I spoke with Larry Landon, executive director of the Professional Hockey Player's Association, and he said he is monitoring the talks between the Central Hockey League and the IHL very closely.
Of course, the CHL and IHL are in the midst of joining forces for the upcoming season.
"Certainly, there are a lot of things still unclear to us," he said. "We're letting them find their own way and discuss in the days ahead."
The CHL's players were unionized within the PHPA last season, but the collective bargaining agreement expired recently and a new one must be negotiated before next season.
It hasn't been definitively stated by the CHL or IHL that players from the IHL would have to be unionized for next season, but Langdon said he believes they would have to be, or the PHPA lawyers would be concerned.
"IHL players aren't currently part of our membership and ... their voice is not being heard at that table right now (at the CHL meetings)," Landon said.
Asked if players would be able to opt out of the union and play in the new CHL-IHL collective, Landon said that's something that would have to be worked out in the CBA.
As for the much-rumored bad blood between the PHPA and the Komets, dating back to their last stint in the a unionized league, the old IHL, Landon confirmed some of it but said it's nothing that can't be worked out. He also said it's clear that having the Komets in the CHL would be good for his overall constituency in that league, so the PHPA and the Komets need to put any issues behind them.
"We don't embrace when people run away from obligations. We have files and will produce them if need be," Landon said. "It's troubling. But as I've said to people, I may have a long memory, but if it means 40 or 60 or 80 quality jobs, then I can work through it."
Landon wouldn't go into specifics of how what Komets owe the PHPA or why, but it dates back to the team leaving the old IHL in 1998 with debts that that the PHPA deems unsettled.
Michael Franke, the Komets' president, couldn't be reached for comment. Asked recently if there was a problem with the PHPA, he had this to say:
"The bottom line is there is no union issue. What happened when we left the IHL is obviously confidential. But the bottom line is this: The IHL at that time was on the threshold of going out of business. They were able to keep things going for about another 18 months after we left. ... We had a letter of credit that was in place. The bottom line is when that letter of credit was drawn down upon, it was supposed to have gone from the old IHL standpoint to pay certain bills. Basically, the old IHL used those funds in other areas. That was the prerogative they took. It was our understanding, and the understanding of other teams that left the league over that two or three year period of time, that it was to go to pay the expenses that were incurred by those teams through the league office. But at that time, they were in trouble and they needed financial stability to keep their league going and they needed to use those funds in another direction."
My take on this is that they all may be right. The Komets may have left the old IHL thinking, 'We're done, but that letter of credit should take care of everything that's owed.' If the IHL then used those funds for something other than what it was intended, I can see why the PHPA would be peeved and view it as the Komets skipping out on owed monies. And no one can really go after a league that no longer exists.
It's important to remember, the entity that ran the Komets in the old IHL no longer, technically, exists. The have a new corporation.
In the end, my feeling is that all these people will get in a room and hammer out their differences. I don't see the Komets making anything more than a token financial gesture. The CHL needs the Komets, and therefore the the PHPA needs to support Fort Wayne's entrance to the league, for the sake of its constituency.
I think this will be resolved quietly and amicably.
As for what unionization would mean in the new CHL-IHL collective, not much, as far as it concerns the Fort Wayne players.
"We try to ensure that for the players, each and every day is better for the kid," Landon said. "We negotiate certain benefits and protect those benefits. It's not just health insurance. It's per diem, working conditions and the like. Fort Wayne has a reputation of being one of the better teams in the minor leagues. I've always believed Fort Wayne is a great market to play in."
Komets center Colin Chaulk said the union comes in handy for players who skate for teams that skip out on bills or mistreat players -- think Flint last season -- but in a place like Fort Wayne it shouldn't have an impact.
"The union is good for the young guys, guys who don't know their rights," Chaulk said. "In my years in Fort Wayne, they've never tried to mistreat the players. But the union can do things like make sure you get your paychecks. If you have a two-year contract, certain (safeguards) are put in there and you can have an arbitrator if there's a problem or if you get hurt.
"Normally, an owner doesn't want to make the players' association unhappy. I don't think it would affect us in Fort Wayne at all. We get paid."
- Click here to read Ben Smith's column on the IHL-CHL collective.