• Qualifying Offers and Dany Heatley

    by Tyler Dellow • July 5, 2009 • Uncategorized • 16 Comments

    Even though we’re a few days into free agency and getting to the part of the summer where the news starts to slow down, there are still more than a few interesting stories out there. Two have caught my attention in particular: the Hawks’ mess with their unrestricted free agents and the Oilers’ chase of Dany Heatley.

    Josh Mora of CSNChicago has an interesting story about the Blackhawks situation. The story has an interesting premise:

    I was also informed by a separate source closer to the league that while clerical errors such as this are not common, they do happen more than occasionally. So clearly, because this looks worse to the general public than to those more familiar with league operations, someone is trying to embarrass Dale Tallon by letting this leak out. What are the possible scenarios and motivations for that to happen?

    If I was betting on Darren Dreger’s source for this story, I would put a lot of money on Allan Walsh, who is both angry with the Blackhawks and has a client affected by this. As we know from Mirtle’s site, he also happened to be twittering about the issue as soon as it came to light.

    My thinking tends to be that any agent who has something like happen to one of his players has a duty to bring it to his player and tell him that there’s an argument that he should be declarad an unrestricted free agent. I would be surprised if a) this has been happening and agents haven’t been doing it or b) players have been advised of the option and how it would improve their bargaining position and they haven’t been interested in it. Until somebody starts naming names of teams and players, I’d take this with a large grain of salt.

    In any event, there’s a first time for anything. In baseball, where there seems to be a more aggressive culture of pushing the limits of the CBA than that which exists in hockey, the history of the sport is littered with examples of owners failing to strictly comply with the provisions of the CBA or of individual contracts and getting burned for it. Catfish Hunter was declared a free agent after Charlie Finley failed to pay an insurance premium and Hunter challenged him. Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally ushered in free agency to the entire sport after they challenged the reserve clause and succeeded. Travis Lee and a number of others were declared free agents in the 1990′s after the teams that drafted them failed to tender contracts within the timeline specified in the CBA.

    Maybe it’s a manifestation of the difference between Canadians and Americans – the NHL precedent that everyone is referring to involves Brian Rafalski and John Madden, an American and a Canadian who went through the American college system. The most aggressive GM’s in the NHL today in terms of creatively pushing the limits of the CBA are probably Brian Burke and Lou Lamoriello. In any event, if this type of error is not uncommon, the only surprising thing to me is that this is the first time in which somebody has made an issue of it.

    The rest of the article is basically a puff piece – Mora’s big concern is the motivation of the person who leaked the information, which is one of those things that strikes me as irrelevant. Typical support the home team stuff. Which leads me to Dan Barnes’ articles on Dany Heatley. It’s pretty ugly stuff. A taste:

    He is a one-dimensional sniper who will score goals and be among the more selfish and high-maintenance players on the roster if the Oilers’ persistent begging puts him in their colours.

    If he wanted to play for Edmonton, even a little, he would have OK’d the trade from Ottawa days ago. If he finally relents, he will do so only because there is no other option that could fulfil his whiny trade demand, and that will only add resentment to his other unfavourable characteristics.

    Nowhere in his deconstruction of Dany Heatley’s moral failings does Barnes ask why it is that Heatley might not be completely excited about signing on with the local team. I haven’t seen anything this critical written about the decisions made by the Oilers in the past three years but it’s not like Heatley was being offered an opportunity to join a team that has provided the slightest of evidence that it has a clue about what it’s doing.

    Barnes went on to justify the position that Heatley is a selfish and bad person by appealing to authority and pointing to the fact that two other NHL teams want no part of Heatley:

    But isn’t it also odd that other teams with similar holes in the lineup–the Rangers come to mind –have steered clear of Heatley? The Los Angeles Kings had$13.5 million US in cap space and decided to spend a chunk of it on Ryan Smyth, the former Avalanche left-winger for whom they traded two defencemen and a draft pick on Friday.

    Smyth is 33. The average age of the Kings before the trade was 26.3 and Heatley is a 28-year-old scoring left-winger. Why doesn’t he fit their identity better than a player who scores an average of 12 fewer goals each season, is five years older and only$1.25 million US easier on the salary cap? Because Heatley is what the Kings know he is, a potentially disruptive force whose goal totals are mitigated by his one-dimensional game. L. A.’s assistant GM Ron Hextall delivered a devastating character assessment of Heatley to a gathering of Kings fans mere days before the Smyth deal was consummated.

    The Ragners, of course, have just spent $37.5MM on Marian Gaborik, who has lost two large chunks of the four seasons since the lockout and seems to have an ongoing groin problem. To do this, they had to move one of their previous FA disasters in Scott Gomez – Wade Redden, who they probably would have preferred to move, is untradeable. The Kings, who have missed the playoffs by 12, 20, 28 and 6 points in the four seasons since the lockout are a similarly bizarre choice of a team whose decisions should be emulated.

    I’m not surprised that Dany Heatley prefers other teams to the Oilers. Personally, I have a hard time blaming him, given the track record of the Oilers in the past three years. With that said, Heatley has fit into a number of teams in the past and, until this trade demand, nobody’s had much that was bad to say about him publicly. He’s as good a goal scorer as you’ll find in the NHL who isn’t named “Ovechkin” and has proven that he can be a big part of a succesful team.

    Edmonton is stuck in the embarassing position of having to grovel for elite talents because of how the team has performed over the past few years. That’s not on Dany Heatley – that’s on the Oilers management. If there’s some disappointment or embarassment that this is the route that the Oilers have to take to get players to come to Edmonton, the finger should be pointed at the Oilers, not at the players who are leery of getting on what appears to be a rudderless ship operated by a new captain, who has the guy responsible for the rudder getting broken off whispering instructions in his ear.

    If Dany Heatley ultimately ends up in Edmonton, which I think is possible unless he’s personally willing to write a $4MM cheque to the Ottawa Senators, it will be a lucky break for this franchise. The team will take a significant step forward and, with the expected improvement that Heatley will bring, might well be able to avoid the embarassment of the past week when they’re trying to add talent in the future.

    About Tyler Dellow

    16 Responses to Qualifying Offers and Dany Heatley

    1. David Staples
      July 5, 2009 at

      Helluva player, but I’ve come to the conclusion he has not intention of playing in Edmonton and never did. The Oilers were being used as leverage, by both Ottawa and, most of all, by Heatley’s camp, to drive up offers from places where the guy really wanted to go.

    2. mc79hockey
      July 5, 2009 at

      David – If Heatley absolutely would not play in Edmonton, it’s in his interest to say so rather than drag Lowe et al down to Kelowna and harm his reputation in the hockey community further for no return. Heatley’s camp doesn’t care what kind of offers come from places he doesn’t want to go to – he has no interest in the return that the Senators get, in fact his best interests would be served by the Sens getting nothing in return and adding Spezza to the package.

    3. David Staples
      July 5, 2009 at

      If the Oilers interest drove up the Rangers’ offer, with the Rangers throwing in Brandon Dubinsky, for instance, and then Ottawa took the Rangers’ offer, would that not benefit Heatley?

      Heatley needed a bidding war going, not dead air, so the Oilers are added to the list of teams on Heatley’s list, to fire up the other bidders on the list. . . . That’s my take on it, based on J.P. Barry telling Garrioch he expanded the list of teams that Ottawa could negotiate with at one point.

      As for the Kelowna Summit, Heatley agrees to see Lowe/Tamby because he’s not aware of optics of the thing. He has no idea he will be hated on for stringing along the Oilers.

      Now, of course, I’m speculating here, mind-reading here, trying to interpret Barry’s comments, and what he and his camp have told Garrioch, Dreger and Daren Millard. I could be wrong, but that’s how I’m reading it.

    4. July 5, 2009 at

      “Their crushing need creates both a weakness and a willingness to view Heatley in only the most optimistic light.”

      A sad but true indictment of not only the organization, but many fans. You could take the name Heatley out and replace it with Khabibulin, Penner, Souray, Schremp, Lupul, Smid, Katz, Lowe…it’s a long list for this team right now.

    5. Devin
      July 5, 2009 at

      On the first subject — it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if some (or all) of Chicago’s affected RFAs were choosing to play nice and weren’t interested in UFA status. It seems like hockey players (and many GMs) often do things that are completely contrary to their interests according to some weird “hockey code.”

      Take the Sedins. Their agent was on record as saying they were bargaining for a long term deal in the 10-12 year range. Gillis said something along the lines of (and I paraphrase) “5 years has always been our target, and we’re not backing off of it.” So what do the Sedins do? They sign a below-market value deal at the Gillis term, one hour before hitting free agency. What possible reason could they have had to abandon their entire stack of bargaining chips one hour before UFA? If they’d wanted to stay in VAN the whole time, why not sign earlier and give Gillis more flexibility, or go to UFA and use your leverage to get a few more years (or dollars) out of him?

      It must be as frustrating to be a player agent as it is to be a fan (of a franchise like EDM – see: Khabibulin contract).

      I think it’s this “hockey code” that is responsible for the ridiculous vitriol directed at guys like Heatley (for his apparent attitude) and Penner (because he makes too much and Terry Jones calls him lazy), and for the irrational belief in “name” players (Redden, Khabibulin, Kiprusoff, etc).

      Hockey isn’t a thinking man’s game, sadly.

    6. slipper
      July 5, 2009 at

      The Sedin’s situation is complicated bn their demand to play together.

      How many teams had 12-15 million in cap space and are willing to spend toward the ceiling? Of those teams, how many could afford to allocate that money on just two roster spots?

    7. Devin
      July 5, 2009 at

      Slipper- sure, I agree. But we’ll never know, and neither will the Sedins, since they signed an hr before UFA. My point was only that there was zero reason for them to sign at that time (and for that amount). If the pair of them were unpalatable for 29 other teams then they would have found out and signed in VAN anyway. Off the top of my head TOR and NYI could have (and would have) paid them.

      Anyway, congrats to Gillis and Sutter for swinging excellent deals this July. The Oilers mgmt are turning into a joke.

    8. Joe
      July 5, 2009 at

      But we’ll never know, and neither will the Sedins, since they signed an hr before UFA.

      They probably had an idea. Obviously no one wants to get caught tampering, but you’ve got to think there are some hypothetical numbers being floated to players in a pretty basic fashion. Nothing so forward as “we’ll offer you x years at y money”, but probably more like “if we were to be paying two guys on our roster x dollars…” Especially if VAN had an offer on the table that expired as soon as free agency started, the Sedins probably decided there wasn’t much better out there, and this way they don’t have to move.

      What really surprises me is not just that the players and agents are keeping their mouths shut, but that no other GM’s are making a big deal of this issue. By the specific wording of the CBA, these players are free agents. Maybe they are trying to keep things chill between themselves and the Blackhawks. But if I’m an opposing GM, I gotta wonder how much they want to keep it chill when I slap a nice big UFA contract on their desk.

      Sure, Versteeg might want to stay in CHI, but if Brian Burke slaps a hefty paycheck onto his desk, will he be able to turn that down and stay in CHI, knowing what is out there? Hell, if I’ve got plenty of cap and roster room, I might even go for one of the lesser players in question here, just to set the precedent that they are in fact UFA’s, and thus fair game, and then use that to go after Versteeg or Barker.

    9. Joe
      July 6, 2009 at

      As for the “these sort of administrative mistakes happen all the time” thing mentioned in the quoted article that you aren’t buying (and I agree):

      I would imagine much of these administrative mistakes mentioned are much simpler mistakes than the one Tallon made. A qualifying offer made to “Kris Versteg” instead of “Kris Versteeg”, but taken in good faith. Especially in the NHL, where you can’t even spell half the players’ names in English (or there is argument about how they’re spelled, like Nik Kronwall/Kronvall), misspellings may be more of an issue, and generally accepted in good faith by both sides. Just plain not getting the work done by CBA deadlines is probably a much less common “administrative mistake”.

    10. July 6, 2009 at

      Joe, Versteeg might like to see a Stanley Cup on the ice, and not in a museum.

      I think (some) hockey players are starting to realize that when the money’s measured in seven digits, sometimes enough is enough and maybe a shot at the prize will outweigh money. Homo economicus doesn’t always rule. The Hawks players in question may also/instead like the city, their teammates, the ownership… etc etc.

      There’s lots of reasons a hockey player might turn down potential UFA status over a technicality, few of which are related to a weird code.

    11. Devin
      July 6, 2009 at

      Mike, I think it’s the agent’s responsibility to counsel the player on all facets of the business. These guys have 10 year careers for the most part, and walking away from significant earnings in any year can be a monumental mistake. Is the difference between being buddies with your teammates or not really worth millions of dollars? I hope Hossa’s decision this past summer to chase a cup will make a lot of players think twice about doing that, too.

      There is little psychological difference between 20% increased earnings for rich guys or for poor guys. I think the idea of the “satisfied millionaire” is kind of a myth — the marginal utility of a dollar diminishes according to our rules, but when you make that many dollars you play by a whole new set of rules. :)

    12. Joe
      July 6, 2009 at

      Oh for sure. I have no doubt that there is some interest in staying in CHI. But if I’m the PA, I’m wanting them to make a fuss so that they set a precedent for everyone else, and if I’m another GM, I’m wanting to put a SPC in front of their faces to make them really think hard about it. It’s easy to say you want to pass up some serious cash to stay where you are, but its a lot harder to do it if you’ve got that big shiny paycheck in front of you. I’d want to test that, if I’m an opposing GM.

    13. David Staples
      July 6, 2009 at

      The general rule is that players will take more money to play on a mediocre team, and less money to play on a championship squad. You see it in all sports, which is why the Raptors had to pay so much to sign Hedo Turkoglu, even though Turkoglu’s chance of winning a championship went downhill the second he said good-bye to Dwight Howard.

    14. P-Ow
      July 6, 2009 at

      Stick to hockey, David. Dwight Howard’s chances of winning a championship went down the second he said goodbye to Hedo Turkoglu.

      And Mike, I think you’re being a little bit naive. Yes players will pick circumstances over money in many cases, but when you’re dealing with the sheer numbers the Hawks are dealing with, there is no way that every single one of them agrees to not pursue the UFA option unless there’s something more happening (like the aforementioned code).

      Finally, be glad we don’t have the sort of CBA trickery that goes on in baseball, mc79. Who wants to see players moving to the Dominican to become free agents or opting out of school at 16 and getting a GED or any of the other stuff that just surrounds the draft in MLB. I’ll take the relatively straight-shooting of the NHL instead, where we don’t see agents trying to circumvent the CBA at every turn, even if it is for the benefit of their clients.

    15. December 31, 2009 at

      Your topic was interesting when I found it on Thursday searching for baseball cases, it looks like you have some interesting content about tax what I was looking for

    16. Pingback: Oilogosphere rules the Internet when it comes to Oilers commentary, at least according to Google | Edmonton Journal

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