Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Does David Branch 'Wear Too Many Hats'?

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The three CHL leagues have their own leadership in the form of Commissioners Gilles Courteau (QMJHL), Ron Robison (WHL) and David Branch (OHL). The leagues share many rules and regulations and during times like the CHL Top Prospects Game and the CHL Import Draft, they work in conjunction with each other.

But what happens when there is a dispute involving a couple of the leagues? Of course they take their issue to the CHL, however, the President of the Canadian Hockey League is the same David Branch that occupies the OHL office.

Is this a classic case of a conflict of interest? That's an argument coming out of the QMJHL right now and one that should be considered.


All three leagues have their own unique differences that set them apart. For example, the WHL has a Bantam draft where 15-year-olds are selected, those players aren't eligible to play in the league full-time for another year afterward. The WHL also plays the longest regular season, 72-games instead of the 68 played in the OHL and the Q.

The Q breaks camp the earliest, their clubs have already begun their exhibition season, has specific windows during the year when trading is allowed and has a unique playoff format. Now, with the collapse of the Lewiston Maineiacs, it's also the only Major Junior loop that lacks a U.S. based franchise.

The Ontario league still has a mid-season all-star game and often leads the way in the CHL for rule creation and enforcement like directly addressing head shots. The OHL also has the lightest travel schedule of the three leagues.

One thing the leagues all share is distinct territories from which they can draft and recruit players from, including lines drawn through the United States. Those lines can get blurred if a player gets placed on waivers and isn't picked up by another team within that league. Such was the case last year with goalie Jacob De Serres, let go by Brandon in the WHL and eventually picked up by the Saint John Sea Dogs who went on to capture their first Memorial Cup with him in net.

by now most people have heard of the recent case involving Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Matthew Peca. If not, here's a quick recap. This excerpt from that link sums it all up:
"Peca was drafted by the Windsor Spitfires in 2009, the club gave the Remparts the right to talk to the center, however, the Ottawa 67's wanted to acquire Peca, with that being said Quebec accepts to go play pre-season games in Ottawa (this season) and in Windsor (next season), with both teams letting Peca's talking rights go to the Remparts.

The Spitfires then traded Peca to Kingston, however Peca says he won't report as he does not want to play major junior hockey in the 'O'. Kingston then placed Peca on waivers.

The Kitchener Rangers then pick up the rights to Peca, once again Peca tells the club he won't report, the Rangers then release the 18 year old.

five minutes before the waiver deadline, the Niagara Ice Dogs want to claim the 7th round pick of the Lightning, however, Roy and the Remparts convince the Ice Dogs not to claim him. After the waiver deadline Patrick Roy is told that a team claimed Peca, the OHL did not release the team who picked up prospect up."


Although owner/GM Patrick Roy of the Remparts and Commissioner Gilles Courteau took their case to the CHL, it proved fruitless and now Peca has left Canada all together to join the Quinnipiac Bobcats in the ECAC conference of NCAA college hockey.

On Saturday's edition of The Pipeline Show we spoke with Remparts beat writer Kathleen Lavoie. We asked her for her perspective on the situation.

"[Peca] always said that he didn't want to play in the [OHL]," Lavoie said, "This young man is from French decent, his mother is French, and he was interested in pursuing his studies at Laval University in Quebec so playing for the Remparts made a lot of sense to him. His second choice was to play in Quinnipiac."

The writer for Le Soleil further explained the secretive nature of what transpired between the QMJHL and OHL over Peca's transfer of rights within the Ontario league.

"He's supposed to be the property of one OHL team but the OHL doesn't want to disclose the identity of that team," she said, "Everybody is assuming that it is still the Kitchener Rangers but not knowing who really owns those rights, the Remparts don't know who they [need to deal with]."

During our radio interview, Dean asked Kathleen if the sense in Quebec was that the CHL had stepped in and blocked any possibility of Peca moving to the Q in order to prevent a precedent where a player is dictating where he will play major junior hockey. Lavoie made the argument that a similar thing just happened internally in the QMJHL with Nathan MacKinnon but that Peca's case was only different because it involved two leagues.

"That was a situation that happened within one league but is this really that different? I'm not sure," she said, "Those young men today, the most talented of them, have so many options and I'm not sure that it's good for the [CHL] at the end of the day to say just because [a player] wants to play hardball between the OHL and the QMJHL that you would let him go to a U.S. College."

"Maybe they didn't want to create a precedent or maybe they just didn't want to have to explain at one point why such a good player didn't play in their league and maybe helped the Quebec Remparts win a Memorial Cup."

"The problem with this whole situation right now is that David Branch is not talking," Lavoie said, "He's the one with all the answers right now as the Commissioner of the OHL and the President of the CHL. He's the one who should come out and say 'this is what happened' and 'we think that if the kid doesn't want to report to his OHL team then he should play in the States' but I'm not sure the CHL President should be saying that."

There have been reports that the QMJHL and the Remparts would seek legal options in the matter but that appears to be in a bit of limbo right now too.

"I know their [Remparts] lawyers looked at the document that they got from the OHL... they received something but from what I've heard it's not an official document," she explained, "It doesn't prove anything, from what I've heard there is no date or even an hour marked on that thing, it doesn't say anything about who claimed the player, so they're left thinking that... they've been kind of played here."

There doesn't appear much legal recourse for the Remparts though and Peca is going to end up playing at Quinnipiac, at least for the time being. Perhaps in time Roy, Courteau and Branch will reach some sort of an agreement that would allow Peca to play for the Remparts down the road. For now, the 5'9 forward who scored 72 points in 50 games with Pembroke last year will skate in the NCAA. The Bobcats are well coached under Rand Pecknold and Peca will fit in well with their offensive forwards like Connor and Kellen Jones (EDM).

Moving forward though, does this point to a potential problem for the CHL in that Branch is heading up one regional segment that falls under the umbrella of the national league that he also heads up. Is there an obvious conflict of interest here? Or, as Dean worded his question to Kathleen on Saturday, "How has Patrick Roy reacted to the decision; has he accepted it and decided that rules are rules and moved on?"

"What do you think?" came Kathleen's response followed by laughter. "The organization has been saying that this is unacceptable, there's no neutrality in [the CHL] because you have someone that is wearing two hats here. What they feel is that there should be a mechanism, an ombudsman or referee that could look into those kinds of situations and decide."

"They can't go to the CHL because David Branch is there so they feel they have no way to rectify this from their point of view," Lavoie continued, "There was a wrong made to them here but there is no way for them to have it corrected. I know that they are very sad for themselves because that player would have been on the ice come September but they are sad for the kid too because he wanted to study in French and this was pretty much his only chance to do that."

"[Roy] was very angry on [Friday[ when he got the document I was telling you about," she added, "He was saying that 'anybody could have forged that' and he said that he felt they were being laughed at by the OHL. So no, he's not a happy guy right now."

It certainly brings up a valid question - should there be an independent arbitrator involved in solving inter-league disputes like this one? Is it reasonable to have the CHL President/OHL Commissioner having the final say in conflicts that involve his own league and either the QMJHL or the WHL?

And why the secrecy behind the last second waiver claim that allegedly kept Peca's rights in the OHL? If Kitchener placed the player on waivers, can they have some how reclaimed him after a sudden change of heart or did another OHL club really take him before he became eligible for the Remparts - and if so, why the shroud of mystery to protect that team's identity?

From an outsider's perspective it seems like Quebec has enough reason to think that something here wasn't on the up and up. However, as Lavoie said, the only one who has the answers is David Branch so it's up to him to reveal what happened. Perhaps there is a very reasonable explanation to it all that the public just hasn't heard yet.

We began contacting the CHL on the weekend in order to have Mr. Branch on the show this Tuesday evening but we were notified Monday night that he would not be available to join us. The door is open to the CHL President to appear on the show the next time his Tuesday schedule has an opening.

If you want to hear the interview with Le Soleil reporter Kathleen Lavoie... CLICK HERE.

(Photos: Clause Andersen/Getty Images, CJHL, QMJHL, LCN)

1 comment:

john hawk said...

Nice post keep it up..............