Portland Winterhawks coach Mike Johnston has been suspended for the remainder of the season, including playoffs, the Western Hockey League announced Wednesday.
The team also was fined $200,000 "for a series of violations of the WHL regulations," the league said in its statement.
The league cited "a series of player benefit violations which have occurred over the past four seasons," in handing out its punishments, which included suspension from participating in the first five rounds of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, as well as forfeiture of first-round selections in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 WHL Bantam drafts. Should the first-round selection in 2014 not be available due to a conditional trade, Portland will surrender its second- and third-round picks.
"All WHL Clubs understand they are required to fully comply and respect our league regulations or they will face significant consequences," WHL Commissioner Ron Robison said in the statement. "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. It should also be noted through the course of the investigation there was no evidence of any payments or enhanced education benefits provided to players that would be contrary to WHL Regulations as previous media reports indicated."
Johnston, who also serves as general manager, will be replaced by assistant GM and assistant coach Travis Green on an interim basis, the Winterhawks announced on their website.
The team listed the violations as follows:
* A player contract signed in 2009, involving flights for the player's family and a summer training program.
* Over the last five years, seven families were provided flights 2-4 times per season based on financial need and their distance from Portland.
* Twice in the last five years, the team paid for two players to each have a one-week summer training regimen.
* The Winterhawks provided a cellphone for its team captain for a period of three seasons.
It added, "The WHL's audit found no violations involving monetary payments made to players, their families or agents, or any violations related to the league's educational packages."
"After fully cooperating with the league’s investigation, we were extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions, and we don't feel they are in line with the scope of the violations we were found to have committed," Johnston said on the team's website.
"We believe that apart from recruiting trips and parents' weekend, there is no prohibition in the rules governing flights for players' parents, which were the majority of the infractions. We are currently exploring our options on how we will proceed. Despite our objections, the league has made its decision, and our players will continue to pursue the goal of winning a WHL championship."
The Winterhawks have several top prospects for the 2013 NHL Draft, including defenseman Seth Jones, center Nicolas Petan and right wing Oliver Bjorkstrand. The team has won 16 of its past 17 games and is 20-4-1 this season.