Portland Winterhawks slammed with massive sanctions by WHL

The WHL has come down hard on the Portland Winterhawks for violating the league's player benefit guidelines.

Yet again, another Canadian Major Junior club has been hit with massive sanctions for violating player benefit guidelines.

The Western Hockey League announced Wednesday that the Portland Winterhawks will forfeit five selections in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft and their first round selections in each Bantam Draft through 2017. The team was also fined $200,000 and Mike Johnston, the team's head coach and general manager, must sit out the remainder of the season.

"Our independent investigation in this case revealed there were multiple violations over an extended period for player benefits that are not permitted under WHL Regulations and were not disclosed to the WHL," league commissioner Ron Robison said in a statement. "It should also be noted through the course of the investigation there was no evidence of any payments or enhanced education benefits provided to players that would be contrary to WHL Regulations as previous media reports indicated."

The punishment is hefty, and it makes the one handed out to the Windsor Spitfires by the Ontario Hockey League back in August pale in comparison. The OHL fined the Spits $400,000 and took away three first-round picks and two second-round picks without announcing exactly what violations occurred.

The WHL also chose not to disclose the exact violations that brought upon this punishment, but the Winterhawks, perhaps in an effort to stop the rumor mill from spinning against them, shared the accusations in their own statement. According to the team, the WHL found them guilty of:

* Signing a player contract in 2009 that involved flights for the player's family and a summer training program.

* Over the last five years, providing seven families of players with flights two to four times per season based on financial need and their distance from Portland.

* Paying two players on two occasions in the last five years for a one-week summer training regimen.

* Providing a team captain with a cell phone for three seasons.

It's pretty clear that Portland finds the punishment a bit extreme.

"After fully cooperating with the league's investigation, we were extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions, and we don't feel they are in line with the scope of the violations we were found to have committed," said Johnston.

"We believe that apart from recruiting trips and parents' weekend, there is no prohibition in the rules governing flights for players' parents, which were the majority of the infractions. We are currently exploring our options on how we will proceed. Despite our objections, the league has made its decision, and our players will continue to pursue the goal of winning a WHL championship."

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