Thursday, July 11, 2013

The CHL is the umbrella under which the three major junior leagues — the OHL, QMJHL and WHL — operate.
You might expect then that they would operate with the same rules and regulations.
And while that is true in some areas — two European players per team, three 20-year-olds, etc. — it turns out that it isn’t when it comes to the area of player benefits.
In fact, you may be as surprised as I was to find out how much difference there can be.
On Nov. 28, when the WHL disciplined the Portland Winterhawks for spending money on what it called “illegal benefits,” some people involved with QMJHL teams must have gone: “Whoa! What’s the big deal?”
To refresh our memories, the WHL fined the Winterhawks $200,000, suspended GM/head coach Mike Johnston for the remainder of the season, prohibited them from taking part in the first five rounds of the 2013 bantam draft, and took away first-round draft picks in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
The WHL was adamant that the sins of the Winterhawks didn’t include any thing to do with the illegal recruitment of players or education packages. There weren’t any payoffs to agents. There weren’t any under-the-table payments to players.
Instead, the Winterhawks were convicted of flying parents in to watch their sons play hockey, paying for some offseason workouts, and providing cell phones for team captains.
According to a source familiar with the situation, the Winterhawks, in committing those sins, spent $23,850 over a five-year.
Meanwhile, in the QMJHL, it seems that there were some crazy things happening. And it all was perfectly legal and above board.
One agreement that has been making the rounds shows that one team ended up on the hook for potentially far QMJHLmore than $100,000 to one player who no longer is with that team and isn’t likely to play for it in 2013-14.
For starters, the education commitment to this one player works out to more than $100,000.
Here’s how part of the agreement reads:
“After the Player’s QMJHL career the Club will provide Educational Assistance to the Player in the amount of US$23,750 per year for four (4) years while the Player attends an accredited college or university on a full-time basis.
“Upon receiving official notification of the Player’s enrolment as a full-time student at an accredited university or college (the) Club will make payment of US$11,875 to the player. . . . These semi-annual payments by the Club will continue for four consecutive years while the player is a full-time university or college student. Total Educational Assistance will not exceed US$95,000.”
Under terms of the deal, the player has to begin his “full-time university or college studies no later than the year of his 23rd birthday.”
As well, the player forfeits all education assistance “if Player signs a contract with a National Hockey League Club.”
The QMJHL team also agreed to pay any educational costs incurred while the player was with the team.
“Such educational costs . . . shall be in addition to the US$95,000 payment for Post-QMJHL Educational costs stipulated in this Agreement,” the contract reads.
The WHL’s standard player agreement calls for a team to “pay or reimburse or cause to be paid . . . the player’s educational expenses to enroll in and attend a designated publicly funded post-secondary educational institution based on the assessment for a full-time student . . . including tuition fees, compulsory student fees and textbooks directly related to the Player’s course of study . . .”
Those educational expenses are believed to run about $5,000 per year in instances where a player has activated his education policy.
As well, according to the agreement between the QMJHL team and the player in question, “The Club will provide US$3,000 per season to defray costs of Player’s family to travel to (the team’s city) during the time the Player is with the Club.”
There is nothing in the WHL’s standard player agreement covering such expenses. A player’s travel expenses incurred in reporting to the team and returning home at season’s end, and a return trip at Christmas, will be paid by his WHL team.
The WHL apparently has a set of rules and regulations in which it is stated that paying parental travel expenses is against the rules. However, the WHL has never shown those rules, regulations or bylaws to the media, despite repeated requests, especially from working media in the Portland area. (You may want to read this May 3 piece right here from Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune.)
The QMJHL club also agreed to “provide to the Player an allowance of US$2,500 per season . . . to be used to defray the costs of the Player’s off-season conditioning.”
Again, there is nothing in the WHL standard player agreement covering off-season workout programs. Again, it apparently states in a different set of WHL rules that such payments aren’t allowed.
While the agreeement between a QMJHL team and a player referred to earlier was legal and approved by the league office, all of that since has changed.
Three years ago, the QMJHL took a look at the situation regarding player benefits and chose to change whatever rules were in place.
According to QMJHL commissioner Gilles Courteau, teams now are able to offer a maximum of $10,000 per year in scholarship money.
“We made adjustments,” Courteau said Wednesday, “and since then a team is not allowed to give more than $10,000 per year on a scholarship package. That is what has been adopted.”
As well, a team is able to provide up to $5,000 per season to cover parental travel expenses should the money be needed.
Courteau explained: “We do give them a maximum of $5,000 per season . . . if a kid is playing in the Montreal area and his parents are living in the Montreal area, they won’t get anything. When we’re talking about travel, we’re talking about parents who have to travel a good distance and they have to stay overnight . . . we give them a maximum of $5,000 for travel expenses.”
Also, a QMJHL team now is able to provide a maximum of $1,500 in offseason training money if a player is in need of it.
“It’s not all of them,” Courteau said. “Just if a player needs to have some specific training . . . he can apply for offseason training to the team.”
In the case of the QMJHL, its office, under Courteau’s supervision, monitors all of this.
“Teams have to submit each and every player standard contract plus that special agreement has to be submitted to the league office for commissioner’s approval,” Courteau said.
Asked about the specific contract that is referred to earlier in this piece, Courteau stated that it was not “a standard” agreement.
“It was a special case,” Courteau said. “It was an American player. For those American players, special scholarship packages were allowed for them.”
That isn’t the case now, though.
“That’s done,” Courteau said. “They have to go through the same rules as what we adopted three years ago.”
CHL president David Branch, who also is the commissioner of the OHL, chose not to comment, referring questions to Courteau.
Branch, however, did allow that “each of the three leagues has different policies as relates to such matters.“
One person who covers major junior hockey and whom I had occasion to come in contact with this week, offered this:
“One of my friends who used to be a QMJHL team media relations person asked me what Portland did . . . I can't even remember the particulars now, but basically everything I said (cell phones for players, plane tickets for parents) he said, ‘We did that, too.’
“And they never got busted.”

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