Wednesday, November 28, 2012

WHL SANCTIONS PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS (Updated with Winterhawk Response 1:30 PM)

(Portland Winterhawks)
This one comes totally out of left field but it is a huge one coming from the WHL offices.

CALGARY, AB. - The Western Hockey League announced today the disciplinary action which has been taken against the Portland Winterhawks franchise for a series of violations of the WHL Regulations.

As a result of a series of player benefit violations which have occurred over the past four seasons, WHL Commissioner Ron Robison has suspended the Portland Winterhawks from participating in the first five rounds of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft and the forfeiture of their first round selections in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 WHL Bantam Drafts. Should the first round selection in 2014 not be available due to a conditional trade, Portland will surrender their second and third round picks in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft. The WHL also announced the Portland Winterhawks have been fined $200,000 and Winterhawks General Manager and Head Coach Mike Johnston has been suspended for the balance of the 2012-13 season, including the 2013 WHL Playoffs.

“All WHL Clubs understand they are required to fully comply and respect our League Regulations or they will face significant consequences,” stated WHL Commissioner Ron Robison. “WHL Clubs are required to fully disclose all commitments they make to a player in the WHL Standard Player Agreement. Our independent investigation in this case revealed there were multiple violations over an extended period for player benefits that are not permitted under WHL Regulations and were not disclosed to the WHL. It should also be noted through the course of the investigation there was no evidence of any payments or enhanced education benefits provided to players that would be contrary to WHL Regulations as previous media reports indicated.”

The Western Hockey League will not make any further public comments on this matter.

The first reaction is disappointment as I have viewed the job done by the Winterhawks in rebuilding a franchise that was gutted by it's previous owners. I have been a huge fan of Portland GM/Coach Mike Johnson and the work that he along with the entire Winterhawk staff have done to restore the franchise to respectability.

But again as happened with the sanctions on the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL; the WHL has not disclosed the specifics of the violations that they are charging the Winterhawks with. Will the Winterhawks be able to appeal this punishment as the Spitfires did and get the sanctions reduced?

And as in the case of the Spitfires, the non-disclosure of the wrong doing lumps the innocent players in with those who received the "alleged" extra benefits. It is grossly unfair to paint the entire franchise as guilty because we don't know what the Winterhawks did to receive as harsh a penalty as they have.

Suspending Mike Johnson for the rest of the season from his duties as both GM and coach also hurts the players on the current roster who may not have don anything wrong. If there are guilty players on the current roster then make them pay.

This "they are guilty but we won't tell you why" hurts too many people who may not have had anything at all to do with this. The WHL needs to disclose the specifics of what led to this investigation as well as the names involved.

This is not to embarrass the guilty parties but to clear the names of those players not involved. The WHL owes those players that much.

The Winterhawks just released their statement regarding the sanctions:


Today the Western Hockey League has announced disciplinary action against the Portland Winterhawks for violations related to player benefits. The WHL has forfeited the team from participating in the first five rounds of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft and the forfeiture of the team’s first round picks in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

The WHL also announced the organization has been fined $200,000, and that General Manager & Head Coach Mike Johnston has been suspended for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs. Assistant General Manager & Assistant Coach Travis Green will assume Johnston’s duties on an interim basis.

What follows is a summary of the league’s findings, and a statement from Johnston:

The Winterhawks were found to have committed the following violations:

• A player contract signed in 2009, involving flights for the player’s family and a summer training program

• Over the last five years, seven families were provided flights 2-4 times per season based on financial need and their distance from Portland

• Twice in the last five years the team paid for two players to each have a one-week summer training regimen

• The Winterhawks provided a cell phone for its team captain for a period of three seasons

The WHL’s audit found no violations involving monetary payments made to players, their families or agents, or any violations related to the league’s educational packages.

“After fully cooperating with the league’s investigation, we were extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions, and we don’t feel they are in line with the scope of the violations we were found to have committed,” said Johnston.

“We believe that apart from recruiting trips and parents’ weekend, there is no prohibition in the rules governing flights for players’ parents, which were the majority of the infractions,” continued Johnston. “We are currently exploring our options on how we will proceed. Despite our objections, the league has made its decision, and our players will continue to pursue the goal of winning a WHL championship.”

OK head scratching time because if these are the violations then it begs the question: Is this is it? Then are the Winterhawks being made to pay so the WHL (and CHL) can say that "Yes we do punish teams that we catch cheating."

And quite honestly as someone who knows how much it costs to fly from Portland to anywhere in Canada; it is a huge expense and in my books paying for plane tickets so families can visit their son is not a capital offense.

More later as I have this feeling this story is bigger than we know at the moment.


Tom B said...

what? a free cellphone? Off with their heads.

Tom B said...

What? A free cell phone? Off with their heads.

Jess Rubenstein said...

You know when I got the first email about the sanctions; I was seriously shocked as I just could not imagine this franchise resorting to cheating.

I have gotten to know those who work for the PWH and there was no way they would "cheat."

If all they did wrong were those items then if I had a son wanting to play in the WHL then I would send him to play for the Winterhawks.

Tom B said...

I am assuming there is more. That is a pretty drastic punishment for a couple of plane tickets for family who otherwise couldn't afford it.

I meanwhile am back in Alaska watching your favorite Winterhawk and three other NHLers.

V GoGo said...

Mike Johnston cares for his team. Glad to hear it was a good hearted offense