Thoughts on Washington teams, union and shorter schedule


Fans of the WHL’s four Washington-based teams can breathe easy. Their favourite teams aren’t going anywhere.

Representatives of the Everett Silvertips, Seattle Thunderbirds, Spokane Chiefs and Tri-City Americans appeared in the state capital of Olympia on Tuesday and spoke to members of a House committee that is dealing with a bill on child labour and minimum wage. The bill, in effect, would exempt the WHL from having to pay the minimum wage to players on those four teams.

The four team representatives spoke in favour of the bill. The committee is expected to vote on the bill today. If approved, it then would go to the House rules committee.

Judging by the tone of a story filed Wednesday by Rick Westhead of TSN, the committee will vote in favour of the bill.

Westhead’s story, which takes a look at what transpired in Olympia on Tuesday, is right here.

But those teams aren’t going anywhere, no matter the vote. At best, the four teams are ruled exempt; at worst, and this would appear to be the longest of longshots, there will be negotiations aimed at keeping the teams where they are.

Each of the four teams is the main tenant in their city’s arena and each team means too much to the fabric of its home city for them to be shutting down and shipping out.

It just doesn’t make sense.

However, the WHL absolutely has to start taking more notice of these shots that are being fired across its bow. It is time for the WHL to become far more proactive than it has been on some of these issues, like player compensation (pay more), its schedule (cut it back), concussions (ban fighting) and mental health (an active league-wide initiative is an absolute must), just to name four.

You may be aware that Unifor, the largest public-sector union in Canada, is working to organize players on the CHL’s 60 teams.

If the WHL hopes to take steps to circumvent that, perhaps it could start by doing something about its schedule.

On Tuesday night, the host Seattle Thunderbirds beat the Kelowna Rockets 2-1 in what was the fourth game in five nights for both teams.

Seattle played at home Friday and Saturday, against Portland and Vancouver, then visited Vancouver on Monday before returning home to face Kelowna on Tuesday.

The Rockets were at home to Kamloops on Friday and in Kamloops on Saturday. Kelowna then met visiting Prince George on Monday afternoon, before heading to Kent, Wash., to face Seattle on Tuesday.

On Sunday, the Brandon Wheat Kings completed a stretch of four games in five nights by playing their third game in three nights. They had played in Cranbrook on Friday and Saturday.

On Monday, Kamloops, Tri-City, Prince George, Vancouver and Edmonton all completed stretches of three games in four days by playing afternoon contests. That adds up to three games in fewer than 70 hours.

More and more, it seems, teams are playing Sunday afternoon games, some of those following hot on the heels of Saturday night engagements. At some point, someone is going to have to ask: How much is too much?

A couple of weeks ago, a WHL team executive told me that concussions are down this season but shoulder injuries are up. Perhaps a less intensive schedule might help alleviate that.

In the AHL, some teams, specifically in the newly created Pacific Division, are expected to play 68 games next season, down from 76. Why? NHL teams don’t want their AHL affiliates playing three games in as many days. (Prior to 2011-12, the AHL cut its schedule to 76 games, from 80, and eliminated all situations involving four games in five nights.)

If the WHL can’t rid itself of three-in-three and four-in-five scheduling, perhaps it’s time to cut its regular-season schedule from 72 to 68 games, or even 64.

Maybe something like that would be seen as the first step towards heading off a union movement.