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What was said about Canadian Junior Hockey 50 years ago is still true.


This is the old logo for the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, the former umbrella organization for Major Junior Hockey in Canada.
Image Credits: Wikipedia

There was a particular study done back in 1976 on junior hockey, mostly conducted by Roger Jackson and Paul Kringle, and this study mostly pertained to high level amateur hockey and Major Junior. This was largely a reactionary study on the ethical and legal violations that the Canadian Major Junior Hockey Leagues were found guilty of committing. This study takes the position that the player should be allowed to play where he wishes, that he be allowed to play for the team of his choice, and that he should be granted fair working conditions, as are the rights that many workers in different industries enjoy. They heavily focused on the delicate balance between organizational needs and the player's wishes, and how the rules imposed by the governing bodies were only deemed "reasonable" by the organization.


What this study uncovered was that in the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, they declared themselves as being above any review mechanisms, that they impose invalid restraints on individual liberty, and that they deny hockey players their right to natural justice. They compared it to a slave trade, stating how the advanced Junior leagues would enter into formal contracts with minors, that these minors have no bargaining rights, and that the league has conspired for there to be no unrestricted free agency.


There was the case of Willie Crankem, who first had trouble with the system when he requested to transfer to a new team. The request was denied on the grounds that limit the amount of players that transfer in a season to keep a fair level of play, which are seemingly reasonable grounds. However, later in his life, as he rose through the ranks of amateur hockey, he found out through a radio broadcast that he was sold to another team. They didn't ask him, they didn't even tell him, and as a result of this sale, he had to chooses between pursuing further education and chasing a professional career. Back then, there weren't the options that there are now, as the Cold War was in full swing, and players didn't play overseas like they do now.


As for the organizational structure, the NHL and the CAHA conspired to keep the World Hockey Association, a brand-new competitive league at the same level as the NHL, out of the rookie pool. The WHA did not invest into the CAHA, meaning that they could get their rookies at a lower cost, but that it would be too difficult to draw from the same pool as the NHL. The emergence of the WHA was thought by many to break the NHL's stranglehold on Junior hockey, which is why NHLPA Executive Director, Alan Eagleson, lobbied the current NHL players to support the merger in 1979. It went against the interest of the players to eliminate the competing league, but Eagleson was self-interested and in the back pockets of the owners.


This study later goes on to state that the CAHA is monopolistic in its practices, having declared itself the only governing body in hockey in Canada. This claim is proven just by looking at their competition. There is none, and the practices that they employ keep players from going to play in college, and there was no knowledge of European leagues. These leagues existed, but they weren't on anyone's radar in North America.


The study goes on to explain that the league disciplinary methods are discretionary, meaning that the penalty for violating certain rules are not known to the player until the infraction is committed. This means that the league can easily employ a 2-tiered justice system where players aren't even aware of how it works, because of how much the waters have been muddied.


This study found the league to be indictable on the grounds that they use excessive discretionary power over players, the one-sided contracts, and the conspiracies to strip any freedoms that remain from the player. In response to these issues, they made recommendations of what to drain from the swamp. They proposed to eliminate the supremacy of the system, the lack of external reviews, the practice of entering formal contracts with minors, the practices of eliminating free market bargaining for players, the payment from the NHL for "player development costs", and the conspiracies between teams to prevent the player from marketing his skills.


These statements about the leagues rang true then, and they ring true today, with the exception of a few face saving token concessions that have come at no cost to the organizations. When your organization tells you where to work, tells you you have no other option, and then prevents you from seeking justice, that sounds like obstruction of justice to me. If they couldn't obstruct justice, they would be walking from a cell to a courtroom for months before they would even begin their prison sentences.

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