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Puck Pyramid

Arizona Sundogs vs Wichita Thunder, March 30, 2013 (Photo: Patricia Teter, All Rights Reserved)

Yesterday T.J. Fox, a veteran hockey player, announced his retirement on Twitter:

(See his full announcement below.)

Over the course of his professional career Fox played 426 regular season games spanning the years from 2007 through 2014 in the AHL, CHL, ECHL and Germany. Last season he played with the Denver Cutthroats in the Central Hockey League (CHL), and on August 13th he signed with the Arizona Sundogs but quickly found himself out of work when the Sundogs shut down the following week, along with the Denver Cutthroats.

After the Sundogs’ suspension of operations Fox thought he had signed with another team, only to learn he was still in limbo, and also that the Central Hockey League was quietly reorganizing for, as he said, a “late summer merge that we as players were kept in the dark about. The fact it’s so late will push a lot of veteran players with Families out of jobs is disrespectful. I’ve come to the point I don’t want to be a pawn in a chess match anymore.”

Fox’s retirement painfully highlights the situation in the CHL late this summer. The CHL’s struggles among its own teams and also its attempts to join a bigger, more stable league helping it to survive has forced some hard choices on team General Managers and Coaches. And sadly, veterans like Fox pay the price for the League’s battle for progress. As part of the CHL’s move into the ECHL, the CHL would be required to follow the ECHL’s Rules and CBA and this is what has caused trouble for the CHL’s Veterans.

| CHL’s Veteran Rule: (as of September 2011) “The veteran rule will remain that a maximum of five players (excluding goaltenders) with more than 300 games of professional experience are eligible to be on a roster at one time, and teams can have a sixth veteran if he was re-signed from the team’s previous season’s final roster.”

| ECHL’s Veteran Rule: “Each team shall be limited to four (4) Veterans on its Active Roster. A Veteran shall mean a Player, other than a goaltender, who has played in at least 260 regular season games of professional hockey.” (Source: PHPA ECHL CBA Notes.)

When calculating a Veteran’s status, the ECHL & CHL recognized leagues are as follows:

“(1) All North American pro leagues, past and present, with the exception of League’s classified as single “A” (e.g. SPHL, Federal Hockey League, Quebec senior league). These include:

a. NHL, AHL, ECHL, IHL (both iterations), UHL, Central Hockey League

(2) The top league in each of the following countries:

a. Russia (KHL), Sweden (Swedish Elite League), Finland (SM-Liiga), German (DEL), Czech Republic (Extraliga), Slovakia (also called Extraliga) & Switzerland (NLA)”

As you can see, under the ECHL Veteran Rule which classifies a player as a Veteran when he has played 260 professional regular season games, that is a fairly large drop from the CHL’s Veteran rule stipulating 301 games. As the number of games calculated are lowered, the number of Veterans on the CHL rosters increase, and as a consequence, players like T.J. Fox — with 361 games counting toward his Veteran status — and sadly many others, will very likely be pushed out to find other teams elsewhere or other work entirely.

Unfortunately league economics do not always go hand in hand with the welfare of their players. How many times do we hear at the end of season a player quoted saying “At the end of the day everyone understands it’s a business.” Yes, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

I wish T.J. Fox and his family all the best.

Update Oct. 5, 2014: Interview with T.J. Fox in Former Union Star T.J. Fox Retires from Hockey.