TRU Law students stickhandled their way to the finals of the Hockey Arbitration Competition of Canada (HACC) in mid-November. And while they made it to the finals, they didn’t bring home the cup. But the experience was invaluable.
Law students from across North America attended the HACC from Nov. 11 to 13, to engage in mock arbitration hearings over the salaries of NHL players. Each year, there are three NHL players at issue, and teams of two law students represent either the side of the player or the club. The teams then need to make their case as to why the NHL player should be paid a particular amount for the next season.
Team TRU drafted Jordan Elenko and Braedan Fitzpatrick, who were coached by Tiana Reid, Dylan Taylor, and Michael Geib. They are lawyers who have competed in the HACC for TRU Law previously, with Gieb reaching the playoff rounds, and Reid and Taylor making the finals in 2019.
The NHL players at issue are based on real NHL players eligible for salary arbitration. This year’s players were: forward Alex DeBrincat of the Detroit Red Wings (although he was an Ottawa Senator at the time he was about to become arbitration-eligible), forward Tanner Jeannot of the Tampa Bay Lightning and goalie Ilya Samsonov of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Goalies are rarely featured in the HACC. As most hockey fans will tell you, goalies are difficult to assess. As a result, this year was extra-challenging for the teams.
The arbitration’s oral rounds began on Saturday, Nov. 11, with a round-robin. The TRU team had three arbitration hearings — one for each player. They advanced to the playoff rounds, then the quarterfinal and semi-final rounds.
Elenko and Fitzpatrick found the semi-finals to be particularly memorable because of the challenges they faced. They engaged in an arbitration over goalie Samsonov. However, because both competing law teams had represented the Toronto Maple Leafs in the round-robin, one team needed to represent the other side in the semi-finals. Elenko and Fitzpatrick lost the coin toss and had one hour to write new arguments representing the player’s side. For months, the duo had worked on arguments that Samsonov’s most recent season was not of particular importance compared to other seasons. During the semi-finals, they had to reverse that and argue the most recent season was the most important year to consider.
“It was weird pitching the counter-argument to what we had practiced for months, but obviously, the arbitrators found it convincing enough to put us through to the finals,” said Elenko.
The finals took place during the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference. In the finals, the TRU Law team made arguments in front of Stefanie Holland and Gerrit Yau from the law firm Cassels, Brock & Blackwell LLP, and Brad Holland, who is the Edmonton Oilers’ assistant general manager. While the team didn’t win, they really enjoyed the experience.
The team found the networking opportunities valuable. They spoke with player agents such as Rand Simon from Newport Sports Management, who was a judge in the quarterfinal round and actually represented Samsonov in his arbitration last summer. They also met Brandon Pridham, Toronto Maple Leafs’ assistant general manager and Andre Nowakowski and Dan Rabinowitz, who represent NHL teams in salary arbitration hearings.
“Overall, it was a great experience. I would highly recommend to anyone who is interested in sports law to apply to moot next year, as it is a great opportunity to learn from industry leaders and develop stronger written and oral advocacy skills,” Fitzpatrick said. Elenko added that the competition was a great experience and weekend, and the only thing he would have changed was to book a later return flight on Tuesday morning!