The shit has hit the fan. The statement released on the Oilers’ website today is pretty unbelievable:
On Sunday, July 1, 2007, Kevin Lowe, Oilers General Manager, and Mr. Mike Gillis, Certified Agent for Michael Nylander, negotiated and agreed to a multi-year NHL Standard Players Contract, starting in 2007/08. Mr. Gillis confirmed same to the Oilers in writing.
The Oilers then proceeded with preparations to announce Mr. Nylander’s contract agreement on July 2, and concurrently continued with the process of negotiating with other free agents based upon Mr. Nylander being an important roster ingredient for the future.
However, while the Oilers were expecting the returned, signed agreements from Mr. Nylander and Mr. Gillis, the Oilers discovered through public announcements made mid-afternoon on July 2, that Mr. Nylander had subsequently entered into a long-term contract with the Capitals.
The Oilers can find no precedent for such conduct in our history. The Oilers are examining and pursuing every course of action available in the best interest of the team and our fans.
For legal reasons, the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club will not be discussing the details any further at this time.
After kind of quickly mulling this over, I’m inclined to think that there isn’t a fruitful course of action available to the Oilers here. Let’s start with the CBA, the source of all law in the NHL. Article 11 of the CBA governs player contracts. There are a couple of key provisions that I want to highlight here.
11.1 Standard Player’s Contract. The Standard Form SPC annexed hereto as Exhibit 1 will be the sole form of employment contract used for all Player signings after the execution of this Agreement. The Standard Form SPC may not be amended or modified in any manner whatsoever.
11.3 Validity and Enforceability. Except as expressly set forth in Section 11.5 below, no SPC shall be valid or enforceable in any manner whatsoever unless and until it has been filed with Central Registry and approved by the League or the Arbitrator…
11.5 Filing and Approval Process
(a) An SPC or an Offer Sheet will be deemed to be filed with Central Registry only when it is actually received by Central Registry. A Club shall file an executed SPC or Offer Sheet with Central Registry by hand, facsimile or electronically, in accordance with Exhibit 3 hereto (provided that any electronic version of the executed SPC must have the optically-scanned signatures affixed thereon.)
To me, this doesn’t even seem particularly difficult – I’m having a hard time seeing the arguments in the Oilers favour here. The only way in which the Oilers can sign Nylander to a contract is by filing that contract with the Central Registry and the contract being approved by the league. The only document that can be filed with Central Registry is an SPC. An SPC with an email or something else attached indicating agreement would seem to me to be a modified document. I would argue that the provision in 11.5(a) respecting the optically-scanned signatures being affixed thereon provides some support to this position as well – if the SPC can’t be modified and the optically-scanned signatures have to be visible – how can whatever the Oilers have meet that test, unless what they have is a signed SPC?
The NHL has a contractual regime that differs from those of nearly every other walk of life because a contract needs to be registered in order to be official and because the form of the contract is specified. Myself, I can’t see how the Oilers can make the case that they had a contract here, because a contract needs to meet the requirements laid out above. I have no reason not to believe them when they say that this is a first in their history and, essentially, that Gillis and Nylander have violated the gentlemen’s rules by which UFA season is conducted. I just think the problem that they’ll encounter is that the written rules trump the gentlemen’s rules and by the written rules, the Oilers didn’t have a contract. One wonders how serious the Oilers are about pursuing this – if they have no real shot at a remedy, what’s the point? The time for the Oilers to wonder about breach of contract was last year, not now.
This whole thing strikes me as silly anyway. Two years from now, when Kevin Lowe is the VP of Remembering the Eighties and someone (competent?) is running the show, I’d suspect that the Oilers management will be happy not have Nylander around pulling down $4.75 or whatever he got from Washington. The only downside I can see is that I pretty much have to withdraw my comments about them seeming to have a plan. I think that they got lucky here. Maybe it’s for the best that their attention was diverted from spending money on UFA’s for the past few days – I’d hate to see what they could have done with that money.