Mike Keenan was on Greg Brady’s show this morning on the Fan 590 in Toronto:
“Well it’s not even what I’m hearing, I know when he negotiated the contract that it was certainly his intention that he would not play that final year, that he’d go back to Finland, so I’m assuming he hasn’t changed his mind…”
Mike Keenan was the head coach in Calgary when Kiprusoff signed that contract and would be in a position to know these things. I’m told that he was even more explicit on last night’s Sportsnet panel, going so far as to use the phrase “mutual understanding.” This is an aside, but some of the Sportsnet panelists seem to understand that they have entered a confessional, not a TV set, and that Jeff Marek is a priest of some sort, there to grant absolution for past sins. I’ve watched Doug MacLean talking about how he’d go up to agents of guys who are about to become UFAs at the draft and say things like “Boy, I sure need a left handed shooting defenceman” which seems like obvious tampering to me.
ANYWAY, the 2005 NHL CBA rule on this is pretty clear:
(a) No Club or Club Actor, directly or indirectly, may: (i) enter into any agreements, promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind, whether express, implied, oral or written, including without limitation, any SPC, Qualifying Offer, Offer Sheet or other transaction…if (it) is intended to or has the effect of defeating or Circumventing the provisions of this Agreement or the intention of the parties as reflected by the provisions of this Agreement, including without limitation, provisions with respect to the financial and other reporting obligations of the Clubs and the League, Team Payroll Range, Player Compensation Cost Redistribution System, the Entry Level System and/or Free Agency.
There’s an identical rule for players. The CBA goes on to impose pretty onerous reporting obligations on teams as far as reporting potential circumvention:
26.7 Disclosure of Agreements
(a) It is the affirmative obligation of each Club, Club Actor and the NHL upon learning of any Circumvention or fact that would reasonably appear to indicate the occurrence of a Circumvention, promptly to disclose in writing such Circumvention(s), and/or fact(s) to the Commissioner of the NHL.
(c) The failure to promptly disclose as required in (a) and (b) above shall be deemed a Circumvention.
It could be reasonably argued that every NHL team or “Club Actor” who becomes aware of Keenan’s comments is obliged to report them to the NHL, lest they circumvent the CBA themselves and the entire NHL collapses. So, if someone in the Oilers’ organization were to happen across this post, I would expect them to consider whether these are facts that require a report to the Commissioner.
In making that decision, should they take into account that, if there was a mutual understanding, Calgary has been engaged in a form of financial doping that hurt the Oilers’ chances to make the playoffs? If I owned Oilers’ tickets in 2007-08 (Kiprusoff was signed in October of 2007 – the Flames may have had to make roster moves if Kiprusoff’s deal was for five years with a $6.7MM cap hit) or 2008-09 (when Kiprusoff’s new deal was in effect and the Flames were so tight against the salary cap that they dressed 15 skaters a few times), I would expect that the organization would take steps to ensure that clubs that may have cheated and deprived me of a fair shot at the playoffs were properly investigated by the NHL. It’s a question of the duty that a club owes the people who support it financially.
Calgary, of course, made the playoffs in both 2007-08 and 2008-09, while the Oilers missed out by three points and six points. It was close enough that it’s not implausible to think that the Flames might have slipped if they’d had to restructure their team to accomodate Kiprusoff. If the Flames and Kiprusoff conspired to circumvent the salary cap system, the Flames should be punished for it.
In all honesty, if this did happen, I think it’s more pernicious than what the New Jersey Devils were punished for. With the Ilya Kovalchuk contract, the contract was there for everyone to look at. The Devils weren’t trying to hide anything from the NHL. If Keenan is right, Kiprusoff entered into this contract with no intention of playing the final year of it and, if he did use the phrase “mutual understanding” on TV last night, it suggests a joint intention. It’s hard to see how that could be remotely close to complying with what the CBA requires. The whole game with these contracts is that both sides need to pretend – even as between themselves – that the guy intends to play out the deal. It’s virtually impossible to police, obviously – there’s nothing in writing and it’s in nobody’s interest to say anything. The only way you can get caught is if someone spills the beans.
In this case, Keenan appears to have done so. Part of the justification for acting harshly in cases where it’s very difficult to detect a rules violation is to deter those who might be tempted to commit it – “I know that I’m unlikely to catch you if you break the rules but if you do there will be hell to pay” is a reasonably good deterrent. I’ll be very interested to see if the NHL is interested in investigating one of the more powerful teams in the NHL.Email Tyler Dellow at firstname.lastname@example.org