It is not often on this blog that I’ll write a post based on a story written by someone else. I’ve always felt that the primary goal of USofH was to bring you news and opinion you couldn’t get just anywhere. However, the brilliant Craig Custance, national hockey writer for Sporting News (soon-to-be ESPN.com hockey writer), penned perhaps the most important piece written about the battle being waged between college hockey and the Canadian Hockey League. It is both revealing and thought provoking, making it a story that I would consider required reading. Also, reading the SN piece first might help you follow along with this post.
I’ve long been an admirer of Craig’s work. He often writes about the most important topics in the NHL and is both well connected and well respected in NHL circles. Because of that, this may become the definitive piece on the topic. Custance, a true journalist, covers the story from all angles fairly and thoroughly.
Most hockey fans are blissfully unaware of this unrest within hockey’s developmental structure and this article likely won’t change that, but the exposure it brings to a new audience is important. Not only that, but Custance dug deeper and provided a wealth of new information in the form of quotes from high-ranking NHL, CHL and NCAA officials.
One of the topics that I’ve purposely left out of my previous posts on the battle between North America’s top pro development routes was the allegation that some CHL teams are paying players under the table and in ridiculous amounts of money.
These allegations are nothing new. There’s often been rumors that certain CHL teams (not all) have struck big money deals with top American talent in order to lure those players away from the NCAA. Even some Canadian players that have expressed their desire to play in the NCAA have abruptly changed their minds, with rumors circulating that it was the almighty dollar and not which developmental route the player thought best for him to get to the NHL.
College Hockey, Inc. president Paul Kelly recently threw out the eye-popping $300,000 figure in an interview with Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe.
There has been but one small problem, no one has had any concrete proof. It’s been a “their word against ours” situation
That’s what makes Custance’s story one of the more important pieces. He has a player, though anonymous, on the record as having been offered a “significant financial package” to play in the Canadian Hockey League.
To my knowledge, that is the first comment directly from a player in a major publication admitting he was offered money. Though it is an anonymous quote and there is no dollar amount included, it is a valid, if incomplete piece of evidence.
This is nothing surprising. One could assume that with all of the rumors about under-the-table payments, someone, someday would come forward. While the player’s admission is important, there was another crucial piece of information brought to light by Custance.
Based on comments from Bill Daly, deputy commissioner of the NHL and Brian Burke, GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the NHL is expecting more vigilance on the part of the CHL. Burke even went so far as to say a group of NHL GM’s are considering further investigation of the allegations.
The NHL provides money to both the CHL and USA Hockey earmarked for player development. That money trickles down to the various leagues, teams and grassroots programs under those umbrellas. Because of that significant financial grant from the NHL, the league wants to know what’s being done with that money.
Some have wondered if that money has been used to partially fund these under-the-table payments. Personally, I don’t believe they have, particularly with the figures being thrown around about what these players are receiving.
That said, with the amount of money the NHL gives the CHL, it has a right to know where that money is going and whether or not it’s being used for its intended purpose.
Burke seemed particularly interested in the piece. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to see what Burke has to say about this, as he took a pretty hard line on what he thinks of these alleged under-the-table payments.
Burke also talked about putting a stop to the alleged under-the-table payments, which the NCAA camp has to love. As Kelly pointed out in the Boston Globe piece, that’s a big factor in losing top-end American players. So the playing field is leveled to a degree.
By stopping under-the-table payments, the NCAA can’t be used as a bargaining chip anymore, either. How often have we seen players use the threat of going to the NCAA to steer their way into getting drafted by their preferred CHL team? It’s pretty much annual in the OHL.
The only question left, will the NHL effectively put a stop to this practice? The OHL has apparently been trying to do something about it by hiring a “watchdog,” but I’m not sure what he’s been watching. Dave Branch told The Pipeline Show Tuesday night that there has been nothing of consequence discovered, yet the rumors have only intensified regarding player payments since the hiring of Ken Miller as the OHL Enforcement Officer in 2010. Branch has said he hopes to speak with Kelly in order to find out more about the allegations Kelly made in the Boston Globe piece and I’m sure Kelly’s latest allegation of a $100,000 payout made to a prospect in Quebec (not sure if that is specific to the Remparts or the QMJHL in general) brought to light in Custance’s piece.
At the end of the day, whether a player gets payed or not, the benefits of choosing one route over another remain the same. The competition, schedule, etc., all remain as is. However, if the NHL sees fit to find a way to put a stop to these alleged under-the-table payments, perhaps the CHL and NCAA routes will be chosen mainly on the merits of the development they afford a prospect. The way it should be.