IRVINE, Calif. — The battle for the AHL’s Pacific Division hasn’t been waged just on the ice at FivePoint Arena over the last couple of days, it’s also been waged off the ice.
When the AHL revealed plans for a Pacific Division playoffs in late April — the only division hosting any type of post-season tournament — the reaction from the Professional Hockey Players’ Association was swift and to the point: The players did not want this tournament. For an AHL player, the PHPA is the equivalent of the NHLPA for an NHL player.
A statement from PHPA Executive Director, Larry Landon, in response to the AHL's announcement of Pacific Division games scheduled beyond May 16th, the final day of the Regular Season pic.twitter.com/GzZXkgdCti
— PHPA (@thephpa) April 29, 2021
A week later, player agent Allan Walsh revealed that Pacific Division players — players from the Bakersfield Condors, Colorado Eagles, Henderson Silver Knights, Ontario Reign, San Diego Gulls, San Jose Barracuda, and Tucson Roadrunners — had voted 133-8 against having a playoffs.
On Tuesday, at the beginning of the Pacific Division tournament, San Jose Hockey Now caught up with PHPA executive director Larry Landon.
Have NHL parent clubs added concessions recently to encourage players to want to play? Did some GMs threaten players to get them in line? Are some players, already induced into a tournament that they don’t want to play in, being forced to pay for their own hotel rooms in their home cities? And why is the Pacific Division the only AHL division to have a playoffs?
Larry Landon answered these questions and more with a series of explosive accusations.
San Jose Hockey Now: Have there been any recent additional concessions from NHL teams in terms of increased workers compensation protection or playoff bonuses to play these additional post-season games?
Larry Landon: No.
I feel rotten, as a former player that played in the American and the NHL. Been the [PHPA] executive director since ’93. To see former players, in position of leadership, subject the Pacific Division players, to this, 133 to eight, in favor of not playing.
When pen came to paper, and [management was] told, okay, we took the vote, we did it collectively. [Players] were told though, individually, they want the players to talk to the GMs as well. Then it became nothing but abuse.
We heard all kinds of stories from agents and players of the threats. “You’ll never play hockey in America.” “You won’t play pro.” “You won’t be in this organization.” That’s a crock of shit. It is a crock of shit. Because there are 32 teams in the NHL. And the teams in the East, believe me, are feeling for the players that are put through this in the West.
And the workers comp spin is totally distorted. It’s not the question of is there workers comp?
The question is, what if a player, who’s been healthy so far, is seriously injured in this tournament? I don’t even want to call it post-season. Because it’s not. There’s never been, in the history of the American Hockey League, a tournament played after the regular season.
If a player gets seriously hurt, what happens? It’s not the team that’s dealing with the player. It’s the defense attorney for the insurance company that says listen, you got 48% of your salary during the year. You played 101 days in the regular season versus a 365-day schedule. So a seriously injured player, any type of workers comp he gets, is seriously eroded immediately.
People think they don’t have workers comp, all teams by law have to have workers comp. But if you have a real serious injury, that’s going to impact your livelihood, you’re gonna get a [48 percent or less] award.
That’s all we tried to tell the players, to educate them. They had a right to individually opt out.
We have a no-strike clause in our CBA and the owners have a no-lockout clause. So we couldn’t collectively put something together [to fight this], but we tried to educate the players as best we could.
SJHN: So workers compensation is tied into the amount of regular season games they’ve played this year. And unlike past years, there are no playoff bonuses in the AHL this season. So these playoff games are just additional risk that only the Pacific Division players are being forced to incur — and with no financial reward.
Landon: Yeah, the players are taking the risks. The agents know that, the players know that. And the clubs, unfortunately, they bury their heads. The players voted 133 to eight not to play and [the clubs] chose to play and disregard the players.
SJHN: So in the last two weeks, since the PHPA initially expressed its disappointment with the Pacific Division’s decision, there’s been nothing in terms of additional concessions for the players. Have you heard of teams maybe putting money on the board — even unrecorded bonus money to make this tournament more palatable for the players?
Landon: No, we haven’t heard anything different.
What we’ve heard is there are some teams in the Pacific have outright said to the players and their families, you get your own hotel room, which I think is just complete bullshit. These are players with leases [in their home cities] that are done [right now].
SJHN: Which teams have told players and their families to pay for their own hotel rooms?
Landon: I can’t say who — I don’t want the players to get in trouble. But that’s just complete disrespect for their players. You’re trying to show the young players that you’re there for them?
Some teams have elected to not provide accommodations in the home city once the players’ leases expire, while others have offered accommodations and per diem for all the days past the end of the regular season on May 16th.
If the team has chosen not to provide post-regular season accommodations, the players are left to pay.
To put it in the context, we have calls from players in the American Hockey League that can’t afford to get home. They pay to play hockey. Their credit cards are maxed out. They can’t afford to get home without some type of advance by the teams.
A US player going into Canada, you may have a three-day quarantine and a $2,000 stay at a government-recognized hotel. They can’t afford to put that on their card.
We’re in a pandemic. It’s great people are getting vaccinated and some of the players are fully vaccinated. But we’re still in a pandemic.
SJHN: Per the CBA, however, the AHL does have the right to dictate whether or not there are playoffs, right?
Landon: When we started talking about this [last off-season] and we’re negotiating for the playoffs, we understood the Atlantic Division would not play playoffs. That’s Bridgeport, Providence, and Hartford. The rest we were told that there’d be four teams in each division playing in a playoff. And that some of the 48% would go towards these playoff games.
But then, we saw everything turn [with the pandemic]. We had thought we might have some fans by the start of the playoffs. So we tried to address it. We were met with deaf ears.
I feel for the players and their families. They’ve been through enough. No player has ever been subjected to this type of commitment and sacrifice, to get through testing, to stay in the room, to avoid any contact with the public. But the players did it. To their credit, the players did it. And we were able to get a pretty good season in and it was all about getting the players on the ice, with the blades hitting that ice, and developing.
[But only] the Pacific Division continues to play. It’s a surprise to me.
SJHN: Why didn’t the other divisions decide to have playoffs?
Landon: To be honest, a lot of the teams told their players, You can put this to vote if you want to play or not. But we’re telling you right now: You’ve lost money as players, we’ve lost money. We’re shutting it down to get you home safely. And hopefully have a normal return in 21-22.
It’s just unfortunate that all teams didn’t do that.
SJHN: In your initial statement about the Pacific Division’s decision, you said, “The Pacific Division chose to ignore the spirit of cooperation that has existed between the PHPA and the AHL for many years.” Does this playoffs affect the relationship between the PHPA and the AHL moving forward?
Landon: I think it’s going to take a hit. But I also believe — it’s not just the players — we’ve got referees, you got coaches, we got players, and they’ve all been put into a pretty tough position. It’s not just the player. It’s also the athletic trainers and people that take care of the players, they’re put in a tough position.
There’s no fans, there’s no revenues, there’s no TV other than AHL Live. Minimal fanbase. Why do it? But they did. And it’s happening, so I guess we have to take that with a grain of salt.
It is what it is. The players had a right to opt out individually. If we tried it collectively, we get nailed by the NLRB for unfair labor practice. We had very few options but to educate the players and their agents and let them make their own decisions.
SJHN: So why did the Pacific Division do this?
Landon: I’m at a loss. I’ve been doing this since 1993 and I can tell you I’m at a loss, as are a lot of other hockey people as to why this would happen.
SJHN: You’ve said hockey people have long memories. If you’re a veteran Pacific Division player, might this affect where you sign next year?
Landon: Yeah, the young kids will buy in because they’re on their entry-level contracts, but the other players know there are 32 NHL teams. There’s a ton of leadership in that Pacific Division. Leadership groups on those teams that any team would want to help the [younger] players develop. There’s a ton of leaders there.
They’ll find jobs whether the team threatened them or not. They’ll find jobs. There’s 32 NHL teams next year.
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