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