Hockey Players Accuse NHL of Exploiting Teens in New Lawsuit

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Players Say The National Hockey League And The Major Junior Hockey Industry Takes Advantage Of Teens Pursuing Their Dreams Of Playing In The NHL

Two hockey players who were chasing their dreams of playing in the National Hockey League (NHL) have filed a lawsuit alleging they were exploited by the league and by three major junior leagues.

Former major junior players Tanner Gould and Isaiah DiLaura filed the proposed class action lawsuit against the leagues on Feb. 14 in a Manhattan federal court, alleging they conspired to restrain competition for young players. 

The former players allege the leagues violated antitrust laws, while earning millions of dollars off the backs of their labor. 

“Teenage players continue to be treated like disposable objects, just like I was," DiLaura said in a press release. "I am hoping this lawsuit will put an end to that."

Leagues became a ‘cartel,’ lawsuit alleges

The lawsuit alleges that the NHL, the Canadian Hockey League, three smaller leagues and their member clubs made up a “cartel" that together created unlawful agreements to restrain competition for teen players, keeping their rates of pay low.

It says they did this by carving up the North American market into three exclusive territories — one for each league — and then agreeing not to compete for players across those territories. 

The collusion meant young players were denied the freedom to choose where they played hockey, and ended up being paid only $250 a month for their hockey services, the plaintiffs allege.

They say the leagues also saw the young players separated from their families at a vulnerable age and traded against their wishes, all to maximize profits for leagues and clubs.

“While the major junior leagues are marketed as the surest path to NHL stardom, the reality is that these leagues and their clubs earn hundreds of millions of dollars or more on the backs of their teenage players who receive minimal compensation for their full-time labor,” lawyers for the plaintiffs said.

Accusations that the NHL is complicit

The lawsuit takes aim at what it says are the unlawful agreements that restrain the North American market of 16-20 year old players to developmental leagues that feed players into the NHL. 

According to the lawsuit, the NHL is in on the conspiracy because it makes annual, multi-million-dollar payments to major junior hockey that are contingent on an agreement to preserve this “exploitative system.” 

"Defendants created a system by which they exercise complete control and dominion over their players to extract all profits created by the players' labor for themselves," lawyer for the plaintiffs Jeffrey Shinder said. 

He said the result was economic exploitation, as well as physical and psychological abuse. 

Hockey players seek injunction

The plaintiffs are looking to represent all Major Junior Players who play or played major junior hockey for a Major Junior Club since Feb. 14, 2020.

They are suing for violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act and seeking certification of the class action, damages and a court injunction stopping the alleged anticompetitive conduct. 

The plaintiffs and proposed class action is represented by Jeffrey I. Shinder and Ethan E. Litwin of Constantine Cannon LLP; Judith A. Zahid and James R. Martin of Zelle LLP; Stacey Leyton and Michael Rubin of Altshuler Berzon LLP; Gregory S. Asciolla of DiCello Levitt LLP; Steve D. Shadowen and Richard Brunell of Hilliard Shadowen LLP; Paul E. Slater and Joseph M. Vanek of Sperling & Slater LLC.

The Hockey antitrust class action is World Association of Icehockey Players Unions North American Division, et al. v. National Hockey League, et al., Case No. 1:24-cv-01066 in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York.

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