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Agent, on Pacific Division Playoffs: “Why are you basically playing for free?”



Credit: San Jose Barracuda

IRVINE, Calif. – Do the San Jose Barracuda want to make the playoffs?

That’s been the question since the AHL’s Pacific Division announced in late April that they’d be hosting a self-contained divisional playoff, the only AHL division to host a post-season tournament. The top-three teams in the Pacific received an automatic playoff berth, while the No. 4 through 7 seeds – the Barracuda were fourth in the Pacific this year – are participating in a play-in tournament at FivePoint Arena in Irvine to determine which squad joins the top-three in the playoffs.

And even though the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate edged the Tucson Roadrunners 2-1 this afternoon to advance to the play-in tournament final tomorrow, it’s still a fair question to ask: Do they want to be here? Do any of the teams – San Jose, Tucson, Ontario, or Colorado – really want to be here?

Professional Hockey Players’ Association executive director Larry Landon said unequivocally in late April: “I am disappointed in the AHL Pacific Division’s decision, as it disregards the wishes of the vast majority of the players within the Pacific Division.”

Player agent Allan Walsh backed Landon’s statement up, tweeting, “AHL players surveyed in the Pacific Division voted 133-8 against playing in this ridiculous farce of a ‘playoff tournament.’”

Landon confirmed that 133-8 landslide figure in an interview with San Jose Hockey Now today.

“None of the guys are excited to be playing,” another player agent told SJHN, “but they will do their best.”

So has anything changed since Landon’s original statement on Apr. 29 and Walsh’s tweet? Apparently not, which we’ll get to at the bottom. But first, to the game itself.

Barracuda Advance

At least it didn’t go into overtime.

Kevin Lacy of Teal Town USA asked me what the OT format would be for these pseudo-playoff games. According to a group of AHL off-ice officials that I checked in with, it would be regular playoff overtime – meaning in a tournament that the players didn’t want to play in to begin with, they could be forced to play one, two, three, four, five OTs to decide the “winner.”

Here’s how San Jose lined up this afternoon:

San Jose Sharks 2019 fifth-round pick Timur Ibragimov made his AHL debut. Meanwhile, top prospects Ozzy Wiesblatt and Tristen Robins sat out with injuries.

Wiesblatt’s status, according to a source, is day-to-day. Per SJHN’s Barracuda correspondent Brian Truong, Robins missed the last eight games on the WHL season with a lower-body injury.

It was a quiet opening frame until Barracuda captain Jaycob Megna was felled by a Jan Jenik knee.

Luckily, Megna returned to start the second period. Scoring also started in the middle frame, courtesy of Jenik.

Eight minutes later, however, Evan Weinger responded with the equalizer.

Notably, Weinger wore an “A” today, along with Jake Middleton. Weinger also wore a letter in the last two games of the regular season. That’s a real achievement for the 24-year-old winger, who’s signed not with the San Jose Sharks, but with the Barracuda.

“He’s a guy who can not only beat you with his feet, now he’s starting to get some finish,” Barracuda head coach Roy Sommer said of Weinger. “He’s well-liked by his teammates, he leads by example, he’s a perfect guy to wear a letter.”

Meanwhile, Josef Kořenář, coming off a month-long stint with the San Jose Sharks, kept the Roadrunners at bay.

Kořenář made just 19 saves, but a number of the high-danger variety.

Then, midway through the third period, Orange County native and resident Jake McGrew potted the game-winner, off a picture-perfect Jayden Halbgewachs thread.

Scott Reedy was also credited with an assist on the GWG.

For what it’s worth – and it’s hard to evaluate a game where you’re not sure how much the players actually want to be here – Halbgewachs and Reedy stood out to this reporter. Reedy, in particular, caught the eye of a couple scouts that I talked to.

The Barracuda play the Eagles tomorrow at 7:00 PM at FivePoint Arena to determine who joins Henderson, San Diego, and Bakersfield in the Pacific Division playoffs.

Follow the Money – Or the Lack Thereof

San Jose Hockey Now will have a lot more from PHPA executive director Larry Landon tomorrow.

I also talked to a player agent today, who spoke more on the players’ perspective about this tournament.

Agent, on why the players don’t want to play:

The biggest thing is the compensation.

In hockey, whether it’s the minor league or the NHL, player salaries are based on the regular season. Playoffs are based on a bonus structure, based on how far you go. So the fact that they’re not doing the bonus structure in the AHL, on top of the fact that the salaries were cut so much — understandably so, to some degree, because of the pandemic and no fans in the stands — but the fact that the players had to take so much of that responsibility on themselves and then be asked to play playoffs without a bonus structure really is unfair.

Players I have talked to say, Why are you basically playing for free? Why are we having the playoffs if you’re not putting people in the stands?

The understanding for this year in the minors — and again, I think all the players understand there’s a lot of difficulties even having a season — but it was more so for a development season than wins and losses and let’s play for a championship. The way it comes to the players is that the teams are now forcing them him to play basically seven more developmental games, up to seven more developmental games without a financial reward.

Agent, on what NHL teams realistically could have done to entice players to want to participate in this playoff format:

I think there could have been, whether you’re extending their regular salary or at least some type of bonus, on a per day or per week basis, just to compensate them for the added time and the added risk and the added effort.

Agent, on if individual teams could reward their players “under the table”:

Technically, under the CBA and the AHL agreement, and for tax purposes, you’d probably have to have something across the board for compensation. I’m not gonna say I’ve never heard of an NHL team or a minor league team, putting $1,000 on the board saying, Hey, you win this game tonight, you get this.

But at this point, I’m not aware of that. The league probably wouldn’t want to know about it.

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