And You Thought Shoulder Surgery was Bad?

Detroit GM Ken Holland may have bested the Blackhawks again – this time during the off season.

Though details are scarce at this time, the Toronto Sun is reporting the Blackhawks are under investigation by the NHL for “circumventing” the terms of the current CBA by signing Marian Hossa to a 12-year deal under which Hossa will receive less than $1 million on average for the final four years – a tool Holland arguably placed into the GM toolbox with the Zetterberg and Franzen deals. The NHL may apparently charge the Hawks with entering into an oral agreement, if not an informal one, with Hossa at the time the contract was signed that would see the new Hawk signee retire sometime after the seventh year of the deal when his annual take declines precipitously.  In that instance, Hossa’s retirement would save the Hawks – if the current CBA were in effect at the time of the retirement – a $5 million cap hit during the deal’s remaining years.

For completeness, the CBA does by its terms prohibit such misconduct. Article 26, subsection 26.3 of the agreement prohibits clubs from, “directly or indirectly … enter(ing) 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 (Standard Player Contract) … 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 … provisions with respect to … Team Payroll Range …”

Though it’s almost impossible to tell what, if any, action the NHL will ultimately take with respect to this situation – there is, after all, no precedent here – it’s important to note that the “circumvention” described above does not include an intent element; that is, a club can be penalized under the terms of the CBA for actions merely “(having) the effect of defeating … the provisions of the” CBA. If the NHL decides to take a step closer to penalizing the Hawks, that will make its job much easier.

And, while other teams – most notably, the rival Wings – have entered into similar contracts with players, arguably none have involved such a strong likelihood of the player’s retirement during the latter portions of the respective agreements.

Finally, some may be wondering – our commenter Coach included – whether this could have been the underlying reason for Tallon’s dismissal. And, while I certainly do not know the answer to that question, it could finally bring some level of explanation for the move and, more importantly, the reason for the way it was handled. Remember, during that time, we found it difficult to buy what little explanation we received from Hawks’ management as to why the decision was made, but keeping quiet about this particular subject is, at the least, understandable – and yet another example of why it’s so difficult to criticize organizations from the outside.

Stay tuned, folks.  At the least, a look at the Hawks’ best arguments against possible NHL allegations will be forthcoming later today or tonight.

Suddenly, a review of Brent Sopel’s glorious ’08-’09 campaign is much less interesting…

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9 Responses to And You Thought Shoulder Surgery was Bad?

  1. John says:

    So the guy who was described by the team owner as being ‘the brain trust behind Dale’ comes off scott-free again? I have a hard time believing this was the reason Tallon was let go.

    People keep looking for reasons why Tallon was replaced but the reason may be as simple as he’s not Scotty Bowman’s son.

  2. blackhawkbob says:

    Certainly right there with you, John. Just looking for reasons to give management the benefit of the doubt for once, I guess.

  3. coach says:

    Let the conspiracy theories begin, but lets not fool ourselves into not thinking that there are not petty jealousies and corporate rivalries at every level of our business world. So trying to one up someone could cause you to stretch or to bend some rules to be able to puff out your chest and say hey look what l did. Not taking into account the rammafications that may occur.

  4. Lou says:

    And, the NHL should not assume that a player is going to retire at or around 40. Schneider is 40 and he is still a viable PP player. Guerin is close to 40 and he is playing. Pronger’s contract will take him to that age. Recchi is over 40 etc. Shanahan is still trying to play one more year. Roloson is not a spring chicken and just signed a two or three yr deal. And then their is Mr. Chelios. He is older than dirt. So the NHL can’t use that as a viable argument given they have players in that age. Hossa is an elite talent and quite capable of playing to nearly 40 so it is not out of the realm of possibility.

    The NHL would surely get challenged legally by the Hawks if they were issued sanctions. The NHL sure are going to have a hard time proving that with substantive fact short of testimony from multiple sources within the organization. Additionally, the Hawks may have exposed a major loophole in the CBA and done it by the book and other teams may now be sqauwking. Maybe Dale objected to this creativity and got moved out? That would be an intersting avenue

    The only way the NHL can fix this is through the next CBA.

  5. Lou says:

    And what does Zetterbergs contract do when he hits 40 an 41.

    Detroit started this and it would really make life interesting for the NHL in court if the do something to the Hawks and ignore other teams

    I think this will become a mjor contract point in the next CBA

    If the hawks were operating within the CBA and were able to be creative at the expense of the other teams. You can’t just punish them even it they were more front heavy than others.

  6. blackhawkbob says:

    The NHL isn’t necessarily assuming Hossa will retire when he’s 40, Lou. What they are assuming, however, is that he won’t play for $750,000 per when he’s 40. All the players you’ve mentioned – Guerin, Schneider, etc. – make significantly more than that.

    As for Zetterberg, you’re right, Lou. There’s more than one culprit here; no doubt about it.

  7. Lou says:

    Bob, great and true point. But he may play too and some of those guys may play for cheap too. So, the NHL is gonna have a tough one here. If they do something and the Hawks take it to arbitration or court, the NHL has to prove their case and then the Hawks will bring in other similar contracts and it may create an ugly fight with PR ramifications that the NHL might not want at this time.

    IMO, the smart play by Bettman is to use this as part of the leverage for the next CBA. With Hockey coming back from it’s last labor dispute and baseball loaded with the PED saga, Bettman and company might choose to fight this battle a different way.

  8. Lou says:

    Vinny LeCav’s last two years are 1.5 and 1 and Franzen gets 4mm over the last 3 years.

    The NHL is gonn have a hard case if the try to make an example out of the Hawks especially when some of their high profile stars and elite teams have similar situations. Welcome to the new world of the next collective bargaining session.

  9. feyer says:

    Talk about calling the kettle black! I dunno – maybe it’s a complete surprise to to some folks that the structure of this contract was designed to circumvent the cap. It isn’t a surprise to me however that it took Bettman a month to figure that out. After all, long frontend loaded contracts with reduced cap hits and little chance of playing out to the end have been signed since before the ink on the CBA was even dry. Sure, the magnitude of variance on this one surpasses all to date, but I really don’t expect the league to take a look at every variable pay contract signed since 2005. This will pass. Bring on the season so we have something more interesting to worry about.

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