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.