Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who scored 52 points in 62 NHL games last season, will be Canada's captain at the WJC. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
There’s a good chance if you’re a Canadian, depending upon which time zone you occupy, you’ll either be waking up really early or staying up really late to watch Canada play its first game in the World Junior Championship on Boxing Day.
It’s a holiday ritual that is becoming less prevalent in Canada, since most years the tournament is held in North America and played in prime time. But there’s certainly something special about waking up early and watching a hockey game in your pajamas. It’s all the better when you’re watching a group of teenagers playing for nothing but national pride, still unsullied by the riches of professional sports.
Yeah, about that. Take a good look at Canada’s roster for this year’s WJC in Ufa, Russia. Notice anything? Well, the fact that 20 of the 23 players named to the team have already been drafted by an NHL team is nothing new. But if you look more closely, you’ll see that of that 20, 16 of them have already signed NHL contracts and received a nice chunk of change in bonus money.
The mother (father?) of all of them is, of course, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who would be playing for the Edmonton Oilers these days if not for the lockout. With base salary and performance bonuses, Nugent-Hopkins made $1.35 million playing for the Oilers last season. This summer he picked up $92,500 in signing bonus money and is currently pulling in another $70,000, his minor league salary playing for the Oklahoma City Barons of the American League.
But he’s not the only one who likely won’t have to worry about counting pennies when he goes souvenir shopping for Russian dolls. The vast majority of his teammates will have a fair bit of coin in their pockets, too.
Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and J.C. Lipon have not yet been drafted by an NHL team, but all will be in June and MacKinnon and Drouin are almost certain to immediately negotiate rich entry-level deals. Of the other players, only goalie Jake Paterson (drafted by Detroit), defenseman Tyler Wotherspoon (Calgary) and forwards Charles Hudon (Montreal) and Anthony Camara (Boston) have yet to sign contracts.
The other 16 players have, meaning they each received signing bonuses of $92,500 this summer – with the exception of Jordan Binnington, whose signing bonus was $90,000. And there are another group of players – defensemen Scott Harrington (drafted by Pittsburgh), Ryan Murphy (Carolina) and Dougie Hamilton (Boston) and forwards Jonathan Huberdeau (Florida), Ryan Strome (New York Islanders), Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg) and Philip Danault (Chicago) - who signed their entry-level deals in the summer of 2011, meaning they’ve already made a total of $185,000 over the past two seasons.
In fact, the average salary of a drafted player on Canada’s world junior team this year is $77,375. And there’s a good chance players such as Morgan Reilly (Toronto), Hamilton, Strome, Huberdeau, Scheifele and Murphy will be making much more money if the NHL and NHL Players’ Association manage to sort out their differences and come to an agreement to save this season.
Remember that when you’re watching the world juniors this holiday. Whether or not the Canadian team wins gold as expected, almost all of their future paths have been lined with gold already.
In response to indications the NHL Players’ Association would possibly go through with a disclaimer of interest, the NHL filed a class action complaint in New York Federal Court Friday, seeking to confirm the legality of the lockout. The league also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the NHLPA's disclaimer threat was a subversion of the bargaining process. Clearly, the legal avenue hasn’t taken Gary Bettman and Co., by surprise.
In fact, Bettman all but predicted the NHLPA would disclaim interest when he addressed the media after talks blew up last Thursday.
“Lots has been written about decertification,” Bettman said. “Those of you who have been writing about it might want to look at disclaimer, which is more likely to happen. What would happen if it happens? The board was thoroughly briefed by counsel on the subject on Wednesday and we don’t view it in the same way in terms of its impact as apparently the union may. It’s not something we focus on the same way (the media does).”
It’s expected the players will vote on a proposal that would give the union the right to proceed. It would effectively remove the NHLPA as the negotiating agent for the players, which would dissolve the union and allow the players to argue that the lockout is illegal and file anti-trust action against the league.
The league will undoubtedly argue that this kind of move does not represent the spirit of the laws governing disclaimer of interest and that it’s a sham. Not sure how that would be interpreted legally, but morally that’s exactly what it is.
Just to be straight here, when owners sign players to front-loaded deals that circumvent the salary cap, they’re completely to blame, but the players who sign them are not. And as long as the union works for them, making them very rich and representing all their interests, that’s good. But the moment it benefits them to disassociate themselves with it – only to reform again, of course, the moment the lockout ends – that’s fine, too.
All right. Just checking.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.