Friday, November 2, 2012

CHLPA: Curtains?

"Could the last person out of the CHLPA please turn off the lights?" - Tony Saxon, Guelph Mercury

72 days, give or take a few hours. That was the public life span of the Canadian Hockey League Players Association. What became a story back on August 20th ended in a spectacular, controversial fashion on November 1st. 

In the wake of scandalous accusations, the abandonment of legal representation and the inevitable resigning of its Executive Director, the CHLPA is as good as dead. 

There was much "I told you so" to be read on Twitter over the last 48 hours or so after national media uncovered disturbing details surrounding the CHLPA. And while the CHLPA, or what's left of it, may still have some semblance of a pulse, I think it's fair to say that the movement is on life support and most are hoping for a "DNR" a "Do Not Resuscitate" order. And yet, another story has surfaced to suggest that getting a toe tag and a body bag might be premature. 

Our friends at Yahoo! have been doing a bang up job covering the story and Thursday was no different. Sunaya Sapurji put an exclamation point on the bizarre tale with this report. Georges Laraque effectively stepped down from his position as Executive Director shortly afterward. Neate Sager wrapped up the rest of the day's news HERE. 

So what happens now?  You've got a QMJHL team in Sherbrooke, the first to officially sign on in support of the CHLPA, now looking like suckers. Several legit lawyers and law firms across the country are trying to distance themselves from the mess before they get any on them

And what of Laraque himself? As Mark Spector and I talked about earlier today, Laraque is a beloved figure in Edmonton not just because of his fan favourite role with the Oilers but because of his abundant generosity when it comes to charity work. 

Some have already asked the question: was Laraque an unwitting patsy, taken in like so many others or... was he aware of more than he's admitting to?

It's a tough question but a fair one, all things considered. Spector is of the opinion that Laraque was duped and that there isn't a dishonest bone in his body. The Sportsnet reporter has known Laraque for a couple of decades now so would have a pretty good read on him.

Although I spent a little time in the Oilers locker room for a few seasons in the mid to late 2000's, I'm not close enough to Laraque to know him better than the casual fan. And although he declined an invitation to appear on The Pipeline Show, my junior hockey specific radio program, because I was classless ("Maybe if you had more class" was the actual quote on Twitter) I share Spec's opinion on this matter. I too believe Laraque was duped. 

It will be interesting to see how the public feels about him in a decade. Will his bio read "Former 13 years NHL player, Best Seller Author, Motivational Speaker, Deputy Leader Green Party, Co-Owner Crudessence,100% Vegan and former Executive Director of the CHLPA which crashed and burned amidst a suspected fraud scandal."?        

I sincerely hope not because I have a hard time believing he was "in on it".

YOUR Thoughts

I promised to wrap up my CHLPA series by sharing thoughts from you the readers. So, here we go: 

In response to CHLPA: NCAA Eligibility, Chris M wrote: 
"I'd like to touch on that..My son didn't go NCAA because we felt he was not ready to be a student athlete and just playing a junior schedule was hectic enough for him but he did take one class a semester paid for by his OHL team (this is separate from his OHL college package). 
Speed up four years later not only does he have the maturity to do both he also has the desire, but going to Canadian University quickly eats up his OHL money (non resident out of the country price tag). His package was Mi state equivalent (tuition only) because of his draft round, $10,600 a year. 
If you negate the fact that NCAA players get free room and board on top of tuition, they actually "get paid" in a sense, more, than the later draft rounds with the tiered OHL package.As far as we are concerned once the US started letting Pro's in the Olympics it negated the argument of a 50 dollar stipend (mostly used for gas and snacks) making them a pro player. Just my two cents." 

D.J. Powers from Hockey's Future chimed in with an interesting point, also derived from the NCAA chapter:
"How does the CHLPA expect to get around the Title IX issue with the NCAA? Is the CHLPA expecting the NCAA to make (another) exception here? After all, the CHL does not have any female players any of their teams that I'm aware of, but obviously the NCAA does. So again, whatever rule changes that the CHLPA hopes the NCAA will implement with regards to ice hockey will have to comply with Title IX."     
Jennifer M. took aim at the "union" after reading CHLPA: The World of Tomorrow on Tuesday.  
"Am I getting this straight... if a player receives a signing bonus he's now cleared to play in the AHL? Assuming the CHL and NHL-AHL amend their written agreement.   I remember hearing about Sam Gagner's mother living in worry and despair for a year or two when her son unexpectedly made the Oilers lineup at the age of 18 before he or the family was mentally prepared for him being away on his own at that age.  Having raised two children myself, I would think there are very few exceptions to this.  So are the parents going to support such a move?   The CHLPA keeps talking about 'the players want this and the players want that' but the players are KIDS with no life experience really. 
The CHLPA seems to be ignoring what their parents want, the very people charged with watching and safe guarding their development. The CHL is clearing a path to the AHL at an earlier age, a league that does far less hand holding of their rookies than the NHL.  So is that really a good thing? 
They also want to lengthen or eliminate the expiry date on their education packages.  If players can take a decade to get back to school out of the low salaried transient life of the minor leagues they put themselves 10-15 years behind on mortgages and investments.  Parents understand the very importance of maximizing their earning potential during those years and want them to make that crucial decision much earlier.  The short term expiry date implemented by the CHL (with the consultation of the parents) achieves that.  
David Branch has stated and demonstrated that he consults the parents when making decisions for the CHL and the long term success of its players.  So who is protecting the interests of the players more, the CHLPA or the CHL?  This is why I question the motives of this group; contrary to their statements, they don't really seem to have the players' interests in mind at all and, therefore, that only leaves one other whose interests they DO have in mind."
Kyle L. saw the potential for trouble should the CHL stipend be renamed as an "expense" as the CHLPA proposed. 
"I see a couple major flaws with this, primarily being, Billets in the CHL are required (and paid) to provide each player they billet with shelter, transportation, and food/water etc.  The hockey team itself pays the billets directly.  All additional expenses incurred, such as education, equipment, tutors, text books, medical care are also paid for directly by the team.

The $50 “Stipend” is issued to players, yes as a means of covering additional expenses, but expenses which simply cannot be directly associated with playing in the CHL.  Players may use that stipend to buy a snack on the road (provided by the team), dinner out with teammates (billets provide dinner, that is their choice to eat out), gas for their vehicles (billets are required to provide transportation to and from hockey events, if they go to the mall, that’s their prerogative), cell phone bills (not a hockey expense, or related in any sense) etc. etc.

I imagine you are seeing my point that the extra stipend is not used by players for hockey related expenses, but expenses which a player, chooses to incur or not.  Because they cannot have a job in any form, the teams give them a small amount of extra spending money.  Not only is that money good for a player to do what he wishes with, without it, how is one to expect a CHL player to have any money management skills when they either earn an NHL contract, or go to school/ get a paying job?

If you eliminate the stipend all together you rob these players of the ability to learn basic money management and decisions skills, and if you reclassify it as an “expenses forward”, that will open an entirely new can of worms as to what is or is not classified as a hockey expense.

Potential ramifications could include tax and accounting headaches to boot."
Jennifer M. was fired up again after reading Derek Clarke's comments about how he believe fans wouldn't object to paying an additional $1.50 per ticket knowing that it was being designated for players education packages:
"No, you're right, we wouldn't mind... IF we had an iron clad guarantee that the ENTIRE revenue would go to the players. Unfortunately though, we are not inexperienced teenagers and know that a hefty portion of that pie chart would unavoidably be going to bankroll a bunch of people who don't even know the IHL hasn't been in operation for over a decade... that don't know the last time the ECHL referred to itself as the East Coast Hockey League was before the Iraq War had even started... that the CIS hasn't be the CIAU since 2001 and the term "Tier II" also no longer exists.

We will not be paying to fund an organization where contraqdictory statements are released on a weekly or daily basis... on their own important policies and constitutional matters. We will not be donating our hard earned dollars or the education money of our players to anyone who doesn't have the Grade 5 math and research skills to figure out reasonably accurate team ticket revenues from publicly available information... or the elementary school English skills to produce a written legal document that is not rife with grammatical and spelling errors... or to correctly spell the word "education" or the name of their own Executive Director while writing on those very subjects. 
We are not in support of any entity that will have we, the fans, pay to have our player talent exit frm our teams to another competing league. We will not be paying for our players and hence, our league, to be guided by people who have proven they know almost nothing about the business of hockey anywhere on this continent and conduct themselves under a persistent cloak of anonymity while callously leaving their young unsuspecting prospective clients ti face the harsh scrutiny of the public and media... an organization that utilizes lies and exaggerations to suit their needs, exercises shoddy business practices and displays a questionable level of intelligence. 

And lastly, we will ot stand by voiceless to any group that would be unprofessional enough to use the phrase "suck and blow" in a quotable situation with the media while purporting to represent a group largely comprised of teenage boys. So, I'm sorry to inform you Mr. Clarke that you are mistaken and that along with the CHL, WE MIND."    
The owner of a USHL based franchise chimed in with his own opinion on the NCAA eligibility issue for CHL players:
"I don’t know it it’s newsworthy – but I for one think allowing CHL players to have NCAA eligibility is a good thing. It won’t hurt me a bit and I don’t think it would hurt the NCAA or the CHL.
Why should we arbitrarily “punish” some kids (and remove them from the development pyramid early at age 20) just because they go play in the CHL against a few kids who are signed to NHL contracts?

It makes no sense to me. And I spend a lot of my capital to get kids to the NCAA (as well as to the NHL draft). I’m pro-NCAA, and I for one – think the CHL kids should be allowed to come to college if they are academically eligible."
The quote above comes from a much longer letter which I hope to be able to present in its entirety soon, it's a conversation starter for sure. 

My Take

I promised to give my opinion so here it is:

3 months ago the mere idea of a Canadian Hockey League Players Union sounded like a bad joke. The fledgling group didn't do themselves any favors as they slowly and almost cryptically unveiled their plans. 

The group initially took to Twitter and Facebook to spread their message but chose to do so in what most would feel to be a confrontational manner, especially to those who dared to ask questions. One-way propaganda became the vehicle used as tactics like posting estimated ticket revenues for all 60 CHL teams and claims of 30-hour bus rides between games were used without clear explanation of why. 

You'd be hard pressed to find many people in the business who are fully onboard with the CHLPA, although they do exist. (Another).

As for me, I've been sceptical since day one and the frustration of not being able to make contact with the "union" to discuss, on the record, what they wanted grew and grew. 

I wrote Modus Operandi for much the same reason the CHLPA says they threatened legal action against the OHL last week; to get a reaction. It probably wasn't the most professional thing I've ever done and I let my frustration get the better of me, I can admit that. But at the same time... it worked; I started getting calls and emails from Derek Clarke.

Not long after, my wife suggested that my overabundance of scepticism was blinding me to any possibility that the CHLPA might have some merit, or at least some of their ideas were worth discussing. It was a promise to her that I would force myself to have an open mind for a few weeks, collect as much info as I could and then try and present their case as unbiasedly as possible. 

That effort has been the series here at Coming Down the Pipe over the last week.

Postgame with Keegan Lowe
I believe that the CHL has done a very good job of preparing players to get to the next level and for those that don't make it, they provide a reasonable fall back with scholarship money. The fact that it isn't a uniform deal across the three leagues is something I feel should be rectified if possible, the WHL program appears to be the best as it provides the same amount of funding to players regardless of which round they were drafted in, if they were drafted at all. 

I believe that CHL players are given two opportunities to go the scholastic route, once before their CHL career begins and once when it concludes. Knowing at 15 or 16 years of age whether you will be good enough to step into at least an AHL contract as a 20 year old is probably impossible for most. But if you can't, then strongly consider playing Canadian Jr.A or in the USHL for a couple of seasons where you can keep playing at a high calibre level and retain your NCAA eligibility. 

If you're not of the academic sort, don't waste a college's time. The CHL isn't right for everyone and neither is the NCAA - if you're not a student, dedicated to putting in the time to excel on and off the ice... don't accept a scholarship that you'll just flunk out of when it could go to someone who will take advantage of it. 

To the 20-year-old CHL player who is forced to decide for a second time between education or full time hockey: wise up! The ECHL isn't going anywhere. Take advantage of the CHL scholarship available to you and try to land a spot with a CIS program. I am not one who believes that the CIS is the place where junior hockey players go to retire. I think CIS hockey is underrated and underscouted and players can develop and still play years of professional hockey afterward should they want to. The ECHL will still be waiting for you. 

Obviously there are cases where players sign NHL entry level contracts but do not develop into players who earn a second deal, or at least not one that is a promotion. I believe there is reason enough to extend the window of opportunity that a CHL grad should be able to access the CHL scholarship money - the same length of the first pro contract he signed. By the time the standard 3-year entry level contract expires, a minor league player should have a good enough indication of where his hockey career is headed. There are the rare exceptions of course but you can't set policy based on exceptions.

I believe doubling that CHL scholarship window to 3 years is more than enough of an improvement to satisfy the vast majority of people advocating for a change in that area.

As for graduating signed CHL players immediately to the AHL, ECHL or any other league, I am not on board with that idea. I think there are safety issues to be concerned with. 

I would however be open to the discussion of whether each NHL team could have an exceptional player. An AHL option for one prospect per organization that isn't quite good enough for the NHL but clearly beyond the benefits of playing the CHL again. I understand the argument that some players are ready for a greater challenge and shouldn't be held back and that it would benefit both player and franchise for such a prospect to move to the farm team quicker.  

I believe the current rule of NHL teams needing to sign CHL draftees within two years should be revisited. Is there a valid reason that it is set at two and does it make sense to consider extending it to 3 years or until a player's junior eligibility has expired? I don't know but I'd like to hear arguments from both sides.    

Is revenue sharing at the CHL level possible? If it is, would it be a positive thing for the league to consider? I don't know but I think it's something brighter minds than I should look at. As long as it wasn't abused by small market clubs run by owners who wouldn't use the extra funds to improve facilities, equipment, buses, etc. then I would understand the concept of the Haves helping the Have-Nots to better the league as a whole. 

I believe the quest to retain NCAA eligibility for CHL players is an exercise in futility. When the day comes that my NCAA friends and colleagues tell me that NCAA coaches feel players and programs would benefit and everyone is on board with the idea, then I will be too. Until that day, let it go. Players already have two opportunities to choose the path of the student athlete.

Is there need for more player advocacy at the junior level? Maybe. 

I talk to a lot of players and the number of times where I've heard players say they are upset with their lifestyle or treatment from their CHL team are extremely few.  For the most part they rave about how professional their organization is run and how well they are treated. I'm sure it's not all roses all the time for every player but what's the solution?

Could each of the three leagues create a player advocacy committee? Perhaps a group consisting of former players, an agent or two, parents that would be a sounding board for players? Kind of like a CHL player's help line. The members of the group would have to continually change and the players would have some input into who is on it. I don't know if that's a workable idea or not, but it's something to talk about. 

Finally, if anything positive can be taken out of the CHLPA story it's that it got people talking and asking questions. It's unfortunate that the positive portions of their message were overshadowed by the overwhelming noise the CHLPA would make whenever they felt they could twist a subject to their favor (see Nail Yakupov). 

Now, with the vast majority of the hockey world and the media that covers it seemingly ready to kick dirt on its embers, the CHLPA has an enormous pit to dig itself out of should it try and continue to soldier on. 
As one media colleague said to me earlier on Thursday: "The biggest problem now (to me) is that they've probably set back any honest dialogue about this ideas by a decade or more."
And that is a shame because the conversation is probably worth having. 
Unless I have to write another story called "CHLPA: Resurrection" I'm glad to be closing the book on the subject. Now I can concentrate all of my energy to what is happening on the ice. 


Unknown said...

You do excellent work and I enjoy your blog very much. Mostly because I appreciate your willingness to have a wide array of guests on your program and that meaning the CHL, NCAA, USHl and of course the Canadian Jr Hockey League teams as well. For my time, you offer the most balanced information in the aforementioned cross section of (mostly) amateur hockey. So, first, a thanks and please continue with your good work.

As far as the CHLPA - as a journalist you certainly had to probe and ask the questions you asked. You were obliged to press for more information. You would have been a fraud if you did not do so.

From my perspective though, and as a US hockey system proponent (US High School / USHL / US College Hockey) I find the perspective of the typical Canadian fan (proponent) a bit narrow-minded and in this case your stance as well.

There is not doubt the proof-in-numbers evidence the CHL produces the most NHL players over the years. From a purely hockey standpoint this league is clearly the worlds best at taking young talent and transitioning those same young men into NHL players. This is not the debate.

The debate in my opinion, and I think many other American hockey fans (and Canadian fans as well) is what does this league do for the mass. Unfortunately I do not have the time but more so the will to run the statistics on the number of CHL players that do not make it to the NHL but do get an opportunity in the "minor" pro leagues that are out there such as the ECHL or even the step above in the AHL.

THe understanding being if these young men play beyond 18-24 months in these leagues they forfeit the true "benefit" the CHL provides which is an education beyond their high school years.

In the world we live in today we can all appreciate the fact the world beyond sports is moving quickly and not only are we Americans and Canadians an important part in this the rest of the world is as well. The bottom line is it is quite competitive to get quality/meaninful work with a post-secondary (university) education let alone work w/out it.

The merits of the CHLPA no matter how poorly handled (and we can all agree it was) are just. They are just in the simple fact that our societies can no longer count on any (every) young person to pass through on solely athletic accomplishment.

It is my belief, and I'd think it is shared by countless others, that these young men that sacrifice a portion of their youth for the profit of businesss owners (men/women who do in fact have a business they are running & are absolutely entitled to profits!) should have access to further education beyond the restrictions in place today. (to clarify, I state this basis what I know from reading online about education packages and their seemingly quick expirations or eliminations from a certain #games/years spent playing 'professional' hockey).

This has been a bit verbose however I want to go back to my original point and again follow it through. I feel you are an objective blogger/radio voice and do enjoy your program for the range of hockey leagues you do cover. On the other hand, though, I do feel you (and most other Canadian journalists) have been mostly attempting to shoot holes in any merit the principles of this CHLPA, all things considered.

Hockey is without a doubt Canada's game. Canada is hockey and hockey is Canada. However, in this instance, Canada should learn from its friends south of the border for how to manage its Hockey System.

And that can't be said for most everything else.

With Warm Regards and the Utmost Respect.

Wiiliam R

Jess Rubenstein said...


I wonder what the CHLPA would have gotten away with if not for the efforts of yourself, Yahoo's Sunya and Neate and Chris Peters.

I don't know any of you personally but you all do share one thing in common with each other. You all cared enough about the kids who play at the CHL level to ask the tough questions that eventually contributed to the demise of the CHLPA.

Yes there is always a need to sit down and look at what the CHL is doing to ensure that no matter what the kids who play there are always taken care off.

Excellent work Guy

Guy Flaming said...

Thanks to both of you, I appreciate the kind words.