazed fans, or even a player [...] might take matters into their own hands and figure they get Bettman out of the way."

The lockout entered its fourth month in January 1995 and approached a deadline that would have canceled the season when the two sides agreed to an 11th-hour deal. The owners failed to achieve a full salary cap, but the union agreed to a cap on rookie contracts, changes to the arbitration system and restrictive rules for free agency that would not grant a player the unrestricted right to choose where he played until age 31. The deal was initially seen as a victory for the owners.

The agreement was not enough to save two teams in Canada's smallest NHL markets. The revenue disparity between large and small market teams, exacerbated by the falling value of the Canadian dollar, led the Winnipeg Jets to relocate to Phoenix, Arizona in 1996, becoming the Coyotes one year after the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver, Colorado to become the Colorado Avalanche. Hoping to prevent other teams from leaving Canada, and citing the cost of doing business in American dollars while taking revenue in Canadian dollars, the NHL set up a currency assistance plan to support the remaining small market Canadian teams in 1996. The Hartford Whalers became the third former World Hockey Association team to relocate in 1997, becoming the Carolina Hurricanes.