It doesn’t seem that the NWHL and the CWHL are in the friendliest of phases right now. The news broke Saturday — the day before the 2015 CWHL Draft — that the CWHL had not yet released the eleven mystery players that are committed to filling out the NWHL’s ranks.
In fact, it seems these players had applied for release from their contracts months earlier, some of them since May.
In an article for Puck Daddy, Jen Neale found the rules for release from play via headhunting (as CWHLers making the jump to the NWHL would fall under this category) put forth by the CWHL. They are as follows:
By way of example, if a player, who signs with a CWHL Club and is included on the roster, is approached by league X to play for the current season – and the player wishes to play for the league X club. There are a few options open to the player.
1) Request a release from her contract with the CWHL Club. If this release is granted, the player will be free to join league X – but will be prohibited from returning to the CWHL for a period of 1 year.
2) Request a release from her contract with the CWHL Club. If the release is not granted, the player may refuse a position on the official roster and will be placed on the reserve roster. In this situation the player will be allowed to join League X but will be prohibited from joining the CWHL team’s official roster for one year, unless she returns to the CWHL prior to the October 4 Official roster deadline.
3) Formally resign from the CWHL. The player may formally resign from the CWHL and join League X – But the player will be prohibited from returning to any CWHL Club for a period of one year.
Regardless of the option chosen by the player, the player will be able to join league X, but will be prohibited from joining the active roster of a CWHL Club for a period of one year.
While the differences are subtle case-to-case, these rules make clear that any player who wishes to leave will be granted her resignation. In all instances, women are prohibited from playing in the CWHL for a period of one year (one assumes from the time of resignation), but there is no circumstance listed above where a player’s rights are held tied to the league if she wishes to withdraw.
Just because the women aren’t paid in the CWHL doesn’t mean they can up and leave. They’re still under contract. Playing for the NWHL without going through the termination channels they agreed to, by signing the CWHL player agreement (pre-addendum), makes them vulnerable to contract violation lawsuits with monetary damages related to business losses attached and other legal perils.
Playing Devil’s Advocate, it’s not difficult to see why the CWHL wouldn’t want to let go of any of their established players.
And while the CWHL might gain an edge by placing these players in limbo so they couldn’t publicly declare for the NWHL, make media appearances, or, depending on how long this drags on, practice or even play in games for their new league, it does not set the stage for positive public relations or a relationship between the leagues.
When contacted about the situation, the NWHL only reiterated that out of respect for the players involved, the league could not comment.
But what penalties, legal or otherwise, could these players face should they decide to go ahead and announce with the NWHL before their withdrawal is complete? Per the 2014 IIHF International Transfer Regulations, if these players are national team players for either the U.S. or Canada, they could be prohibited from competition in an international tournament for up to six months, with a minimum of four months of suspension from playing in official national and international games during playing periods (p. 14).
Players could also be subject to fines between $5,000 CHF and $150,000 CHF for each game played without a valid transfer card (p.17). The exchange rate between the Swiss Franc (CHF) and the dollar (USD) is $1 CHF : $1.07 USD.
For many national teams, there is a small stipend attached to playing for your country.
It might not be an enormous amount of money, but it is meant to compensate players for the time they spend at the tournament and is some of the only money they could make from playing hockey, even completely putting aside the fact that, for women in ice hockey, playing for your country’s team is the highest of honors. Regardless of the nationality of these anonymous players, they would likely be upset at the prospect of losing that stipend, as well as being banned from competition, even for a short period of time.
The players would not be the only ones to suffer the consequences, however, should they throw caution to the wind and announce for the NWHL.
The 2014 IIHF International Transfer Regulations (p. 14) state that upon finding of breach of contract, the club to which the player is attempting to transfer is considered responsible for said players’ actions, and a ban of one season on international transfers will be imposed on the club by the IIHF. This would be a tremendous blow to the NWHL, a league that is just getting off the ground.
However, the crux of the matter — whether or not the CWHL players who are attempting to leave for the NWHL could face international playing penalties, as well as any transfer penalties that could be applied to the NWHL — lies in whether or not the IIHF considers the CWHL a professional league.
From the 2014 IIHF International Transfer Regulations:
A professional player under contract is a player who has concluded a written contract with an ice hockey club (signed by the player and the club) according to which he is compensated more for his ice hockey player activity (taking part in matches and/ or training sessions) than the expense he directly incurs through playing ice hockey. Contracts concluded between clubs and players must be of a specific duration.
Although players are not compensated financially for their play in the CWHL, pants, elbow pads, and helmets are provided by the league, as well as ice time, high-quality competition and coaching. These are all things the CWHL could cite should they be asked to prove professional status.
While this situation is far from over, the consequences of this move could be far-reaching for both the CWHL and NWHL, both in the public eye and professionally.