Hockey commentator Don Cherry believes that if the Canadian Hockey League loses class action lawsuits brought against it by former players many of its teams will go out of business.
Cherry spoke out in his Coach’s Corner segment on Tuesday night during the first intermission of Game 3 in the Ottawa Senators-New York Rangers’ Eastern Conference semifinal.
“What worries me is that the judge isn’t in the hockey world,” said Cherry. “If they ever have this class action suit, if it ever comes through, it will close at least half (of the major junior hockey teams).
“There’s about nine teams making money right now that I know of. The rest have to fold.”
Cherry was referring to a class action lawsuit against the Ontario Hockey League that was granted certification on Tuesday by Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perrell with some conditions. The court ruled that players with the OHL’s three American teams were exempt from the class action.
Parallel class actions are also pending in the Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The three major junior hockey leagues, featuring a combined 60 teams of players between the ages of 16 and 20, fall under the umbrella of the Canadian Hockey League. The WHL is the biggest with 22 teams, the OHL has 20 and the QMJHL 18.
Cherry was a co-owner, general manager and coach for the Mississauga IceDogs from 1998 to 2002. The team later became the Niagara IceDogs.
On Tuesday, Cherry mentioned his former ownership in the OHL before saying how damaging a successful suit would be to amateur hockey in Canada.
“That means no more scholarships, no place for anyone to go,” said Cherry. “This is absolutely ridiculous.
“It’s the best players in the world. They pay for all your equipment, they give you money, they give you billets, sticks are $1,000 right now. If this ever goes through it will kill hockey.”
The three suits contend that players have been paid less than the minimum wage required by law in their regions and asks for $180 million in back wages, overtime and vacation pay.
Sam Berg, a former Niagara IceDogs forward, and Daniel Pachis, a former member of the Oshawa Generals, were recognized as the representative plaintiffs against the OHL. Lucas Walter, a former player in the WHL and the QMJHL, is the representative player in those suits.
The suits argue the standard agreements players sign pay them as little as $35 per week for between 40 to 65 hours of work.
The allegations have yet to be proven in court.
The lawsuit against the OHL will proceed under claims of breach of employment law, but not under breach of contract, Perell said in his ruling.
The OHL maintains that players are not employees and the benefits the players receive from the league and teams “far exceed the employment standards benefits sought in the claim.”
During certification hearings last month in Toronto, the OHL said that some teams would fold and others would have to reduce or eliminate some player benefits if the plaintiffs won their case.