Lawsuit alleges NHL, junior leagues conspiring to limit players’ opportunities

A proposed class-action lawsuit alleges some of North America’s most powerful hockey leagues are conspiring to limit opportunities for young players.

The claim was filed by Kobe Mohr, a 21-year-old Lloydminster, Alta., man who played for four teams in the Western Hockey League from 2015 to 2020. The Toronto Star reported Tuesday the claim is seeking $825 million in damages.

The NHL, WHL, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, American Hockey League, ECHL and Hockey Canada are listed as defendants.

The suit alleges the defendants participated in “an unlawful conspiracy, arrangement or agreement” to limit opportunities for Mohr and other Canadians to make a living playing pro hockey between the ages of 18 and 20.

The document claims the defendants have created a system where the overwhelming majority of players will never reach the top pro leagues, instead spending years playing for “nominal sums of money, all to the financial advantage of the defendants.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court and the lawsuit still needs to be certified by the courts to become a class-action. No statements of defence have been filed.

Different structure in Europe, Russia

The AHL declined to comment, while a CHL spokesman said the league has not yet been served with a statement of claim. None of the other organizations mentioned in the lawsuit was able to immediately provide a comment.

Mohr played 265 games in the WHL for the Edmonton Oil Kings, Kamloops Blazers, Kelowna Rockets and Moose Jaw Warriors.

He spent the majority of the 2019-20 in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, but appeared in 18 games for the Rockets and Warriors.

The suit points to another structure of hockey in Europe and Russia, where pro clubs can sign young players to pro contracts and assign them to junior or reserve teams.

“Overall, Canadian-based players that are playing in major junior leagues have substantially less choices and freedom, if any, than European-based players, who have the opportunity to play in the AHL or ECHL before reaching the age of 20 and be paid a salary negotiated by a professional association,” the suit states.

The suit alleges the NHL and their teams pay bonuses to major junior clubs when their players are drafted, creating an unlawful arrangement between the defendants.

In May, the Canadian Hockey League settled three class-action lawsuits filed by current and former junior players seeking backpay for minimum wage.

The settlements amounted to a total of $30 million.

The CHL has always considered major junior players — typically ranging from 16 to 20 years old — student athletes.

Players are currently eligible for post-secondary school scholarships, with each season spent in the league being worth one year of tuition, books and compulsory fees. Players also get money for out-of-pocket expenses, equipment, billeting and travel costs while on a CHL roster.



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