If there’s one thing that you learn as an Oilers fan, it’s how to sniff out bullshit from management. The Capitals’ response to this Belanger thing smells like a textbook example of something we’ve seen the Oilers do time and again.
Mirtle contacted the Caps and asked them for their side of the story. He got this from them:
The Capitals declined to comment other than to say they never had a contract in place for Belanger.
This is, of course, accurate, in light of how a contract is formed in the NHL – it’s signed and filed with the NHL. It also completely fails to address Belanger’s complaint about the team’s conduct. Then, this afternoon, a post appears on the blog of Mike Vogel, who writes for the Capitals’ website. Nobody is quoted in the post – it’s all “intel” that Vogel obtained. Vogel writes:
During the week of July 12, the Caps checked in with the Belanger camp to see what was going on. Tacopina said he had some irons in the fire, but nothing his client was ready to jump on.
Washington wondered what kind of deal Belanger would take at this point. Told that Belanger would accept a one-year deal, the Caps inquired as to the dollars. Tacopina mentioned the $1.85 million figure. Washington said it could do that deal, but that it would need to move a contract in order to make it work internally.
Tacopina’s version, from his email, was as follows:
On Friday July 16th at 9:45am Don sent me a text message stating, “george wants to offer eric a one year deal, please call me.” When I called Don he said that you were prepared to sign eric to a one year, 1.850million dollar deal. He told me that you didn’t want to sign the deal then because you were working on a trade and you didn’t want eric’s signing to get in the way of that trade by increasing the other team’s leverage.
Vogel’s version doesn’t really contradict what Tacopina said. Tacopina goes on to say:
Don did require that Eric commit to the deal at that time however, because he stated that you didn’t want to be in the position of making a trade and then finding out that eric changed his mind and wouldn’t accept the offer. I told him I would call him back shortly and give him an answer. After speaking to Eric, I called don back and told him that eric would agree to the deal. Don said based on that you would move forward with the trade.
Vogel’s post says nothing about this – no denial that it happened. This is a rather critical point. Tacopina goes on to say:
Upon my request and at Don’s direction eric has been in contact with your team manager, Ian Anderson, since the first week of August to assist Eric in the above mentioned tasks as well as moving his house belongings from Minnesota to DC. During the first week of August your organization sent a moving company to eric’ s house in Minnesota to size up and prepare for the move. The company scheduled a move for September 1. Because it was getting late in the summer eric and his wife had a tough time getting their children registered in a school in DC but ultimately prevailed in getting the last spot in one of the schools that came highly recommended by some of eric’s teammates. Ian had connected Eric with a real estate broker and Eric signed a lease on a house in DC for one year. School is scheduled to start on september 1st. Obviously, eric and his family need to be in Washington by then. Of course. Eric, who has been training hard all summer, need to continue to skate in the days leading up to training camp and had made plans with several teammates to start skating at the facility on september 1st. On July 29th, eric received an email from Ian Anderson with pre-training camp instruction and schedule. Ian told eric in the email that he had to send it to him under separately because the deal had not yet been “announced”.
This is critical as well, because “announced” goes to whether the Capitals thought that they had made a binding deal with him or not. There’s an entire course of conduct here that simply isn’t dealt with in Vogel’s post.
The suggestion that the Capitals couldn’t do anything because of a concern about money gets a lot more explicit in the next paragraph of Vogel’s piece:
At that stage of the summer, the Caps still had a pending arbitration case with forward Tomas Fleischmann. Not knowing how much Fleischmann’s deal would be for the upcoming season – and whether they’d need to walk away from an unappetizing arbitration award – the Caps were unwilling to add salary and a contract without simultaneously taking a salary off the books.
We do have an explicit contradiction set up here: Vogel is saying that the Capitals’ concern was to do with salary. Tacopina says that it was to do with leverage in a trade. It’s probably worth noting here that the Capitals have more than $5MM in cap room at the moment, with 21 guys on the roster according to capgeek.com. They don’t seem to me to be in any cap trouble. If there’s an internal budget that they don’t want to go over, that’s one thing, but, IIRC, they were pretty close to the cap last year. Tacopina’s version, that the Caps wanted to maintain leverage for a trade, seems more likely to me than the Caps’ version.
This leads us to this, also from Vogel:
A month passed, bringing us to mid-August. The Caps told Tacopina that things were really quiet on the trade front, and that if they had something else they wanted to do with another club, they shouldn’t wait. If Belanger had anything else on the table at that point, it probably wasn’t as lucrative as Washington’s offer. Tacopina told the Caps they’d wait. At that point, the Belanger camp opted to leak news of the “deal” to a Canadian media outlet. Which is rarely a good idea.
According to Tacopina, this is how it happened:
Up until that point it was never a question as to “if” the trade would take place but “when” it would take place. That was until I received a call from Don on August 17th in which he told me that you were still working on the trade but if we were getting “restless” then we should “move on.” I explained to him that at this point in the summer….5 weeks after our offer and acceptance, that there were no other places for eric to move on to. That all of the teams that we were negotiating with in early july had themselves moved on when I told them that eric would no longer be available to negotiate at that time.
The timeline seems a little muddled here. I understand that Belanger’s rumoured deal turned up in the Canadian media on August 12, which is before mid-August. Vogel and the Caps put the leak after the conversation in which he was told that things were quiet and that they if they had something else, they should take it. That’s a pretty critical point, given that Vogel goes on to say this:
If it was already hard for the Caps to make a deal, it certainly didn’t get any easier when the word got out that Washington reportedly had an agreement with Belanger, but couldn’t move forward without a corresponding subtraction from the roster and the balance sheet.
Again, I’m not entirely certain that it’s correct to say that the Caps “…couldn’t move forward without a corresponding subtraction from the roster and the balance sheet.” If there’s an internal budget that they can’t go over, that’s one thing. It certainly doesn’t appear to be the case with the cap though. In any event, on Vogel’s version of events, the leak of the deal happens after the Capitals went to him and told him that, if he had anything else on the table, he shouldn’t wait.
McPhee called Belanger personally – one of several conversations he had with the player in the last two weeks – to tell him that since a trade was not in the offing, the Caps would not be able to move forward. The Caps GM did offer Belanger an invite to training camp, giving the center an opportunity to skate and stay in shape while waiting for a firm and acceptable contract offer from Washington or another club in the league.
Obviously, Belanger would have preferred to make $1.85 million playing for a good team in a city he was a bit familiar with, and for a coach with whom he has a history. He and his agent chose the risk of waiting for the Caps to make a trade.
The Caps did not make a deal. Belanger signed with Phoenix on Tuesday. Within hours, Washington offered the camp invite spot it had held for Belanger to Matt Hendricks.
Again – this is not the critical period. The complaint that Belanger has isn’t with the period in which he waited after he was told that the Capitals weren’t going to move forward – it’s with the period leading up to that, when he stopped negotiating with other teams on the Capitals’ assurance that they had a deal with him. Vogel’s post doesn’t really address that.
Coincidentally, Ted Leonsis, who cannot usually shut up when it comes to the slightest slur against the Capitals, explained the Capitals’ policy on people who unfairly criticize the team a few days ago:
We are our own largest media outlet now.
We will use all of the tools we have to protect our players and our reputation if and when we think we have been wronged by bad facts.
If you write something that is incorrect, we will let the world know. The rules have changed. It is no longer a one way street where you write and we hide. We are now bigger as a media outlet than most of the media that covers us. So write away and blog away. Ninety-nine percent of the stuff is great. When there is a comment or fact that is wrong, I reserve the right to point out the wrong facts or state my opinion. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
With an opportunity to use this forum he has created just a few days later, after an agent spent an entire day slamming the team – Tacopina actually said that the NHLPA wasn’t surprised that this was the Capitals and that other GM’s were critical of them as well, what does Leonsis this? This:
We need to respond and we need to be transparent.
I am sad to have to point to this article. All of this is allowing you to see how sometimes sausage gets made. I honestly wish none of this had become public but this is our side of the story. I was fully briefed and I believe what is written here to be fact.
You can and should make your own decision but it is just time now for us to put our side of the story out there.
The link is to the article written by Vogel. The one with all sorts of holes and unanswered questions that fails to address a number of critical points.
That is, in effect, three shots that the Capitals have had today to say that Tacopina’s version of events was materially wrong. If they had just left it with their first statement or refused to make any other comment or said that, in light of the potential for litigation, they couldn’t say anything, I’d understand. When they’ve obviously put some time into developing a strategy for this though and that’s what they came up with, it’s difficult to conclude that Tacospina’s version isn’t substantially right.