Central Oregon DailyClass-action suit says major junior hockey system violates US antitrust law

Class-action suit says major junior hockey system violates US antitrust law

Class-action suit says major junior hockey system violates US antitrust law

(AP) — A class-action suit was filed Wednesday in federal court in New York arguing that the major junior hockey system in North America violates U.S. antitrust law.

The lawsuit, brought by divisions of the World Association of Icehockey Players Unions and two individual former major junior players, takes aim at the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey that make up the Canadian Hockey League, as well as the NHL. The plaintiffs allege the leagues exploit teenagers in the sport by restricting their ability to pick where to play and, as a result, limiting their compensation.

The NHL is named as a defendant for its role in supporting and financing the CHL. Lawyers allege in the complaint that the NHL and its teams “exert substantial influence and control over major junior defendants, thereby facilitating major junior defendants’ conspiracy.”

The lawyers call the system “a cartel (that) artificially suppresses and standardizes compensation by denying players their freedom of choice, freedom of movement and freedom to play for the club of their choice.”

The CHL had no immediate comment on the complaint.

“We have just been made aware of the complaint, filed by WAIPU, an organization that has not been certified to represent any CHL players,” the league said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. “Until we can thoroughly review the document, we are unable to provide comment as to the legitimacy of its contents.”

Representatives for the CHL and NHL were not given advance notice and did not receive the complaint until Wednesday morning after it was filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Nine of the CHL’s 60 teams are based in the U.S.: five in Washington state, two in Michigan and one each in Oregon and Pennsylvania. The rest are in Canada, but one expert in sports labor law does not think that is a problem, given that many antitrust situations extend beyond the U.S.

“They’re doing business in the United States, and the end users of the most successful products are going to be, presumably, NHL hockey players both in the U.S. and Canada,” said Michael LeRoy, a University of Illinois labor law professor. “I don’t think that’s a problem.”

Each U.S. state and Canadian province is assigned to one of the three leagues — the QMJHL, OHL or WHL — and players from them who want to play in the CHL cannot choose among them. They are then drafted, and the team owns each player’s rights for his entire junior-age career.

Junior hockey players have not had a union for collective bargaining with leagues. This move is similar to efforts in recent years by minor league baseball players to unionize, which led to a deal with Major League Baseball in 2022.

LeRoy also compared the situation to yearslong fights against the NCAA by college athletes for name, image and likeness rights and changes to make transferring easier — which junior hockey players don’t have.

“Ironically (the suit) points out that the NCAA has a much freer system of athletic labor than is involved here,” LeRoy said.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction declaring the geographical draft restrictions, contracts and agreements in place unenforceable, along with damages for players for compensation and from league profits. Plaintiffs are asking for a jury trial.

The two individual former major junior players who are part of the suit are Isaiah DiLaura and Tanner Gould. DiLaura, 23, is from Lakeville, Minnesota, and Gould, 19, is from Calgary, Alberta.

“Teenage players continue to be treated like disposable objects, just like I was,” DiLaura said in a news release. “I am hoping this lawsuit will put an end to that.”

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