The Canadian Hockey League or CHL has been billing itself as a “junior hockey” league for the better part of its whole existence. On countless promotional ads, the league points out how it is not only a top development league for hockey players on the ice, but also how it provides the tools necessary for success in life after hockey. The league operates using the same format as any other professional league yet when it comes to player compensation, the league seems to revert to being an amateur organization; paying its athletes just a basic stipend. The players receive about $50 per week. It was $50 back when the policy was created in the early 1980’s. In 2013, it is still $50. Revenues have certainly increased since that time. Just how much the owners make is unknown due to the fact they are private entities that do not disclose financial figures to the public. When calculated, the average CHL player compensation does not meet minimum wage requirements in any Province or State.
CHL Commissioner David Branch spoke on the matter saying his league is not in violation of any federal or provincial laws.
“We look upon our players as student athletes. We’ve never considered ourselves professional. We are under Hockey
Canada, which is the recognized amateur sports-governing body.”
Currently, there are about 1,500 players in the CHL. Of those, only about 2% go on to have professional hockey careers. In their own statement, CHL estimated the investment for each player is $35,000 to $40,000 annually, which includes an education program and “other benefits.” The CHL makes these funds available to players who chose to pursue an education once their playing days are over. Currently, about 30% of players take advantage of this benefit. However, if they choose to become professionals, whether in the NHL or any numerous leagues around the world, their access to that fund is cut off, and the player loses the ability to access those funds. What becomes of those funds at that point remains a mystery. One thing is for certain, the players who played a hand in generating those funds will never see any of it once their CHL playing careers are over. The leagues rake in large piles of money every year, largely on the backs of high school aged children, yet they do not allow them to significantly participate in the profits.
The average player costs is so egregiously low that it is just too lucrative for CHL teams to let their players have the ability to bargain for better, more lucrative deals. Remaining in this quasi-amateur status allows the league to realize huge profits while justifying not properly compensating its athletes.
What is yet more troubling is the fact that some CHL teams have taken to providing money to potential new players who are leaning towards heading to American NCAA schools, in order to entice them to come play in the CHL. After an internal investigation, it was determined the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires violated the league’s player benefit and recruitment rules and policies and were fined $400,000 by the CHL. This was contrary to the league’s benefit and recruitment rules and policies that were created in 2009. Such under the table financial dealings creates divisions between players whereby a small fraction of players (usually the ones heading to the NHL) benefit from being paid to play while the rest, must make due with weekly stipends. It is in the financial best interests of the teams to bring in the highest quality players in order to improve the teams’ respective bottom lines. The remaining players are being exploited in the current system. Perhaps it would be better if the level of compensation was directly related to the amount of revenues that were brought in by the leagues in total. Doing this would both compensate all players for their efforts, and provide more transparency for members of the public at large. Also, by compensating everyone, the other 98% of players not making it to the NHL but who had a hand in generating revenues for the CHL, would rightfully derive benefit from those efforts. These are issues the hockey leaders in this country need to address.