Victoria had a unionized Salmon Kings team during seven seasons in the ECHL, as the Professional Hockey Players Association represents players in the American Hockey League and ECHL.
A union could be in the offing again with the Victoria Royals and the rest of the major-junior Western Hockey League.
A union for major junior hockey - where players are 16-20 and nominally amateurs - may seem counter-intuitive. Yet, it is being proposed by the fledgling Canadian Hockey League Players Association, led by executive director and former NHLer Georges Laraque.
There is an argument that major junior - consisting of 60 Canadian Hockey League teams in the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior League - constitutes big business.
While the pro AHL is averaging 5,783 fans per game this season and the ECHL 5,330, the major-junior WHL is averaging 4,420. But the WHL is a bus league that billets players with local families and does not have to factor in air travel for away games, apartments and utilities for players or player salaries for pro athletes.
WHL players, however, do receive stipends on a sliding scale based on age that tops out at $600 per month for each of the three 20-year-olds on the roster.
CHL teams also cover costs at a Canadian university or college for graduates who don't go on to play pro, based on a year of tuition paid for every season played in major junior.
"A lot benefits flow to the players [in the CHL] but there will always be discussions about if it's enough," admitted Royals GM Cam Hope.
Based on a statement issued over the summer, this is the CHLPA's counter view of the CHL's education package: "Upon finishing his [major-junior] playing career, [a player] must execute that [education] pack-age in 18 months or forfeit it. That is one of the many unacceptable conditions in the standard contract as it stands now."
Hope is a lawyer who has worked for the Canadian Football League Players Association, and away from sports, for an electrical workers union.
"The [major-junior] players have a right to meet with whomever they like.
Players, parents, agents, advisors owe it to themselves to find out what the plan is," said Hope.
The Royals GM, however, noted the CHLPA is an outside group.
"I've been involved with unions, including the CFLPA, and those came from the workers [players] themselves who had legitimate concerns and wanted a collective voice," said Hope.
"I understand the good unions can do in the right circumstances. This doesn't seem to come from the guys [CHL players] that they [CHLPA officials] are hoping to represent. I don't know how it fits with the WHL."
Response from some Royals players ranged from tepid to negative.
"It's not really needed," said 18-year-old Victoria forward Brandon Magee.
"Our [Royals] organization treats us incredibly well. I don't think anything needs to change."
Royals captain Tyler Stahl is 20 and in his final season of major junior.
"Maybe for younger guys coming into the league, it's an option they might want to look at and see what they want to do," he said, not expressing an opinion either way.
The CHL issued a release over the weekend stating: "Our 60 clubs operate with the best interest of the players in mind. It is estimated the net value, or investment, for each player in the league is between $35,000$40,000 annually. This accounts for the education program, and the many other benefits.
"The CHL vehemently disagrees with the recent allegations made by Georges Laraque on behalf of the CHLPA [the latter which has threatened to sue over its assertions that major-junior players don't receive minimum wage or other legally-mandated pay benefits]. We firmly believe our teams have always acted in accordance with all applicable provincial and federal laws."
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