NHL prepared for Lokomotiv-like catastrophe

The Lokomotiv Yaroslavl tragedy was devastating, but not unpredictable
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Arena-2000, the home venue of Lokomotiv Yaroslav in Yaroslavl on September 10, 2011 during a farewell ceremony. 43 people were killed September 7, 2011 when a Russian jet carrying hockey players of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl to their first match of the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) season crashed on takeoff in the latest blow to the country’s tainted air safety record. AFP PHOTO / RIA NOVOSTI / POOL / ALEXEY NIKOLSKY (Photo credit should read ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
NHL prepared for catastrophe
Alexey Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images

The catastrophe that annihilated Russian hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl last week was terrible—but not unthinkable. Every top athlete with any significant service time has air-charter horror stories, and while the major North American pro sports have been spared, it is by the narrowest of margins.

In 2009, litigation surrounding the bankruptcy and aborted sale of the Phoenix Coyotes led to the NHL’s hitherto closely guarded bylaws being put on the public record. Those bylaws include an “Emergency Rehabilitation Plan” (ERP) that activates if an NHL club loses five or more players to death or disability in a single incident. Each team is required under the bylaw to carry a catastrophe-insurance policy of $1 million per lost player. The plan foresees an initial, voluntary effort to bring the affected team back up to playing strength, with the insurance money being used to bid for players in outright sale.

Remaining roster holes would be filled in an “ERP draft,” with the other teams protecting one goalie and 10 skaters. Only one player per contributing team could be sold or claimed, and the drafting club would be allowed to replace its losses only on a position-by-position basis. It’s a fascinating exercise for hockey fans to imagine—and one they hope never to see performed.