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Volume 21 No. 1

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
About 90 NHL players were scheduled to take part last week in the first rookie orientation, a program that the players and the league agreed would be conducted annually as part of the new collective-bargaining agreement.

The NFL, MLB and NBA and the respective players unions — the NFL Players Association, the MLB Players Association and the National Basketball Players Association — have long had such programs for incoming rookies. Now they are joined by the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL, who were set to hold their first such seminar last week in Virginia near Washington, D.C.

Players were to partake in three days of training, including media training, and hear presentations on health and safety issues, as well as information on how to manage personal finances and general life skills guidance. The NHL and the NHLPA have jointly funded the program.

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, who is overseeing the program for the league, said in an email that the new program was something that both the league and the players wanted. “The creation of and support for such a Program was something that was important to both sides,” Daly wrote. “In fact, as I recall it, it may have been one of the first items we agreed to in collective bargaining.”

Before the creation of the program, the NHL and NHLPA gave players preparation for several hours on the day of the NHL draft.

Under the terms of the program, each NHL club may send up to three players to the seminar. Alex Dagg, NHLPA director of operations and who oversees the program for the union, said the clubs get to choose the players who attend. The program is not only for those players drafted in the 2013 NHL draft, but also for players drafted in 2012 and before who are likely to see their first significant NHL action this coming season, she said.

The training for the players will include social media training, as well as how to handle newfound celebrity. “They are about to be coming into a fishbowl where they will be analyzed all the time,” Dagg said.

Additionally, players will receive “sensitivity training” to teach them how to deal with women, openly gay players, and players who come into the NHL from different countries and cultures, she said.

Both Daly and Dagg agreed that the program was good for the players and the league, and both said the two sides worked well together in planning the event.

“This is a really positive initiative that we are working on with the league,” Dagg said.

Daly said the league and the NHLPA have worked cooperatively to put the program together, including selecting consultants and experts to speak. “The subject matters are all important, and if communicated effectively, can be beneficial to the professional and life development of our Players,” Daly wrote.

Daly was scheduled to give the players a presentation on the NHL, including its international business, the league history and league initiatives.

The NHL has communicated and consulted with other leagues, which have been “very helpful” in sharing information and their experience about rookie programs, Daly said.

“I am sure it will not be perfect, and that there will be things we want to change and improve upon as we move forward, but that is the nature of the beast,” he added.

> MDR SIGNS WILTON LOPEZ: MDR Sports Management has signed Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Wilton Lopez for representation. MDR Sports Management President and CEO Melvin Roman will represent Lopez, who is arbitration-eligible after this season and can become a free agent in 2015. Lopez was previously represented by The Legacy Agency.

Roman founded Puerto Rico-based MDR Sports Management in 2006, after working for more than a decade for the former CSMG Sports. MDR Sports Management specializes in representing baseball players from Latin America, including Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Mexico. The firm represents about 60 baseball players, including 19 major league players.

Liz Mullen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

The WNBA collective-bargaining agreement expires at the end of this month, but as of last week the players and the league had no bargaining sessions scheduled to negotiate a new deal.

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association and the WNBA have held one meeting, at the WNBA All-Star Weekend in July, about a new agreement. The labor deal expires Sept. 30.

“I can’t speak for them but I know we are always ready to meet and they have always been amenable to meeting,” said Pam Wheeler, director of operations for the WNBPA said last week. “Our goal is to always get a deal done and to negotiate a deal that is fair to both sides.”

A WNBA spokesman declined comment for this story.

Wheeler said the league and the players outlined, in general terms, their priorities for the negotiation at the session they held July 28. But Wheeler declined to reveal what the major issues are for players. “At this point, it’s best for us to negotiate with the league and not negotiate in the media,” she said.

But other player-side sources said they expect players to seek an addition to teams’ 11-woman rosters. The 2008 CBA reduced the roster spots from 13 to 11, and critics say the number does not allow enough flexibility for teams to adjust for player injuries.

“That would be the best thing they can do, if they add one roster spot,” said agent Boris Lelchitski, president and CEO of Sports International Group, which represents 28 current players. “They can’t practice five-on-five if they have injured players [right now].”

The Sun’s Asjha Jones, who plays overseas, took the summer off to recover from injuries.
He said another issue for WNBA players is the number of games they play without a break, since many WNBA players also play professional basketball overseas and thus don’t have an offseason. The lack of time off can shorten a player’s career and her lifetime earning capacity, he said. “You play nonstop,” Lelchitski said.

The maximum salary for a WNBA player is $107,000, but star players can earn more overseas. Connecticut Sun forward Asjha Jones, one of Lelchitski’s clients, took this WNBA season off to rehab from injuries. “More and more of my players are talking about taking the summer off,” Lelchitski said, alluding to the WNBA’s summer schedule.

Some observers have called into question the CBA’s expiration date of Sept. 30. That date comes amid the league’s playoffs, which are set to begin Sept. 19 and could run through Oct. 16. Labor attorneys found the expiration date odd, as most sports labor deals end between seasons.

“I am not aware of any situation in sports where the collective-bargaining agreement expires on the eve of or during the playoffs,” said Bill Gould, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. Unless there is a side agreement prohibiting it, the players could potentially stage a strike during the playoffs. “That is the best time for players to strike because it puts the maximum amount of pressure on the owners,” said Gould, now a Stanford Law School professor.

Wheeler said there was no side agreement preventing a strike. Asked whether the players would consider a strike, Wheeler said, “Our goal is to get a deal done.”

Lelchitski said, “Honestly, I don’t think there’s going to be a strike. Who’s going to strike?” he asked rhetorically. “Against what?”

The league could legally lock players out while the playoffs are going on, but labor experts said that was unlikely.