REPORT: Kitchener Put in Big Money Offer for Trouba

Updated (7/3 — 3:52 p.m. EDT): The Trouba Family has released a statement through the University of Michigan that reports of the offer are false.

According to a report by Matt Slovin of The Michigan Daily, Winnipeg Jets first-round pick Jacob Trouba has received a significant financial offer from the Kitchener Rangers in order to lure the young prospect away from his commitment to the University of Michigan. Allegations like those reported by Slovin have surfaced numerous times before, but rarely have they ever included a dollar amount.

From Slovin’s report:

Monday night, a different OHL source informed the Daily that Kitchener has presented the Trouba family with a “huge offer” that remains on the table. The source added that he “believes it will happen.”

In place of an education package, the source said Trouba could be compensated to about $200,000.

The toothpaste is out of the tube. A team has been named. A player has been named and most importantly, the dollar amount has been reported in plain sight for all to see. That said, I don’t believe Kitchener could offer anything in lieu of an education package, at least officially. The point remains that there’s a reported monetary compensation here.

This isn’t necessarily a surprising report. The practice of paying players under the table in the CHL has long been speculated, and so often there has been smoke, but no lock-tight reports to shout fire.

Not since Jeff Jackson, current head coach at Notre Dame and a former OHL coach himself, accused Kitchener of offering current Anaheim Duck Cam Fowler in excess of $500,000 to play there has an actual dollar amount been reported publicly. Fowler didn’t sign with Kitchener, but when he went back into the OHL Draft, was selected by and later signed by Windsor, forgoing a commitment to Notre Dame, hence Jackson’s accusations. Lawsuits were threatened, but never executed.

However, in this case, the allegations are not coming from a scorned coach, but a student reporter who has a pretty good head on his shoulders journalistically, and based on his work, a bright future (and therefore a lot to lose if his source turns out to be wrong).

The number 200,000 is out there now. Whether legit or not, it’s out there for the public to decide who to believe.

Trouba has not signed with Kitchener to anyone’s knowledge and if he does now, it will be under the notion that he is being compensated for doing so to those that believe Slovin’s source. And to be honest, if the report is true, who could blame a kid for taking a long look at earning that kind of money at 18? Even though Trouba has been adamant from the day he committed that he would honor that commitment and attend Michigan, that’s a lot of money.

It will be difficult for anyone to definitively prove this happened. There has never been a confirmed named player on the record saying that he was offered significant compensation and certainly never how much. Regardless of what Trouba decides, I have a hard time believing we’ll ever hear anything about this scenario from him.

While no player has gone on record without anonymity, Craig Custance, currently at ESPN.com, filed this report while at the Sporting News:

In a conversation with Sporting News, one player weighing the decision confirmed he’d been offered a significant financial package to play in Canada, saying it’s not an easy thing to turn down.

“Everybody has their price,” he said.

Also from the Custance report:

As the CHL has grown, Branch said the league has been deliberate in developing clear-cut policies on allowable benefits for players, which are largely for education and training allowances.

The OHL has hired an enforcement officer to investigate any allegations of impropriety, and the league’s competitive balance depends on a level playing field.

“I believe that 99 percent of the cases, no they are not” being paid under the table, Branch said of the CHL’s elite players. “I would not go as far to say that none have received benefits that exceed our permissible benefits. We are addressing it.”

So Branch clearly knows that there is a strong possibility these improper benefits are likely being doled out, even if it’s to one percent of the players. With that base of knowledge, can Branch afford to ignore Slovin’s report which boldly listed a dollar amount?

I fear that Slovin’s status as a student reporter will be held against him (unfairly) and that the team or league will try to discredit him. That’s not to say the young reporter isn’t stepping out on a limb, because he is a bit. From the few interactions I’ve had with Matt, I have a hard time believing he’d run with this if he didn’t feel strongly about his source.

Craig Campbell, Kitchener’s president, told one inquisitive tweeter that the report was “utterly false.” However, earlier this morning, the team’s head coach and GM Steve Spott declined comment to Slovin. It makes sense, seeing as it’s just as difficult to prove innocence as it is to prove guilt, but the seed of doubt has been planted.

The OHL has reason to investigate this situation as sourced reports like this do not surface often. These allegations have been tossed around behind closed doors for years, with no action taken by the league aside from hiring an enforcement officer, which has done nothing to quell the rumors of impropriety. Would the OHL send its top cop out for this one?

Even if it did, it is already pretty clear he will find nothing. Regardless of anonymously sourced reports or rampant speculation, the act of an alleged under-the-table payment is difficult to prove. I don’t know too many businesses that put their under-the-table payments on the books. Might have something to do with that whole under-the-table thing.

Until a player goes on record with a paper trail, the likelihood of these alleged payments being definitively proven to exist is still slim.

That said, Slovin’s report reopens the dialogue. Despite lack of definitive proof, it is widely believed by college coaches that paying elite players under-the-table is a fairly common practice in the CHL. Therefore, it is a key component in the ongoing battle for players between the Canadian Hockey League’s three entities, particularly the OHL, and college hockey. This is one area where the NCAA feels it is on unequal footing in the recruitment battle.

I get that there are people who feel the NCAA exploits athletes, which in some cases is true, but I don’t know how much money colleges will make off of their hockey players. Secondly, if these alleged under-the-table payments are occurring, it would be impossible to pay every player, right? That would mean a player with no leverage to receive money would get nothing more than the stipend and education package, while teammates with the leverage of threatening to play college hockey might be getting paid big money. That potential scenario makes it sound like players are getting punished for playing by the rules.

Not everyone in the major junior ranks is willing to bury his head in the sand on this. Sherry Bassin, GM of the OHL’s Erie Otters, admitted to Dean Millard of the Pipeline Show that he wants to see some of the teams in his league investigated for allegedly paying players.

There is a significant fissure separating the top-tier OHL teams and the second-tier teams in terms of acquiring talent and if that fissure is being widened due to the payment of players, Bassin and other GMs in the “have-nots” category have reason to want it stopped. However the question remains, if the allegations of payments have been prevalent for so long, why does it seem like nothing’s been done? Maybe it’s because the Canadian Hockey League has grown into a multi-million dollar business. There’s incentive to turn a blind eye to any wrongdoing when things are just peachy keen financially.

The contentiousness of the recruiting battle between the CHL and NCAA has reached its boiling point. The grenade lobbing has been ongoing for the last few years and every year seems to get a little bit worse than the year before. Despite the venom being spewed across borders, both leagues are still developing players for the next level.

As of right now, the player pool being produced for the NHL has not been affected. It may someday, but because it hasn’t yet, the NHL has little incentive to step in, despite the fact that the league grants a lot of money to both sides. Without any NHL oversight, I don’t see how or when this ends. It probably won’t.

This specific situation will now be scrutinized heavily and that’s unfortunate for Trouba, as he has plenty to sort through himself just a few weeks after becoming a first-round draft pick. So many things have yet to play out, but now it will have to play out at least partially in public.

This recruiting battle for top prospects has devolved into a circus. Grown men fighting over the services of teenagers, allegations of throwing six figures at players, nastiness spewed through the press and at the heart of it, hundreds of kids whose futures and careers hang in the balance. Sometimes it’s woefully unclear who the grown ups are in this situation and that’s a big, big problem.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NCAA, NHL, NHL Draft, USA Hockey. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to REPORT: Kitchener Put in Big Money Offer for Trouba

  1. Pingback: Weekly Links: Brian Burke criticized for marching in Pride Parade; Who was hockey’s first goon? « Hockey in Society

  2. Kris says:

    I absolutely LOVE this: we have the NCAA whining about unfairly paying these players and how this is a violation of rules. The NCAA is the absolute worst offender in this regard, even a casual observer can see that this practise is rampant in US college basketball and football. Here their only real problem is that their college programmes don’t generate the kinds of revenue as their colleagues in football and basketball which limits their ability to buy talent as in the aforementioned sports. The CHL (OHL) is a big business in Canada and they have the $$$ to pay players, US college hockey is not, so they lack the necessary funds. This has the coaches screaming “foul play” when anyone with a modicum of common sense knows that if they had the ability they would be paying players just like the other college sports. Is this story true? Maybe. Does this go on? Most likely. Is it against the rules? Definitely. Is the NCAA worse for this sort of thing than the OHL (referring here to football/basketball)? Without question. So what exactly is the reason college coaches are complaining? Jealousy, plain and simple; they would be all over player compensation if they had the means to do so. They can’t and this pisses them off.

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