Is $825-million hockey lawsuit on solid ice?

News Sep 16, 2020 by Scott Radley Hamilton Spectator

Are junior hockey players in Canada the victims of a wide-ranging conspiracy to restrict their movements and pay them minimal amounts in order to enrich team owners and leagues?

That’s the crux of a proposed $825-million class action lawsuit filed by a former junior hockey player against the National Hockey League, American Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League — home of the Hamilton Bulldogs — Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Western Hockey League, and ECHL.

In the simplest-possible terms, it argues that players can’t play where they want, when they want. And those who don’t eventually make the NHL aren’t financially rewarded for the money they bring into the system.

“Defendants have created a system of hockey leagues in Canada and in the United States of America where the overwhelming majority of players will never reach the well-paid top professional leagues, but rather spend numerous years playing for nominal sums of money, all to the financial advantage of the Defendants,” the suit says.

All of this has to get sorted out in court, of course. But at first blush, some parts of this seem reasonably clear and others as murky as mud.

Let’s start with the former.

There’s an argument to be made that junior players should get a larger allowance. A small stipend of what works out to a few dollars a day is tiny by any measure, particularly since the commitment to their team essentially prevents them from holding a part-time job on the side.

And since you can’t play in the AHL or ECHL until you’re 20, rules that prohibit players under that age from signing with one of those leagues — even if their junior teams have cut them — leave them nowhere to go. If you can make the NHL at 18, great. If your junior team wants you, great. If neither apply, but a pro team is interested in signing you, that doesn’t sound unreasonable.

From there on, though, things become far less black and white. Consider players’ education.

Players in junior hockey get a year of university or college paid for by their teams for each year they play. Granted, that’s only a benefit to them if they ever attend school. And it’s taken away if they sign a pro contract. That’s a loss. Then again, if getting to the pros was the point in the first place, it could be seen as a win.

“It sets me up for the rest of my life,” says Hamilton’s Hayden Davis who’s now at the University of Toronto on that OHL scholarship money after nearly five years in the league.

Where the argument gets really muddy, however, is the suggestion that players who don’t make it to the big league — which is most — have spent a whole lot of time and effort and emotion on a pursuit that was ultimately financially fruitless. They’ve worked out constantly, practised or played almost every day, travelled all over the province and beyond on long bus trips and possibly beaten up their body. For basically nothing.

Thus, some would say, they haven’t been paid nearly enough — the suit is seeking $50,000 per year per player in addition to other damages — and have been wronged.

Perhaps. Then again, is this really all that different from any other pursuit in life?

Not everyone who picks up a guitar becomes a rock star, no matter how badly they want it and no matter how many nights they spend in dingy bars playing in front of a handful of drunk patrons for $50. Not everyone who throws themselves into dance classes and acting lessons and spends every waking hour rehearsing and doing shows in community theatre lands on Broadway or on the big screen. Not everyone who takes a pass on a social life in high school to spend all their time studying and pays for tutors makes it into medical school.

Even if you go to university and get a degree, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a high-paying job in your field. You take your best shot and hope you make it. Some do, some don’t. But it’s a risk you take knowing full well there’s no guarantee at the end.

Playing in junior hockey is a lottery ticket. You get good coaching, a high level of competition and exposure to scouts. If it pans out, you stand to make riches the rest of us can’t really fathom. If it doesn’t — and going in you know your chances are small even if you don’t necessarily want to believe it — then so be it. That’s what you voluntarily signed up for.

Former Hamilton Bulldogs captain Isaac Nurse is now at the University of New Brunswick on his OHL scholarship. He says he hoped for a pro contract but doesn’t feel sour in any way about the experience.

“You’re playing hockey for free,” he says. “And you get all these perks with it. I can’t really complain.”

And Hamilton’s Cristiano DiGiacinto, who won a Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires, is now at Acadia University on his OHL package. He says he got loads out of his OHL experience even if it didn’t financially enrich him. He calls the league a give-and-take.

“I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” he says.

Ultimately it appears a court will have to decide if he and other players have been wronged. Even if some of them don’t sound particularly aggrieved right now.

Scott Radley is a Hamilton-based columnist at The Spectator. Reach him via email: sradley@thespec.com

Is $825-million hockey lawsuit on solid ice?

Suit said several leagues conspired to restrict player movements while paying them little, writes Scott Radley

News Sep 16, 2020 by Scott Radley Hamilton Spectator

Are junior hockey players in Canada the victims of a wide-ranging conspiracy to restrict their movements and pay them minimal amounts in order to enrich team owners and leagues?

That’s the crux of a proposed $825-million class action lawsuit filed by a former junior hockey player against the National Hockey League, American Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League — home of the Hamilton Bulldogs — Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Western Hockey League, and ECHL.

In the simplest-possible terms, it argues that players can’t play where they want, when they want. And those who don’t eventually make the NHL aren’t financially rewarded for the money they bring into the system.

“Defendants have created a system of hockey leagues in Canada and in the United States of America where the overwhelming majority of players will never reach the well-paid top professional leagues, but rather spend numerous years playing for nominal sums of money, all to the financial advantage of the Defendants,” the suit says.

All of this has to get sorted out in court, of course. But at first blush, some parts of this seem reasonably clear and others as murky as mud.

Let’s start with the former.

There’s an argument to be made that junior players should get a larger allowance. A small stipend of what works out to a few dollars a day is tiny by any measure, particularly since the commitment to their team essentially prevents them from holding a part-time job on the side.

And since you can’t play in the AHL or ECHL until you’re 20, rules that prohibit players under that age from signing with one of those leagues — even if their junior teams have cut them — leave them nowhere to go. If you can make the NHL at 18, great. If your junior team wants you, great. If neither apply, but a pro team is interested in signing you, that doesn’t sound unreasonable.

From there on, though, things become far less black and white. Consider players’ education.

Players in junior hockey get a year of university or college paid for by their teams for each year they play. Granted, that’s only a benefit to them if they ever attend school. And it’s taken away if they sign a pro contract. That’s a loss. Then again, if getting to the pros was the point in the first place, it could be seen as a win.

“It sets me up for the rest of my life,” says Hamilton’s Hayden Davis who’s now at the University of Toronto on that OHL scholarship money after nearly five years in the league.

Where the argument gets really muddy, however, is the suggestion that players who don’t make it to the big league — which is most — have spent a whole lot of time and effort and emotion on a pursuit that was ultimately financially fruitless. They’ve worked out constantly, practised or played almost every day, travelled all over the province and beyond on long bus trips and possibly beaten up their body. For basically nothing.

Thus, some would say, they haven’t been paid nearly enough — the suit is seeking $50,000 per year per player in addition to other damages — and have been wronged.

Perhaps. Then again, is this really all that different from any other pursuit in life?

Not everyone who picks up a guitar becomes a rock star, no matter how badly they want it and no matter how many nights they spend in dingy bars playing in front of a handful of drunk patrons for $50. Not everyone who throws themselves into dance classes and acting lessons and spends every waking hour rehearsing and doing shows in community theatre lands on Broadway or on the big screen. Not everyone who takes a pass on a social life in high school to spend all their time studying and pays for tutors makes it into medical school.

Even if you go to university and get a degree, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a high-paying job in your field. You take your best shot and hope you make it. Some do, some don’t. But it’s a risk you take knowing full well there’s no guarantee at the end.

Playing in junior hockey is a lottery ticket. You get good coaching, a high level of competition and exposure to scouts. If it pans out, you stand to make riches the rest of us can’t really fathom. If it doesn’t — and going in you know your chances are small even if you don’t necessarily want to believe it — then so be it. That’s what you voluntarily signed up for.

Former Hamilton Bulldogs captain Isaac Nurse is now at the University of New Brunswick on his OHL scholarship. He says he hoped for a pro contract but doesn’t feel sour in any way about the experience.

“You’re playing hockey for free,” he says. “And you get all these perks with it. I can’t really complain.”

And Hamilton’s Cristiano DiGiacinto, who won a Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires, is now at Acadia University on his OHL package. He says he got loads out of his OHL experience even if it didn’t financially enrich him. He calls the league a give-and-take.

“I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” he says.

Ultimately it appears a court will have to decide if he and other players have been wronged. Even if some of them don’t sound particularly aggrieved right now.

Scott Radley is a Hamilton-based columnist at The Spectator. Reach him via email: sradley@thespec.com

Is $825-million hockey lawsuit on solid ice?

Suit said several leagues conspired to restrict player movements while paying them little, writes Scott Radley

News Sep 16, 2020 by Scott Radley Hamilton Spectator

Are junior hockey players in Canada the victims of a wide-ranging conspiracy to restrict their movements and pay them minimal amounts in order to enrich team owners and leagues?

That’s the crux of a proposed $825-million class action lawsuit filed by a former junior hockey player against the National Hockey League, American Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League — home of the Hamilton Bulldogs — Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Western Hockey League, and ECHL.

In the simplest-possible terms, it argues that players can’t play where they want, when they want. And those who don’t eventually make the NHL aren’t financially rewarded for the money they bring into the system.

“Defendants have created a system of hockey leagues in Canada and in the United States of America where the overwhelming majority of players will never reach the well-paid top professional leagues, but rather spend numerous years playing for nominal sums of money, all to the financial advantage of the Defendants,” the suit says.

All of this has to get sorted out in court, of course. But at first blush, some parts of this seem reasonably clear and others as murky as mud.

Let’s start with the former.

There’s an argument to be made that junior players should get a larger allowance. A small stipend of what works out to a few dollars a day is tiny by any measure, particularly since the commitment to their team essentially prevents them from holding a part-time job on the side.

And since you can’t play in the AHL or ECHL until you’re 20, rules that prohibit players under that age from signing with one of those leagues — even if their junior teams have cut them — leave them nowhere to go. If you can make the NHL at 18, great. If your junior team wants you, great. If neither apply, but a pro team is interested in signing you, that doesn’t sound unreasonable.

From there on, though, things become far less black and white. Consider players’ education.

Players in junior hockey get a year of university or college paid for by their teams for each year they play. Granted, that’s only a benefit to them if they ever attend school. And it’s taken away if they sign a pro contract. That’s a loss. Then again, if getting to the pros was the point in the first place, it could be seen as a win.

“It sets me up for the rest of my life,” says Hamilton’s Hayden Davis who’s now at the University of Toronto on that OHL scholarship money after nearly five years in the league.

Where the argument gets really muddy, however, is the suggestion that players who don’t make it to the big league — which is most — have spent a whole lot of time and effort and emotion on a pursuit that was ultimately financially fruitless. They’ve worked out constantly, practised or played almost every day, travelled all over the province and beyond on long bus trips and possibly beaten up their body. For basically nothing.

Thus, some would say, they haven’t been paid nearly enough — the suit is seeking $50,000 per year per player in addition to other damages — and have been wronged.

Perhaps. Then again, is this really all that different from any other pursuit in life?

Not everyone who picks up a guitar becomes a rock star, no matter how badly they want it and no matter how many nights they spend in dingy bars playing in front of a handful of drunk patrons for $50. Not everyone who throws themselves into dance classes and acting lessons and spends every waking hour rehearsing and doing shows in community theatre lands on Broadway or on the big screen. Not everyone who takes a pass on a social life in high school to spend all their time studying and pays for tutors makes it into medical school.

Even if you go to university and get a degree, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a high-paying job in your field. You take your best shot and hope you make it. Some do, some don’t. But it’s a risk you take knowing full well there’s no guarantee at the end.

Playing in junior hockey is a lottery ticket. You get good coaching, a high level of competition and exposure to scouts. If it pans out, you stand to make riches the rest of us can’t really fathom. If it doesn’t — and going in you know your chances are small even if you don’t necessarily want to believe it — then so be it. That’s what you voluntarily signed up for.

Former Hamilton Bulldogs captain Isaac Nurse is now at the University of New Brunswick on his OHL scholarship. He says he hoped for a pro contract but doesn’t feel sour in any way about the experience.

“You’re playing hockey for free,” he says. “And you get all these perks with it. I can’t really complain.”

And Hamilton’s Cristiano DiGiacinto, who won a Memorial Cup with the Windsor Spitfires, is now at Acadia University on his OHL package. He says he got loads out of his OHL experience even if it didn’t financially enrich him. He calls the league a give-and-take.

“I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” he says.

Ultimately it appears a court will have to decide if he and other players have been wronged. Even if some of them don’t sound particularly aggrieved right now.

Scott Radley is a Hamilton-based columnist at The Spectator. Reach him via email: sradley@thespec.com