The Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League were fined $200,000, among other sanctions, today by the WHL for “a series of violations of WHL Regulations.” (via WHL.ca)
This is the second major fine of this nature this year in the CHL, with the Windsor Spitfires being punished earlier this season by the OHL. The Spitfires were fined $400,000 in August for unspecified recruitment violations and lost five first round picks and two second round picks in upcoming OHL Priority Drafts.
The Winterhawks, along with the $200,000 fine, lose their picks in the first five rounds of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, as well as their first round selections in 2014-17. Winterhawks general manager and head coach Mike Johnston has also been suspended for the rest of the WHL season, including the playoffs.
The punishment handed down by the WHL is severe, and will likely impact the talent the Winterhawks are able to put on the ice moving forward. The Winterhawks are currently stocked with NHL-level players like Ty Rattie (STL), Derrick Pouliot (PIT) and Seth Jones, but may struggle in years to come with the amount of Bantam Draft first round picks they have been forced to surrender by the WHL.
While there are many rumors swirling, there is a commonality between the Spitfires and the Winterhawks and their punishments: Both teams had a high level college recruit change their mind and head to the OHL/WHL instead of the NCAA.
In the Spitfires case it was Patrick Sieloff, drafted in the second round of this June’s NHL Entry Draft by the Calgary Flames. Sieloff was committed to Miami University of Ohio to play for the RedHawks when he de-committed and signed up with the Spitfires, who owned his rights via the 2010 OHL Priority Draft.
The Winterhawks were able to secure the services of Seth Jones, likely the top defensive prospect in the 2013 NHL Draft, who was headed to North Dakota to play for the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux. After acquiring his rights via trade, the Winterhawks were able to get Jones to change his mind to come to Portland.
With no facts available at the moment, any notion that either team paid Sieloff or Jones handsomely to join their ranks is complete speculation. Yet the fact remains that there are some very interesting correlations between the two cases. Bob McKenzie of TSN tweeted this earlier today:
I am hearing unequivocally that WHL audit of Portland did not turn up any irregularities with acquisition/signing of Seth Jones.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) November 28, 2012
He says traveling expenses may be a factor, but the fact remains that this is the second time this year a team that secured the services of a highly-touted player, both of whom have played on the U.S. National Development Team, from an NCAA program. Yet, keep in mind McKenzie is the gold standard and is usually spot on.
However, one must wonder, if these penalties are a result of helping Jones choose Portland, Oregon over Grand Forks, North Dakota, whether they were worth it. Like Ryan Murray of this June’s draft, Jones is widely considered to be one of the most NHL-ready players in the 2013 class and will likely find his way onto an NHL roster come October 2013. Was one year of a phenom really worth it?
The Winterhawks are currently 20-4-1 in the WHL and currently sits second in the WHL’s Western Conference.
***Update at 4:21 pm:
The Winterhawks have released a statement detailing the violations they committed that led to the WHL sanctions. According to the team, the violations include:
Paying for a player’s (signed in 2009) family’s flights and his summer training regimen
Paying for seven families’ flights 2-4 times per season for the past five season
Paying for two players’ summer training regimen twice
Paying for its captain’s cell phone bill for three seasons
If these are the true scope of the violations, the penalty does seem to be a bit harsh. Losing five first round picks for a few flights and a cell phone does not seem to add up. Whether or not this is just the WHL taking a hardline stance against these types of programs or there is another level to this saga is for you to decide.
As it stands, it looks like the Sieloff-Jones connection is just a big coincidence.
As for the statement, Harrison Mooney sums it up quite well:
You know who I like to blindly trust after a massive punishment is handed down? The aggrieved victim of said punishment.
— Harrison Mooney (@HarrisonMooney) November 28, 2012