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Hammer Time

Reaction continues to pour in following the WHL's decision to levy a series of penalties on the Portland Winterhawks for repeated player benefit violations.  First, Gregg Drinnan:

If this really was about a cell phone and a few flights, then perhaps the Winterhawks are also being punished for perceived smugness and arrogance, for climbing too quickly from the blink of oblivion – they won 17, 11 and 19 games from 2006-07 through 2008-09 – into back-to-back WHL championship finals the last two seasons....

Surely, though, this is about more than that. Surely, the WHL’s board of governors wouldn’t hand out the incredibly tough sanctions that it did over a cell phone and a few flights.

Surely the WHL wouldn’t risk embarrassment by going after an organization or individual over something that is seemingly so petty, would it?

Indeed, the severity of the WHL's punishment has led many pundits and fans to believe the Winterhawks likely provided financial compensation to players for reporting to the team.  League commissioner Ron Robison has publicly stated that no such payments were offered, and Portland fans have taken solace in knowing the club's violations weren't as egregious as some had suspected.

Here's Dylan Bumbarger:

Absent any other developments, I'm convinced at this point that the Winterhawks are NOT guilty of the sinister things everyone thought they were guilty of at the beginning of the week, that caused everyone to slam their fists on the table and say, "I knew it!" Personally, this means a lot.

When it comes right down to it, there's no solace for the Winterhawks.  The team was fined $200,000 and stripped of nine picks in upcoming bantam drafts, including five first-round selections.  The lack of first round picks means Portland will miss out on some high-end talent for the next five years.  And even though the club has a great chance to win the WHL title this spring, the upcoming five seasons are going to be extremely painful. 

Samantha Reese is another Winterhawk fan who doesn't seem particularly bothered by the nature of the team's transgressions:

I personally do not have a problem with all teams in the WHL allotting budget dollars to cover a periodic flight for those families with financial need. Hockey is a family after all, and Portland fans owe it to the families of our players for allowing their sons to come here. Dreams come at a price and if I as a fan have to pay for a fraction of it with my season ticket dollars, then I am completely willing to do so. Frankly, I don't understand why paying (within reason) for hockey families' travel isn't allowed across the board in the league. They already sacrificed damn near everything for their sons to play hockey - a plane ticket or two is the least of what they deserve in return; from any team.

The problem is many WHL teams simply can't afford to provide families with complimentary flights into town.  Offering this kind of service clearly gives some teams a competitive advantage over others when it comes to courting players.  Winterhawk officials have flatly denied dangling the free-flight carrot to players' families during the recruitment process, but you'd have to be a sucker to take their word for it given the revelations of the past week.

Portland fans are the real losers here.  After suffering through some lean years recently, the Winterhawk faithful will once again have to become accustomed to a lengthy stretch of losing hockey.  With that said, the organization deserves to be penalized, and the WHL had no choice but to lay the hammer down emphatically.  The league is obligated to protect its member clubs and to maintain a healthy competitive balance across the board.

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Comments

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This whole deal stinks, the penalties are extremely excessive for violations that don’t include player payments. When Windsor was paying players the penalties weren’t this severe and were eventually reduced. Portland is not going down quietly, I think there is more battles to come.

Posted by timbits on 11/30/12 at 01:25 PM ET

Hippy Dave's avatar

Agreed.  The sanctions are pretty drastic for such minor transgressions.  The whole thing smacks of calculated pettiness on the WHL’s behalf.  It seems strategically timed to derail a painstakingly-orchestrated deal to save the Memorial Coliseum, a deal the city is voting on in two weeks which requires the Winterhawks owner to pony up around $11 million and the city taxpayers to pony up another $20 million or so.

Something is fishy here.

Posted by Hippy Dave from Portland by way of Detroit on 11/30/12 at 02:35 PM ET

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Something is fishy here.

Yes and I can’t help but think that this wouldn’t happen to Kelowna or Vancouver or Calgary in the same spot.

Posted by timbits on 11/30/12 at 02:47 PM ET

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About Tasca's Take

Tasca's Take is written by Joe Tasca. Born and raised in Westerly, Rhode Island, Joe works as a broadcaster for seven radio stations in southern New England. Whether that's a testament to his on-air ability or because he has a desparate need for money is debatable.

Joe spends his summers playing golf, enjoying the beauty of Misquamicut Beach, and wining and dining girls who are easily awed by the mere presence of a radio personality. During the winter months, he can usually be found taking in a hockey game somewhere in North America. In the spring, he spends much of his time in botanical gardens tiptoeing through the tulips, while autumn is a time to frolic with his golden retrievers through piles of his neighbors’ leaves.