OHL ups the ante, makes significant changes to player benefit packages

There are new contracts being sent out and signed that will usher in some big, new changes to the Ontario Hockey League.

Yahoo Canada has learned that the two most significant amendments to its current program for players focuses on the OHL’s education packages and a new monthly reimbursement plan – covering a number of items like gas, clothing and other incidentals like food – for up to $470. OHL commissioner David Branch, said the initiatives were ratified by the league’s board of governors in August and are now being implemented.

“We are constantly, regularly, always challenging how we can improve things for our players on and off the ice,” Branch told Yahoo Canada on Thursday. “We recognize that they are the most important people in the game.”

According to Branch, under the new expanded benefits package, players will now have extra time for using the money they receive for post-secondary education. Previously the league had given players 18 months from their last game played to use their school packages. That funding disappeared, however, if the player signed a contract with a National Hockey League or American Hockey League team.

The amended package now gives a player 18 months from the end of his overage year – the year a player competes as a 20-year-old – regardless of when he leaves the league, to use the education funds. So, if a player left the OHL at 19, he’d have 30 months to receive funding to assist with post-secondary education. In addition, if the player now signs an AHL deal, his package remains valid.

“One thing the league has done is say, ‘the only way your scholarship can be negated is if you should sign and play in the National Hockey League,’ ” said Branch. “So hopefully that has reduced some of the issues and concerns players have in following their dreams to pursue a professional hockey career.”

Soo Greyhounds general manager Kyle Dubas, a former player agent, believes the extra time is a bonus for both players and their families when it comes time to make the tough decision to play pro or get schooling paid for by the league.

“I know as an agent that was the key concern for many players and their parents,” said Dubas. “They were concerned about the amount of timing that gives you and the urgency… I don’t think there’s that rush anymore and I think the most important thing to me as a former agent is the fact that you can take a year and sign in the AHL or go to Europe for a year and still know that you have your education package for the next season.

“It’s a massive step for the league and a major benefit for the players.”

Also gone is the paltry player stipend, now replaced by a reimbursement plan for $470 a month which can be used to cover a wide variety of things – from movie nights to cell phone bills. It’ll be similar to players doing expenses with the help of their team.

As an added benefit, teams will also give each player maximum allowance of $1,000 to put towards their summer training – both on and off the ice. It's another move for the betterment of the players and one that helps relieves some of the financial burdens on parents. I

It’s good news and it’s about time.

In August 2012, an anonymous group calling itself the CHLPA tried to rally players across the Canadian Hockey League to form a union. The exercise didn’t last long, as the self-proclaimed association never got any traction with players, mainly due to the uncertainty of who was actually in charge and confusing behaviour.  Despite the unmitigated disaster that was the CHLPA, there were still important discussions and attention brought to the issue of player benefits.

When asked how much of this was done in response to the publicity garnered by the failed attempt at unionization, Branch’s answer was direct: “None. None whatsoever.”  

The OHL has also been engaged in a longstanding cold war with the NCAA over the best junior aged talent available. Many of the changes adopted by the OHL – and across the CHL – have helped give them the edge in the recruiting battle and these new changes will certainly be enticing to prospective players, their parents and agents.

“There will be some that will take credit for this,” said Branch. “So I don’t want to take what we’ve done here out of context.

“The key point of what’s made our league the best league in the world for junior-aged players to grow and develop – as players and as young people – is that we have constantly tried to improve.”

Sunaya Sapurji is the Junior Hockey Editor at Yahoo! Sports.
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