OHL team busted for offering and paying side deals to multiple players

The scandal that’s rocking all of junior hockey in Canada.

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According to a report from TSN’s Rick Westhead, the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Niagara IceDogs paid out thousands of dollars in side deals to multiple players and will be forced to pay a $125,000 fine and forfeit two draft picks as a result.

Westhead’s report comes following Friday’s public release of court documents related to an investigation into the matter. The investigation was commissioned by the OHL last Spring and was conducted by the Toronto law firm Lax O’Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb LLP after a former IceDogs player came out and accused the the team of backing out on an oral agreement to pay him $40,000. That player, defenseman Zach Wilkie, argues that the team reneged on their OHL-unsanctioned side deal.
Furthermore, investigators found that the IceDogs had agreed to a secret side deal with the father of former IceDogs defenceman Liam Ham to pay him $2,000 a year.

The investigators also found that the IceDogs had agreed to a secret side deal with the father of former IceDogs defenceman Liam Ham to pay him $2,000 a year.

“In the course of our investigation, we were shown documents and heard evidence from participants that leads us to further conclude that the IceDogs had, on more than one occasion, entered into side deals with players that formed part of the players’ contract, which were not filed with the league,” the report reads.
“We were shown a copy of a side deal between the club and Mike Ham, father of Liam Ham, that the Club admitted it entered into with Mike in June, 2016, and which provided for payment of $2,000 cash to Mike per year. We were also told that the Club had entered into side deals with European players to pay them more than the maximum they were entitled to receive under their Standard Player Agreement, and find that evidence to be credible.”

When Wilkie’s junior career wrapped up in April of 2018, he reached out to IceDogs co-owner Bill Burke to remind him of their agreement.

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“Good evening Mr. Burke, just wanted to congratulate you and the organization on a great season. Also my junior career has come to an end and we had made an arrangement when I was coming into the league. I was just wondering how you would like to go about fulfilling that arrangement? Thank you again.”

A week later, Wilkie’s request became more explicit and he reportedly demanded his $40,000 as per their agreement. 

Burke’s response:

“Zack, you have left me completely speechless and quite frankly for the longest time I sat here not even knowing how to respond to this,” Burke replied the same day. “First and foremost I suggest you have a long talk with your Dad on exactly what was discussed. Your Dad’s only concern was that he wouldn’t be able to afford any escalation in tuition fees five years down the road, so ALL that was agreed to was our assurance that you would not be out of pocket for that. How or why you came up with this illegal payment amount of $40,000 is nothing short of baffling and I don’t know what to say to you other than I’m utterly shocked and disappointed. I assure you, you will be paid everything owed to you as per your contract, nothing more and nothing less.”

Wilkie then forwarded Burke’s response to OHL president David Branch which initiated the investigation.

Ultimately, the Burke’s and the IceDogs were found guilty of making illegal side deals with “multiple players” and have been fined $125,000 and a first round draft pick for doing so.