The longer the hockey lockout goes on, the more likely a rival league is to emerge in North America — which is exactly the situation that led to the NHL coming into existence in the first place.

That's what hockey historian Liam Maguire told the CBC's Lang & O'Leary Exchange recently.

Maguire notes that the NHL was itself formed as a result of a labour dispute between rival owners. "The basis of the debate that formed the NHL was centred around one man," he said.

In 1917, the franchise owners of the National Hockey Association were in constant conflict with the owner of the Toronto franchise, Eddie Livingstone, and set about starting their own league without him.

The NHL was formed the following season and has been the undisputed dominant league in the world ever since. But at its core, "it was a rogue league," Maguire said.

Rival start-ups possible

Indeed, other leagues have attempted to start over the years, with mixed results. Most recently, the WHA made a splash in the 1970s by poaching some of the NHL's biggest stars.

Maguire says the longer the current lockout between players and owners goes on, the more likely it is that a rival league will be formed to take away the NHL's dominance.

"If it were to exceed 12 months, all bets are off," he says. "There is an appetite for other competitive hockey if it can be presented in a form that's palatable."

He notes that the negotiating process at the moment is being driven by minority fringes on either side. Because of the way the league is structured, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman only needs the support of eight of the league's 30 owners to have a quorum on a proposal.

And similarly, out of roughly 700 NHL players, only 60 (two from each team) are represented in bargaining in any real way.

"There's a fairly large number on both sides that may very quickly lose an appetite," Maguire says. 

But ultimately, he suspects any such move would likely be decided in court anyway. "When you start affecting billions of dollars, I believe all bets are off," Maguire says.

Click the player above to watch the interview in its entirety, or click here to watch it in another window.