by PuckStopsHere on 11/29/12 at 01:18 AM ET
Over the summer the Windsor Spitfires were given sanctions (a fine and loss of draft picks) for violating the compensation rules for players in the CHL It is a "well known secret" that CHL players have long been paid above their $50/ week living stipend by some of the bigger more successful teams. Players have been paid to leave college and play in the CHL. Players and their families are given compensation under the table. Families are flied out to be with players during the season and players get other gifts and compensation from their teams.
Today we learn that the Portland Winterhawks have also been fined and punished with the loss of draft picks for similar offences. They are forbidden from participating in the 2013 bantam draft and lose their first round picks in 2014 to 2017. Their 2014 draft pick may already be lost in a conditional trade so they would lose second and third round draft picks in that case. They have been fined $200,000 and coach and GM Mike Johnson is suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season including the playoffs.
The problem is we are not being told exactly what their crime is. We have not been told which players were paid what. The CHL wants to punish teams for breaking their rules without admitting how teams have broken their rules. it is an incoherent position.
The more successful CHL teams make profits in the millions of dollars each year. These profits increase when their team wins. They are more likely to win if they pay to bring in top junior talent. Economically it can make sense to pay their top players. The players are unhappy about this situation and are trying to organize a union to fight the situation and get them better compensation.
In the case of the Portland Winterhawks, they were a bottom feeding team that had missed the playoffs for three straight years from 2007 to 2009 until Mike Johnson's first full season running the team. Portland immediately improved to be one of the top WHL teams. Some of their players in the time including Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Johansen and Sven Bartschi. These are players who are not established as NHL stars yet but each possess the potential to have significant careers. Perhaps they received some of the illegal compensation.
We are in an era where we should expect that all successful teams in the CHL are likely paying their top players under the table. It is similar to the baseball/ steroid situation of a few years ago. Any team that wins will be suspected of cheating. Most likely are cheating but it is hard to know exactly how widespread the problem is.
While the NHL is locked out, I think this has the potential to have the biggest impact on North American hockey as we know it. The compensation rules in the CHL are widely ignored. When teams are caught they are sharply punished, but in a way that we are not told what the crime was exactly. The league is not allowing the details to come to light. Everyone is trying to ignore the problem. I think it is clear that player compensation will increase in the CHL. Smaller CHL markets will be unable to keep up with the bigger ones and some long established CHL teams may die. Potentially the entire junior system that feeds the NHL could be significantly changed. If this happens it could have a larger impact on the NHL than a new CBA would have.
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