SHAWINIGAN, CANADA - MAY 27: CHL Commissioner David Branch presents the Memorial Cup to Michael Bournival #78 of the Shawinigan Cataractes during the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup game at the Bionest Centre on May 27, 2012 in Shawinigan, Quebec, Canada. The Catarates defeated the Knights 2-1 in overtime winning the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Junior-level players in the Canadian Hockey League are planning to unionize. It's been a long time coming.
The Canadian Hockey League is a three-league, 60-team junior hockey conglomerate that is highly successful. Not only do member teams make plenty of money, but they churn out professional prospects left and right, and they have a reputation in many circles as being the fastest route for prospects to get to the NHL.
Whether that's the real truth or not is irrelevant. Many people believe it is, and the CHL brings in top Canadian, American, and even European players as a result.
The CHL is back in the news this week, thanks to the revelation that there is an attempt to start up a CHL Players' Association, one apparently led by former NHL enforcer Georges Laraque.
One of the reasons many of the 60 teams are well off financially? The players don't make a salary. Instead, players are paid a stipend of around $50 per week, an amount that can top out at $150 per week for overage (20 years old) players. Since teams can't just stack the roster with overage players, expenses are typically kept pretty low.
The players are not paid a salary, but those who don't move into the professional ranks once they are done in the CHL are eligible for scholarship packages to help them pay for college. It's a perk that was added to help CHL teams recruit players who would otherwise wait until they complete their high school or equivalent education and move on to an NCAA school to play while they get an education, often on scholarship.
As Bruce Peter points out in his piece on the CHLPA push, there are other flaws in these education packages.
To access the program, players have 18 months from the end of their career to start drawing from it. The amount of money provided is based on the costs of the university closest to the player's hometown. If they want to go to a more expensive university, they have to make up the added costs for it. If they want to try professional hockey, do mission work in Africa, or find themselves in India for longer than 18 months they lose their scholarship options.
That's not the only problem between CHL team owners and the players. When NHL 13 comes out on Sept. 11, you'll have the ability to play as any of the 60 CHL teams, which are complete with players. The players weren't compensated for the use of their names, something that strikes as completely unacceptable.
We don't know what the group is going to try to do, however initial reports suggest the union is first going to try to improve the education packages given to players.
Whether the union ever tries to get the players more money or not is irrelevant. The CHL has other reasons to be concerned. For years, it has trumpeted itself as the destination for teenaged pro prospects. As the PR war has gone on with the NCAA and its college hockey promotional arm, College Hockey, Inc., the CHL has used its obviously-flawed education packages as a big part of the fight.
If Laraque and this union become a real entity, I would think you can expect the CHL to act quickly on a lot of fronts. There's no reason to give American college hockey a leg up in any way, given the CHL's advantages that currently exist in this "war."
(Most notably, CHL teams have no real restrictions on recruiting college players, even after they sign a letter of intent, start attending school, and even start their seasons.)
CHL commissioner David Branch (who also runs the Ontario Hockey League) has said nothing so far, but that will change if this push continues.
A well-run union would do no real damage to CHL team profits, but it would allow the players to reap more benefits from an operation that certainly generates plenty of money.