SBJ/October 13 - 19, 2003/Labor Agents

AHL confident it will keep playing even if lockout shutters NHL in ’04

David Andrews, CEO of the American Hockey League, said he is confident that an NHL lockout would not have a significant effect on the AHL's ability to operate next season.

The AHL is the primary developmental league for the NHL, and about 95 percent of AHL players are under contract to NHL teams.

All 30 NHL teams have an affiliation agreement that calls for them to supply an AHL team with players who are not quite ready for the big time. Since there are 28 AHL teams, two AHL teams have two NHL partners.

Most of the AHL-NHL affiliation agreements are two to three years in length, so teams are regularly renewing contracts, Andrews said. The looming prospect of a potential NHL lockout has caused some urgency in renewal talks, he said.

This year, at least nine NHL affiliation contracts are up for renewal or contain clauses that would allow the NHL partner to opt out of the contract in the event of a work stoppage.

Andrews
Andrews said that it is "theoretically possible" that some of those NHL team partners could decide not to supply players to the AHL if there is a lockout next season. But AHL officials have burned up the phone lines making plans with NHL teams, and Andrews said there is reason for optimism.

"The more conversations I have had with general managers of NHL teams, I am more confident there is generally a very strong commitment toward developing players," he said. "We will know for sure [the status of] our contractual agreements by May of '04."

AHL developmental teams are battling to have player agreements in place by May.
Each of the AHL teams has been told to have agreements with its NHL partner club or clubs wrapped up by May, he said. Each AHL team owner "will have to make a determination if they are going to play," he said.

Meanwhile, the AHL has agreements to supply players to a developmental league one level below it, the ECHL. The ECHL and the Professional Hockey Players' Association recently ratified the major points of a new, three-year collective-bargaining agreement but put aside labor issues that could arise from a potential NHL work stoppage.

ECHL Commissioner Brian McKenna said his league will meet with the PHPA later this year to work on issues relating to the effects of a potential NHL lockout. If the NHL locked out players and did not allow as many to play in the AHL, there is a possibility that ECHL players could be called up to the AHL to fill vacant positions.

SMITH STEPS UP FOR McNABB: Fletcher Smith, agent for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, called ESPN to complain about Rush Limbaugh's comments about McNabb just before Limbaugh resigned.

"They were very, very responsive," Smith said on the afternoon before Limbaugh resigned.

Smith wouldn't say whom he spoke to at the network.

Limbaugh resigned from ESPN's "Sunday NFL Countdown" because of criticism of his statements that McNabb was overrated by members of the media who want to see a black quarterback succeed.

Smith said he was glad to hear about the resignation.

"I think it was inevitable," he said. "[Having Limbaugh on the show] was an experiment that shouldn't have happened, given [Limbaugh's] past history with his own radio show and his position with respect to similar issues. I think it was inevitable he would say something along those lines, and if they kept him on, he would [likely] say something even more inflammatory."

SFX FOOTBALL SIGNS WILLIAMS: SFX Football has signed Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams for representation. Ben Dogra, SFX Football managing director and senior vice president, will serve as Williams' primary agent. Williams, the No. 8 pick in the 2002 NFL draft, was formerly represented by IMG football president Tom Condon.

CAREER SPORTS SIGNS FICK: Career Sports Management signed Atlanta Braves first baseman Robert Fick for representation. Lonnie Cooper, president of Atlanta-based Career Sports, will serve as Fick's primary agent.

Contact Liz Mullen with labor and agent news at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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