There is a great debate about whether major junior hockey players should be treated as either student athletes or employees of their organization.
The case could be made either way but a few past junior players decided to take the issue to court in 2014 to argue that they should be treated as employees with an hourly wage and all the benefits accorded under provincial law.
That court case ended up being settled last month with the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and its three member leagues – Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) – agreeing to pay $30 million to thousands of former players who played between 2012 and 2018. How much each player will receive all depends on where they played, when they played and for how long.
The settlement gives the defendants, the leagues in this case, a full release from any further class-action suits regarding employment status for players.
Ted Charney of Charney Lawyers in Toronto was one of the lead attorneys in the case and said the settlement was a fair one in the end.
“We think it was fair because the (provincial) governments capped the claims by exempting players from employment standards legislation,” he said.
According to Charney, between 3,000 and 3,500 former players are eligible to be part of the action with approximately 800 signed on as of Monday.
“We do not know the amount (for each player),” he said. “It will depend on the number who submit claims and how many seasons they played.”
It should be noted that only those players who played for Canadian teams are eligible to take part; those who played with American teams in the CHL such as the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL and Flint Firebirds in the OHL are exempt from the settlement.
There are a handful of players from the NWT who got the chance to ply their trade in the Western Hockey League over the years and who are eligible to be part of the action, Tye Hand being among them.
Originally drafted by the Everett Silvertips in 2010, Hand would be traded to the Regina Pats in 2012 and went on to play two seasons with the team. Those two seasons were sandwiched between two seasons in the Alberta Junior Hockey League split between the Drumheller Dragons and Calgary Canucks.
Hand said he will “absolutely not” sign on to the class-action because as he sees it, he got everything he needed as soon as he signed his player agreement.
“I was presented with my contract and it guaranteed me free school, free gear – everything was paid for by the team,” he said. “I didn’t pay for groceries, I didn’t pay rent, the teams give you gas money or flights to come to training camp as well as going home for Christmas and when the season is done. I don’t need any money to make up for all I received.”
The CHL provides players with post-secondary tuition if they played in one of the leagues with the first year guaranteed once a player signs with a team. Another year is guaranteed to a player for every season they suit up for at least one game with a club.
There was also stipend money Hand said players received.
“I got $125 every two weeks, which was enough to fill up my car or get whatever I needed outside of hockey,” he said. “I don’t agree with the notion that junior hockey teams are making tons of money because it’s junior hockey. You go to a Calgary Hitmen game, you’re paying $25 to get in and you’re sitting five rows from the glass. You don’t get rich off of that.”
Sam Berg and Lukas Walter, two of the players who filed the original suit, stated in a press release on May 15, the date the settlement was agreed to, that they were proud of what the lawsuits and settlement achieved and that millions of dollars will be given to players who need it.
Hand said he doesn’t doubt that there are players who could use the money.
“I can’t speak to the specific financial situation of others but there are probably lots of people who don’t have jobs right now because of the whole Covid-19 deal,” he said. “’I’m not going to tell those who sign on that they don’t deserve the money and I won’t think any less of them for doing so. All I’m saying is I got what I wanted out of junior hockey.”
He also said while his experience was a positive one, that may not have been the case for others.
“There may have been some organizations that were different from the ones I played with,” he said. “They may have felt like objects where they played but I was a part of two organizations where I was treated just like the top guys, even though I wasn’t a top guy. I was treated like a person all the way through. I don’t think there was anything that they could have said to me that would have made me change my mind (about signing on).”