Strange Days Have Found Us

What a bizarre 24 hours it has been for the Blackhawks. 

On Sunday evening, the NHL predictably found nothing wrong with what the Blackhawks did in the ‘Qualifying Offers Mailing Fiasco’. 

Early Monday, they announced the signings of restricted free agents Ben Eager, Troy Brouwer, Colin Fraser, Corey Crawford, and Aaron Johnson.

Monday evening, the NHLPA decided to file a grievance on behalf of Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker because of the Blackhawks inability to get the offer sheets to them in a timely enough manner.

Then, later Monday evening, Cam Barker agreed to a 3-year, $9.25 million deal with a 3.08 cap hit with the Blackhawks.

So the cheese –Kris Versteeg– now stands alone.  So how in the name of Franistek Kucera did we get to this point and what exactly is the Hawks’ defense going to be in this case?  Thankfully for you (and me), one half of the Fifth Feather writing staff (Bobby) has a law degree and can break down the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the ease of Patrick Kane carving through the Canucks defense.

Here’s his take on the whole situation:

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Given last week’s signing of Marian Hossa and our analysis regarding how it affects Kris Versteeg (Hint: He gone!), as well as Monday evening’s three-year extension for Cam Barker, the grievance filed by the NHLPA Monday has essentially become the battle for compensation in return for Versteeg.  There is, of course, much at stake. 

In the event the grievance reaches an arbitrator (which appears highly likely at this juncture), the runner-up for the Calder Trophy could become an unrestricted free agent, where the Blackhawks will have no more rights to the winger than any other team.  If an arbitrator determines the opposite, the Hawks, at the worst, stand to receive a small handful of picks as compensation for losing the restricted free agent. 

The issue, of course, centers around whether the Blackhawks’ restricted free agents – now, only Versteeg – appropriately received the qualifying offers necessary to make each player a restricted free agent, as opposed to an unrestricted free agent.  As an initial matter, it would be important to note that Versteeg may have very little to lose in waiting until the grievance is settled. 

After all, it would seem unlikely Versteeg will be a Blackhawk when the season begins in Finland later this year, and gaining access to the open market could mean an extra $1 million or $2 million per season for him. 

So, what went wrong last week with the qualifying offers? 

Section 10.2(a)(ii) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) between the League and its Players Union states the following: “In order to receive a Right of First Refusal … with respect to a Restricted Free Agent, the Prior Club of a Restricted Free Agent must tender to the Player, no later than 5:00 p.m. New York time on … the first Monday after the Entry Draft of the final year of the Player’s (Standard Player Contract), a “Qualifying Offer.” 

The same Section goes on to explain, “A Qualifying Offer will be deemed to have met the above requirements if the Prior Club timely provides the Player a completed copy of the notice attached as Exhibit 19 hereto, in accordance with Exhibit 3 hereto.” 

Exhibit 3, which governs all notices under the CBA, states that the delivery of a notice to a Player must be delivered in the following manner: “From the day after the conclusion of a Player’s Playing Season until the commencement of the Player’s subsequent Playing Season, notice(s) shall be sent via overnight delivery to the Player’s off-season address which the Player provides to the Club.”  However, Exhibit 3 also goes on to say the following: “If no method of service is specified in this Agreement, service of the required notice shall be effectuated by either facsimile transmission or overnight mail delivery by an established nation-wide delivery service.” 

While it’s not clear whether the “method of service is specified” within the CBA for the delivery of a qualifying offer, it’s quite clear that a qualifying offer must be, among other things, either faxed or mailed overnight to the player. 

According to numerous sources, Dale Tallon and the Blackhawks neglected to do either: they admittedly did not fax the qualifying offer and overnight mail last Monday would have arguably found the mailing in the players’ hands on Tuesday.  As the players apparently did not receive the qualifying offers by last Saturday, it stands to reason the mailings indeed were not sent via overnight mail. 

Thus, at quick glance, it certainly appears the Blackhawks failed to follow the formalistic process required to issue a qualifying offer to make the players, Kris Versteeg including, restricted free agents. 

So, what can be done? 

What’s interesting is the apparent “catch-all” at the bottom of Exhibit 3, which reads, “In the event the method of service specified is not available (e.g., overnight delivery to a specified address), the next most reasonable and efficient service available shall be utilized, provided such service provides a written verification or other record of delivery (e.g., certified or registered mail or overnight delivery).” 

The clause begs the questions: When is a method of service “not available” and what is the “next most reasonable and efficient service available”?

If the grievance reaches an arbitrator, it’s possible the Blackhawks and counsel could base an argument around this last clause, arguing that the upcoming Canadian holiday – Wednesday, the first, is Canada Day – gave the organization concerns about whether an overnight mailing sent Monday would actually reach its destination during the next day.  Thus, as the argument could go, the team considered the overnight service to be “not available” and chose “the next most reasonable and efficient service available,” which they considered to be standard mail coupled with some sort of written verification. 

Alternatively, if the grievance reaches an arbitrator, the Hawks could also make a policy argument, as a decision against the Blackhawks would be antithetical to the policy underlying restricted free agency.  As the policy seeks to reward teams for good drafting and player development, allowing a promising young player to escape restricted free agency due to a formalistic gaffe would not serve such a policy. 

Ultimately, Kris Versteeg may have ideas to wait this process out and perhaps find himself in unrestricted free agency when all is said and done.  What happens in the end depends almost entirely on internal politics and perhaps the decision of an arbitrator.  At that point, all bets are off.

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So there you have it. 

With Cam Barker agreeing to a contract, the pressure of these hearings for the Hawks has eased up considerably.  Losing Versteeg’s rights will sting; Losing Barker AND Versteeg’s rights because of a clerical error could have been downright devastating.

Really quick, I’d also like to nix this popular theory out there that there’s an elaborate scheme within members of the Hawks front office to make Dale Tallon look like a buffoon and subsequently, get him fired in the process.

First of all, Monday is not “GM walks the mail to the Post Office” Day at the United Center.  Tallon, like everyone else in a position of power and responsibility, has assistants and secretaries who take care of arbitrary things such as mailing documents.  He doesn’t fill out slips for FedEx or DHL.  Very likely, someone who you never heard of, made a very bad mistake.

Now, this theory that someone under him would concoct this scheme to make him look bad; that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either.  Since October, there’s been whispers that John McDonough and Tallon do not get along. 

If McDonough really doesn’t like him, then there’s no need for someone to put on this big dog and pony show to prove Tallon’s incompetence.  What’s the point of putting on this long drawn out operation for someone who isn’t that crazy about the General Manager to begin with?  Not to mention, putting the franchise in a very dangerous position and making their job that much more difficult if they were to take over for Tallon.  Doesn’t make one bit of sense.

If anything, this whole big conspiracy (it was Scotty Bowman with the letter opener in the visitor’s dressing room) would prove that McDonough and Rocky Wirtz were actually head over heels in love with Dale Tallon this whole time.

And I don’t think anyone really believes that.

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One Response to Strange Days Have Found Us

  1. Lee says:

    WSCR said this morning that they are negotiating with Steeger

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