Less than a week ahead of its annual general meeting, slated to begin in Sault Ste. Marie on June 18, there is an unsettling buzz that is humming from within the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
When NOJHL governors convene in the Soo next week, one of major items on the agenda will be the proposed 2015-2016 budget.
Part of the annual league budget are salaries that are paid to NOJHL staff that includes commissioner Robert Mazzuca, executive director Ted Magee, administration officer Hector Seguin, communications director Tom Annelin and a few others.
Of note, Mazzuca’s contract, which pays him a base salary of about $30,000, is up for renewal. And the word from within the NOJHL is that Mazzuca is asking for double the money to return for a fifth season as commissioner.
Without question, the NOJHL has grown under Mazzuca’s watch and is more credible. Set to become a 12-team league in 2015-2016, the NOJHL has a strangle-hold on the north region from Sault Ste. Marie in the west to Kirkland Lake in the east.
But the problem, according to more than one owner, is the financial strain that most NOJHL teams are under — though it should be noted that team directors approve all league expenses.
At any rate, as the NOJHL has become increasingly-expensive to operate within over the past few years, the 2015-2016 budget that Mazzuca is proposing will double the annual expenses for all teams, according to league sources.
And while the NOJHL is looking as solid as ever with 12 teams, let’s face it, these aren’t flush southern Ontario markets that we are talking about with plenty of corporate sponsorship money available.
For the most part, the NOJHL is a small-market league with town populations under 10,000.
For example, Kirkland Lake has a population of 8,500, Espanola and Cochrane are both at about 5,300, Iroquois Falls checks in at 4,500, followed by Blind River at 3,500, Powassan at 3,300 and French River at 2,400.
To be sure, those aren’t big towns with a lot of sponsorship money.
Then there are teams — Rayside-Balfour Canadians, Soo Thunderbirds and Soo Eagles — that operate in towns that are financially-dominated by either an Ontario Hockey League or Division 1, National Collegiate Athletic Association presence.
The way I see it, Mazzuca has done a lot of good for the NOJHL. But given the economic climate and conditions of the north region, NOJHL teams may not be able to afford what the commissioner is proposing in the 2015-2016 budget.
One solution might be to trim league staff.
I mean, does the NOJHL really need to be paying Magee half of what Mazzuca makes? Just what does Magee do — and can the NOJHL do without his position?
At any rate, a board-room showdown is on the horizon at next week’s AGM.
Will Mazzuca stay or will he go?
Whether he does or doesn’t, this much I know about Mazzuca — he is a very smart man who tends to always be one step ahead of the game.