PORTLAND - The Portland Winterhawks face several crippling sanctions from the Western Hockey League--including the suspension of head coach Mike Johnston for the remainder of the season--for violating player benefit regulations over the past four years, the league announced Wednesday.
WHL Commissioner Ron Robison said the Winterhawks would not be allowed to participate in the first five rounds of the 2013 draft. They will also lose their first round selections for the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons. If they happen to trade away the 2014 first round pick, they will lose the second and third round selections.
Winterhawks spokesman Graham Kendrick said the violations included paying for flights for players' families, based on financial need, a three-year cell phone contract for the team captain, and several summer training programs.
Robison said "there was no evidence of any payments or enhanced education benefits provided to players that would be contrary to WHL Regulations."
Johnston, the team's general manager and head coach was suspended for the balance of the 2012-13 season, which includes the 2013 playoffs. Assistant GM and head coach Travis Green will take over his responsibilities. The team was also fined $200,000.
“After fully cooperating with the league’s investigation, we were extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions," Johnston said in a statement. "We don’t feel they are in line with the scope of the violations we were found to have committed.”
“All WHL Clubs understand they are required to fully comply and respect our League Regulations or they will face significant consequences,” Robison said. “WHL Clubs are required to fully disclose all commitments they make to a player in the WHL Standard Player Agreement.