Let's get one thing out of the way first. The CHL must change the way that it does business with its players. They must be accountable and they must spell out more in terms of guarantees when they compensate their athletes. Right now, as the Sam Berg lawsuit alleges, there is much confusion as to what a player is and is not guaranteed when they don a CHL uniform and sign a standard player contract.
That said, a little history lesson. Back in February of 2014 the OHL enhanced their compensation package from the meagre crumbs that they were doling out in terms of dollars. Now an OHL player:
- can claim up to $470 a month of expenses such as movie nights, cell phone bills etc
- Get $1000 dollars worth of off season training
- Be able to access their education package 18 months after their overage year, and if they leave before their overage year that could be up to 30 months,
In other words players don't have a gun to their head to make a life/hockey decision as soon as their junior career is up. How many 20 year olds know exactly what they are going to do with their life, if the NHL is not a viable option right away because they have not been signed, or are a marginal or fringe prospect?
Now these new additions to the compensation package represent to me, a start, rather than an endgame when it comes to recognizing players. Personally, I would like to see a task force that met annually that would be charged with what the right way is to compensate players that reflect the times that we are in. I would staff this task force with the following: a couple of recent ex-
- Consistently looking at the education package to see how it can benefit not only the hockey player but also the league. Lots of competition for talented athletes out there. Is the CHL offering the best and most viable alternative for players who seek a pro career? I say yes they are offering the best path to get to professional hockey and I am sure that they are always looking at improvements and revisions in this competitive environment
- Compensation to reflect the times that we live, and the life of a hockey player. We know that hockey players get access to a lot of top of the line equipment. How about a credit/compensation for a suit to wear on the road for example? This still would be a stipend, and not a means to the idea of minimum wage. I am sure that they could use part of the $470 for this as well, but I'd like to see it on top of that. I'm not looking for a credit for the custom made Armani, but a reasonable one (this comes from a guy who is always looking for the best deal and has to stand next to Ed Burkholder every week, so I'm well aware of fashion). Also for one night only, players should wear that beauty that Connor MacDavid and the rest of the Ottters were wearing one night!
- Continued assurance that trades and the trade deadline are reflecting the needs of the student, as well as the athlete, and not just the team. Again, I am sure that this is being done, but ensuring the practice of trading is always being looked at.
- Continued evolution of the partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association. Again, reflecting the needs of the players. We all need to remember that they are not only elite athletes, but aged 16-20 where there are a lot of changes both physical and emotional.
There, now that I've set up a task force, that should get rid of UNIFOR who wanted a provincial government task force to delve into the inner workings of junior hockey. I cannot think of a worse group to consult on this than the provincial government, who really do not know a thing about junior hockey, and would likely, if I know the Liberal government in Ontario, waste valuable tax payer money while finding out very little in terms of new information.
I wish that the lawsuit filed against the CHL would be disposed of in the same way that I just took the legs out of UNIFOR. However, when you get opportunists who see dollar signs, and cloak it in a "standing up for the common man, (or junior hockey player in this case) philosophy, then you cannot get rid of them so easily. For the purposes of this argument, I will not take a look at the John Chartrand lawsuit as that involves a claim for injury. Instead the class action lawsuit is the one that I will focus on.
Lots has been reported on this lawsuit. You can check any major newspaper in Canada and get a read on it. I would not recommend the Toronto Star article, as it is fraught with error, and uses dated compensation examples, and in the past wrote a rather glowing puff peace on the lawyer who is at the forefront of the class action. That man, by the way, is Ted Charney and he runs the Charney Lawyers and specializes in class action lawsuits. A cursory glance at the firms web page sees that they like to keep their press clippings on the front page of their website, which may or may not be an indication of either their love for the common man who has been wronged, or love of seeing their own name in the newspaper. It should be noted that the Toronto Star did a fluffy puff piece on Charney during one of this lawsuits that seemed more at home in his marketing brochure than in a major newspaper. This actually disappoints me, as I generally respect the Toronto Star, just not this time. Also, the Toronto Star disclosed the fact that its employees are represented by UNIFOR. I'd say there is a bias there, but I will let you, the reader, decide.
You can judge for yourself here:
The lawsuit, as I see it from an untrained legal mind, has some merits to it. There has been a decision rendered on the idea that CHL players are employees in the case involving Kelly McCrimmon and the Brandon Wheat Kings. You can read the case below, but the WHL lost this case and had their appeal denied and it was seen that junior hockey players and their team had an employer/employee relationship. The case was heard in 2000, and much has changed since then, but there is no doubt that this case will be an important precedent going forward. The case is here:
If I were arguing the case, I would argue that the CHL is a unique workplace that offers little in the way of actual compensation, but also offers their athletes a tremendous amount, some that can be quantified and some that cannot. There have been some that have thrown around terms like "exploited" and "cheap labour", like this was child labour in the coal mines. What other people get "exploited" with top of the line equipment, access to great training programs, coaches, rehabilitation for injuries, a roof over the head and most importantly a ticket to the best development league in the world, where while your chances of making the NHL or having a solid pro career in the AHL, ECHL or overseas are more of a reality rather than a pipe dream?
It would not surprise me to see the class action either win this lawsuit or take a big bite in terms of compensation with a pre-trial settlement. Should that happen, that would be sad. The opportunists and the lawyers would win and the very fabric of junior hockey would change. Yes, the business model of junior hockey has changed, but it is hardily the lucrative money maker some make it out to be. Can you really see the likes of Owen Sound, Sarnia, Red Deer etc doing Johnny Manziel money signs? Come on, these are small communities with small arenas that do make nice revenue when ti comes to junior hockey but it is hardily a license to print money. Sure the London's and the Kitchener's of the world do ok, and there is new 12 year TV deal. No finances dislosed on that end, but some of the monies would have to be divided into 60 CHL teams. That is a lot of hands reaching into the pot.
I would rather take the year by year approach of making things better for players, rather than a shot gun approach of a lawsuit, that would fundamentally change, and in some cases, ruin franchises and the game.
See? That's a pretty balanced approach from someone whom the CHLPA referred to in this manner:
@SteveClarkMedia You would argue anything as long as you kept your nose nice and brown far up David Branch's arsehole. Nothing has changed.
First of all, I have never received a dime from David Branch. I get paid by the TV folks. Second of all I have never met David Branchc, and while I have great respect for the man, also feel that he is too heavy handed in the area of supplemental discipline. Third of all, I have a big nose and there is no way it would fit up David Branch's rear end if I tried.
Can I go back to putting on my cheap TV make up promote the wonderful competition and athletes in junior hockey?
Steve Clark TV Broadcaster Niagara IceDogs/ Hamilton Bulldogs/Untrained Legal Beagle