No ex­tra player perks

Law­suit raises ques­tions of secret deals in other CHL teams, but Hamil­ton says that’s not the way they do busi­ness

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - TERI PECOSKIE

The Hamil­ton Bull­dogs say they don’t — and won’t — make secret side deals with their play­ers. They don’t think they need to. Steve Staios, the club’s pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager, said un­equiv­o­cally the Bull­dogs have never com­pen­sated play­ers be­yond what’s al­lowed by the On­tario Hockey League’s stan­dard player agree­ment. “That’s not how we run our busi­ness,” he added. He also said from the top down the Bull­dogs want to have the high­est qual­ity in­di­vid­u­als in their sys­tem, or­ga­ni­za­tion and fam­ily. If the al­le­ga­tions are true and other teams are break­ing the rules, “that is how we’ll com­pete.” Head coach John Gru­den agreed. “Our job is just to worry about the play­ers in our locker-room and not worry about what other teams are do­ing,” he said. “That’s out of our con­trol. Whether it’s true or not or what­ever, we just go about our busi­ness and do it the right way and do it the way it’s sup­posed to be done.”

The Spec­ta­tor spoke to the pair ear­lier this month af­ter doc­u­ments were filed in On­tario Su­pe­rior Court al­leg­ing some play­ers on other teams were given secret side deals with­out the league’s ap­proval. Sub­mit­ted as ev­i­dence by lawyers for former play­ers su­ing the Cana­dian Hockey League, the doc­u­ments are in­tended to show that teams will do what­ever it takes to re­cruit top play­ers and max­i­mize prof­its, in­clud­ing giv­ing them more than league rules al­low.

Launched in 2014, the law­suit is led by Beamsville na­tive Sam Berg — a former Ni­a­gara IceDogs player and the son of former NHLer Bill Berg. He’s asked the courts to de­clare that CHL play­ers are em­ploy­ees of their teams and as such de­serve to be paid at least a min­i­mum wage.

Mean­while, the CHL — an um­brella or­ga­ni­za­tion com­posed of the OHL, the Que­bec Ma­jor Ju­nior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League — has ar­gued that it is a de­vel­op­men­tal league and its play­ers are ama­teur ath­letes.

Among the doc­u­ments is a sworn af­fi­davit from Burling­ton’s Jeremy Gottz­mann, a former Erie Ot­ters player who tes­ti­fies the club’s thenowner Sherry Bassin agreed in a let­ter to pro­vide him with ad­di­tional com­pen­sa­tion not in­cluded in the league’s stan­dard con­tract. In ad­di­tion to his education pack­age — a four-year post-sec­ondary schol­ar­ship worth up to $10,500 an­nu­ally — he was per­mit­ted $800 each year to­ward the pur­chase of a ca­reerend­ing in­sur­ance pol­icy (the league max­i­mum is $500) and up to $6,000 cash, which was to be dis­pensed in four equal pay­ments at the start of each school year.

Gottz­mann, who also played for the Peter­bor­ough Pe­tes, writes that to the best of his knowl­edge, the deal was not dis­closed to the OHL. The let­ter also pro­vides that it is “un­der­stood that this ar­range­ment shall be kept con­fi­den­tial.”

“The Ot­ters of­fered this ad­di­tional agree­ment be­cause I was a top prospect,” he adds. “All play­ers know that some top prospects re­ceive sim­i­lar agree­ments. I be­lieve all of the teams know that if they want to re­cruit a top prospect, they have to ‘sweeten the pot.’”

In an in­ter­view with TSN, Bassin, a long­time ju­nior hockey ex­ec­u­tive, ad­mit­ted to the pay­ments, say­ing “I made a mis­take. I want to be pub­lic about it.”

Yet David Branch, the CHL pres­i­dent and OHL com­mis­sioner, told The Spec­ta­tor in an email the amount paid to Gottz­mann was not out­side the amount of univer­sity ex­pense, in­clud­ing tu­ition, books and room and board, the team was al­lowed to pay.

“Mr. Bassin did not take the nor­mal steps in ex­e­cut­ing this par­tic­u­lar con­tract, how­ever, the amount was not out­side league rules,” he said. Branch didn’t ad­dress the in­sur­ance pol­icy.

Gottz­mann’s tes­ti­mony isn’t the only ev­i­dence of un­sanc­tioned deals. Doc­u­ments sub­mit­ted by the plain­tiffs also in­clude an af­fi­davit by John Char­trand, a former player for the Ni­a­gara Ice Dogs, Bar­rie Colts and Belleville Bulls who writes that he’s aware of some star play­ers be­ing given money over and above what the league’s stan­dard con­tract al­lows.

Char­trand states that when he was with the IceDogs, his team­mate Billy Jenk­ins re­ceived a $400 pay­cheque (four times the bi­weekly norm for most OHL play­ers at the time), while he re­ceived the stan­dard $100. He also writes that Mal­colm Sub­ban, the brother of former Amer­i­can Hockey League Bull­dog P.K. Sub­ban, told him he re­ceived 50 cents from ev­ery Bulls ticket sold when the two were play­ing to­gether in Belleville.

The plain­tiffs also sub­mit­ted a redacted Vic­to­ri­av­ille Ti­gres con­tract, which shows the QMJHL club agree­ing to pay:

Up to $2,000 an­nu­ally for a player’s sum­mer train­ing ex­penses;

A sup­ple­ment to the player’s agent that would dou­ble the player’s weekly salary through­out his en­tire ma­jor ju­nior ca­reer, ex­cept his over­age sea­son; and

A se­ries of per­for­mance bonuses, in­clud­ing $5,000 if the player is se­lected in the first round of the NHL Draft, $2,000 if he is named CHL player of the year and $1,000 if he is awarded a spot on Canada’s world ju­nior team.

Like Gottz­mann’s agree­ment, the Ti­gres deal also con­tains a con­fi­den­tial­ity clause.

Branch said he couldn’t speak di­rectly to the af­fi­davits since they are part of the law­suit and will be dis­cussed in court if it is cer­ti­fied as a class ac­tion (a court date for that de­ci­sion has been sched­uled for Novem­ber).

He also said he doesn’t be­lieve there are any teams mak­ing pay­ments

out­side the level which they are au­tho­rized to pro­vide.

“This is an is­sue that the leagues take ex­tremely se­ri­ously and when dis­cov­ered, as his­tory will show, we have meted sig­nif­i­cant sanc­tions,” he added. In 2012, the OHL fined the Wind­sor Spit­fires $250,000 and forced the club to for­feit four draft picks for vi­o­lat­ing the league’s ben­e­fit and re­cruit­ment pol­icy.

Shortly af­ter the TSN story was pub­lished July 5, Jenk­ins, the former IceDog, posted a state­ment on Twit­ter call­ing Char­trand’s claim a fab­ri­ca­tion. “I never re­ceived any ad­di­tional pay­ments other than what was on my stan­dard player agree­ment,” he added.

Reached by phone, Jenk­ins told The Spec­ta­tor he didn’t have enough knowl­edge about the law­suit to fur­ther com­ment, and when asked if he kept any record of his pay­cheques in Ni­a­gara said “no.”

Sub­ban like­wise took the is­sue to so­cial me­dia, ap­pear­ing to mock Char­trand’s claim in a Twit­ter post July 6. If he — a goalie drafted in the 11th round on the OHL’s pri­or­ity se­lec­tion — was earn­ing 50 cents a ticket, then Tyson Te­ich­mann, another

former Bulls net­min­der, “must have been mak­ing 10 mill ...”

The Spec­ta­tor at­tempted to reach Sub­ban through the Bos­ton Bru­ins — the NHL team with which he’s cur­rently un­der con­tract. The club didn’t re­spond.

When asked if the ei­ther the OHL or CHL has any in­ten­tion of in­ves­ti­gat­ing the al­le­ga­tions of secret side deals, Branch said “we are fol­low­ing the nor­mal course of ac­tion and are not in a po­si­tion to re­spond fur­ther at this time.”

Staios said he didn’t know enough about the mat­ter to com­ment on it, while Gru­den, said an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in not needed.

“The lead­er­ship is out­stand­ing with Mr. Branch and the league, and the in­tegrity of the play­ers is the num­ber one pri­or­ity,” he added.

Gru­den also said “there’s not much talk” about the is­sue of secret side deals — “that’s for ev­ery­one else to kind of fig­ure out” — and Hamil­ton’s fo­cus is on its play­ers and “do­ing it the right way. I don’t see it as for us at all,” he said.

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

Hamil­ton Bull­dogs pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager Steve Staios says the team has never com­pen­sated play­ers be­yond what’s al­lowed by the On­tario Hockey League’s stan­dard player agree­ment.

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

Former Erie Ot­ters player Jeremy Gottz­mann swore in an af­fi­davit that the Ot­ters gave him ex­tra com­pen­sa­tion in a con­fi­den­tial deal.

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