The Western Hockey League has slammed down the gavel on Portland General Manager and Head Coach Mike Johnston along with the rest of the team for giving improper player benefits.The stunning news that came out of WHL headquarters Wednesday rang through the league as officials announced Johnston was suspended through the end of the regular season and the 2013 playoffs. Commissioner Ron Robison said the club was also penalized severely in upcoming WHL Bantam Drafts, losing a number of future picks.

Portland will lose their first FIVE picks in rounds 1-5 in the 2013 WHL draft plus lose their first overall pick in the 2014 through 2017 selections. The team was also fined $200,000.

According to Robison and the WHL, the reason for the suspension and loss of draft picks was the following:

“WHL Clubs are required to fully disclose all commitments they make to a player in the WHL Standard Player Agreement. Our independent investigation in this case revealed there were multiple violations over an extended period for player benefits that are not permitted under WHL Regulations and were not disclosed to the WHL."

The league has said no further information will be released on this matter, however, the Winterhawks issued a statement saying they found the following violations had occurred:

  • a player signed in 2009 had his family flown at cost to the club and a summer training program
  • seven times over the last four years four families were provided flights 2-4 times per season based upon their financial need and their distance from Portland.
  • two players had a summer conditioning program paid for by the club.
  • the team provided a cellphone for the team captain for three seasons.

No evidence of monetary payments or other gratuities were found to have been made to players during the last four years. Assistant GM and Head Coach Travis Green will take over Johnston's duties until he returns. This could have a significant impact on this U.S. Division-leading team with a record of 20-4-1.

A similar situation occurred a few months ago with Windsor Spitfires fined $250,000 and loss of draft picks.