September 29, 2004
CHL wants its NHLers back in fold
By TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun
Brent Burns and Patrice Bergeron have done it and Nathan Horton is going to do it.
But David Branch doesn't like it.
Burns and Bergeron signed AHL contracts during the past few days, but Branch is contending they are contractually bound to play for their junior clubs in the Canadian Hockey League.
"The situation that has developed was not unforecasted," said Branch, who wears the hats of both CHL president and Ontario Hockey League commissioner. "We must now consider what steps should be taken."
Burns, who skated for the Minnesota Wild last season, and Bergeron, who played for the Boston Bruins, both are 19. That means they remain eligible to play junior -- Burns for the Brampton Battalion of the OHL and Bergeron for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League -- but an agreement between the CHL and the NHL regarding the placing of teenaged players expired in June.
The agreement stated that teenaged players could not play in the minors, if they weren't going to play for their parent clubs, and must be sent back to junior. Branch's take is that despite the lack of a new agreement, the junior contracts are binding.
Burns signed with Houston, the Wild's AHL affiliate, while Bergeron signed with Providence, the Bruins' affiliate. Horton, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, will sign with San Antonio, the Florida Panthers' affiliate, once he has recovered. Horton, 19, played for the Panthers last season and his OHL rights are held by the Oshawa Generals. All three are eligible to play for Canada at the world junior championship in Grand Forks, N.D., this winter.
"From an NHL perspective, it is not an NHL issue, but one between the AHL and the CHL," NHL chief legal officer Bill Daly said. "With the lockout, the NHL clubs have no further say. All three played in the NHL and none was assigned to the AHL."
That was echoed by Houston general manager Tom Lynn.
"It's not an NHL deal, so it's not an NHL issue," Lynn said. "It's a straight AHL contract."
Sources insist the CHL "is not going to object" to the three playing in the minors, but Branch is thinking otherwise.
Few OHL players have the luxury of a brief internship with their clubs before they begin their junior careers in earnest.
Daren Machesney, the rookie Battalion goalie, won his first two starts this past weekend after appearing in five games last season as an emergency callup.
"I remember my first game last year and it was all a blur," said Machesney, a nephew of Dallas Stars scout Paul McIntosh. "But last Friday night, there weren't too many nerves. I think it really helped me to get into those games last year."
Battalion coach Stan Butler plans to rotate Machesney and incumbent Kevin Couture. In six seasons in Brampton, the Battalion has not had a true one-two punch in goal, but the Machesney-Couture combination could change that.