ISLANDERS CANCEL CHINA TRAINING CAMPCite issues with NHL Players Association

ESPN report by Scott Burnside

12:10 pm – As broken exclusively by Katie Strang of Newsday (subscription required), the Islanders’ training camp trip to China in September has been cancelled.


It appears the Islanders are blaming the cancellation of the trip on disagreements the team has had with the National Hockey League Players Association. Strang cites a source saying that the PA requested to send representatives to China in advance of the Islanders’ visit. That is certainly a reasonable request. Charles Wang objected.


Without citing a source, there is also this curious passage in the Newsday report:


It is believed that Wang also opposed the PA’s request for a donation to the PA that would be gifted back to fund children’s hockey programs in China. Wang is already responsible for such development programs in his home country.

Apparently a large deposit for the trip was due from the Islanders on Friday and once they became aware of such requests from the PA they abstained from putting the money down.


It would be an understatement to say all of the above is bizarre.


Reached early this afternoon, NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said the agreement between the Islanders and PA did indeed include a donation request – it actually says “respectfully suggested” in the paperwork – that the union’s Goals and Dream Fund and Islanders would present to youth programs in China.


Weatherdon said, “Without question, our suggestion of a donation was not a deal-breaker. Our approval of this trip to China was without precedent. We simply thought the donation was a nice idea for both of us. In no way should it be considered the reason why the Islanders have cancelled their trip.”


Weatherdon also said the Players’ Association was surprised to hear an advance trip to China by their representatives would be a problem. “Does the U.S. Olympic Committee not go to the site of the Olympics before the Games to make sure all training, medical and housing facilities are up to par”? said Weatherdon. “That should be a major responsibility of the Players Association. Our players expect us to be involved on their behalf.”


For a story I wrote for FanHouse in February, I contacted an NHLPA official (still employed there) to get an understanding of how the union came to approve the trip. There is a rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that states NHL teams cannot conduct training camp outside North America without the authorization of the NHLPA.


The official told me the union conducted a formal review of the trip with Rick DiPietro and a few other Islanders players. Said the official: “Once an appropriate training camp schedule was determined between the Islanders, the NHL and the NHLPA, the tour had the support of the Players Association.”


It all sounded so unofficial, hazy and preliminary, but that could be hindsight. You have to wonder: why didn’t the Islanders just cancel the trip and not say anything? Between the team, Chinese officials and the union, it would not have been difficult to keep a lid on it.


So now the Islanders move on, after staff members spent months butttoning down the details of the complicated training camp in China with trips to four cities over nine days. As much as the players and coaches knew the opportunity might be once in a lifetime, their legs, hearts and minds will thank them in October.


A source told Point Blank this morning that the city of Saskatoon would welcome a second straight visit by the Islanders. Saskatoon had a two-way option with the Islanders for a training camp before the team decided to go to China. The Islanders also have an operative in Canada who set up the team-friendly deal in Moncton, although that city is not an option this time around.


Since the Islanders operate Iceworks and the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, perhaps the organization will make the best of the China syndrome and bring the hockey team closer to its fans in New York during the month of September.


With this news, we will postpone our post on the 30th anniversary of the Islanders’ first Stanley Cup championship. Your thoughts on training camp are welcomed in Comments.