Fan Fuel: Portland Winterhawks hammered by WHL sanctions


Any and all WHL action this week has been overshadowed by the sanctions against the Portland Winterhawks. Portland, who currently sit at number two in the CHLs Top 10 rankings, and hold a WHL best 20-4-1 record, are facing massive sanctions and discipline after violating league regulations.

The Winterhawks have been fined $200,000, must forfeit nine of its WHL Bantam Draft picks – including its first round picks the next five seasons, and head coach and GM Mike Johnston has been suspended for the remainder of the season. It is expected Portland will appeal the sanctions in an effort to lessen the disciplinary actions much like the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL did in August.

Portland spent money on players as well as their families to benefit the team long term as well as help secure certain players to come play for them. This is the second CHL team to be hit with such sanctions in a four month span, the other franchise being the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. The Spitfires were initially fined $400,000 and lost five draft picks for violating player recruitment policies. The fine was later dropped to $250,000 following an appeal by Windsor.

It is reported that the benefits given to players by the Winterhawks included paying for cellphones for their captain among others the past three seasons, as well as flying players’ families into Portland and other WHL cities to attend games.

Now it is not so much the fine that hurts the Winterhawks, Owner and Alberta oil tycoon Bill Gallacher won’t have trouble paying that much, but it is the lost draft picks. The CHL and NCAA compete every year for players coming out of Minor Bantam hockey.

If a player decides to go the Major Junior route, they must sign a contract that pays an average of $35 a week, and once they step on the ice for their team; their rights are immediately owned by that franchise. They can never play in the NCAA for the length of their stay in Major Junior. This is because the NCAA is considered amateur sport, where the only “pay” a player gets comes via scholarship, if at all.

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More and more players have decided to go the NCAA route in recent years as it is so difficult to make a career out of playing professional hockey. With more talent going to play college hockey, the NHL scouts are recognizing the talent and more players are getting drafted out of school.

The Bantam Draft is a crucial component to building a team in Major Junior, and the Winterhawks have done a tremendous job the past few years of making Portland a contender in the WHL. In fact, the Winterhawks have made each of the past two WHL finals. One of their recent draft picks Sven Baertschi, is currently playing for the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat, but had their not been a lockout, would have contended for a position on the NHL’s Calgary Flames. Another more prominent pick from the Bantam Draft is Seth Jones. Jones is slated to be a top five draft pick in this year’s NHL draft and is a big reason why the Winterhawks have found so much success.

Losing these picks will kill this franchise for the next decade most likely. It should be a while before we see the Winterhawks back in contention for the WHL title and this team will be a dark spot for the WHL and major junior hockey.

It is not something anyone wants to be involved in in the CHL, but teams must be made an example of, and punishment must be harsh to deter anyone from violating regulations in the future.

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