Though the story has already gone through so many permutations and baffling left turns, for the time being the fledgling CHLPA appears to be in ashes. The revelations about the names actually involved in the group apart from Georges Laraque have made the organization toxic to many. Both players and law firms are retreating from its side of the line in the sand.
One of the main policy thrusts behind the CHLPA’s car-wreck ascendancy revolved around the education packages offered to major junior players and what the group saw as an unfair set of rules. But I can’t abide by that.
In 2012, there is no reason why a player should not be aware of his rights when it comes to education. While you can debate the merits of teenagers having agents/family advisors, the fact of the matter is the good ones are great advocates for their clients and most importantly, are almost always lawyers. That means they know about fine print and footnotes.
Not only that, but for kids who are deciding between major junior and college, there is College Hockey Inc., a group dedicated to educating players on NCAA eligibility and the college hockey experience. One of my personal red flags when it came to the CHLPA was during a phone conversation I had with one of the Derek Clarkes: he had never heard of College Hockey Inc., but claimed extensive dealings with the NCAA regarding education. Not exactly due diligence in the research department, if you ask me.
Right now, CHL players have 18 months after their junior careers are finished to decide whether or not they are going to use their education packages. A typical prize is one year of paid schooling for every season played. Agents can also negotiate better deals, wherein a kid will get four years of school paid for simply stepping on the ice for his first game, for example. Other than letting the 18 months lapse, the only way to lose the education package after putting in your service (if a player is cut, the package ends – so if you end up playing a year and a half, you get a year and a half’s worth of education) is to sign a pro contract in either the American League or NHL. This is important, I believe, as I had mistakenly been under the impression that even an ECHL contract would quash the pact. According to Kyle Raftis, the Ontario League’s director of recruitment, education services and player development, it has to be at least a full-year AHL contract – even getting called up for some games won’t wreck it.
“Any minor pro league is fine,” he said.
So let’s walk this back a bit. Say you’re a decent major junior player, but no NHL teams come calling. You sign a contract in the ECHL or Central League or Southern Pro League and begin the next step in your life. You could play a full season and part of a second campaign in Bakersfield or Odessa or Louisiana and still have time to cash in the education package. Not that I ever had to make the decision, but that seems like enough time to figure out if that grind is going to be your life for the foreseeable future, is it not?
The CHL’s education packages are one of the reasons recruiting has become a bloodsport between major junior and the NCAA lately. Team education policies were standardized in 2008, so now players know what to expect regardless of the franchise they play for. Plymouth Whalers coach/GM Mike Vellucci told me recently that when he played for Belleville in the 1980s, he was tossed into Grade 13 Canadian History class – despite the fact he was an American from Michigan who had never taken the prerequisites.
I don’t want to sound like a shill here – I think the NCAA route is just as worthy for a prospect to take – but it’s hard to take arguments against the CHL’s commitment to education seriously now when the options are out in the open and have been vastly improved.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.