Hockey Headlines

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Lynch Mob

TEEBZ'S NOTE: I apologize for not publishing this on Monday night, but I wanted to be sure I had everything right. Apparently in my course of pointing the finger at Evgeni Nabokov this weekend for his holding out on the New York Islanders, some people feel that I may have taken the wrong stance on this. I understand that there may be some confusion with regards to the stance I presented, but I need to clarify some major points. The discussion on that article is very good, and I want no one to feel they have to agree with me in any way if they feel that I am wrong. That's the entire basis for a discussion from what I understand. Instead, we need to look at the cold, hard facts of this discussion, and determine what is right and what is wrong from this situation's standpoint.

First, I want to say that I have no problem admitting that I am wrong, and I will state that in this article. I made an error earlier this evening when I posted a comment, and I will clarify my misunderstanding and misreading of another article. I can assure you that I have no problem being wrong, and that it happens more often than I'd like to admit. That being said, let's work through the facts.

  1. Evgeni Nabokov signed a contract with the Detroit Red Wings. From what I understand, Ken Holland offered Nabokov a pro-rated contract that covered the remainder of the season, and Nabokov accepted the terms and signed the deal. The contract was then validated by the NHL, and Nabokov just needed to clear re-entry waivers for him to join the Red Wings for the remainder of the season.
  2. The Detroit Red Wings placed Nabokov on re-entry waivers in order for Nabokov to join the Red Wings. The reason he is placed on waivers is because he started the season in the KHL. The NHL CBA states that any player who begins the NHL season playing outside North America must clear re-entry waivers if he is signed by an NHL team during the current season. (Teebz: I made an error here, and I'll clarify my misunderstanding below.)
  3. The New York Islanders, needing an upgrade in goaltending from their current options, claimed Evgeni Nabokov on re-entry waivers from the Detroit Red Wings. Most likely, there were several teams who placed a claim on Nabokov, but the NHL rules state that the New York Islanders would be the team to claim Nabokov. The reason for this is that after November 1, the "priority is set by the League standings at the time the waiver request is submitted; the team with the lowest percentage of possible points has 1st priority". Because neither New Jersey nor Edmonton put a claim in on Nabokov, the Islanders received first priority.
  4. Evgeni Nabokov refused to report to the New York Islanders despite signing a valid contract that the Islanders had to honour.
Ok, so we know these facts to be the cold, hard truth. While the details surrounding these facts can certainly be debated and discussed, there's no denying that Nabokov signed a contract with Detroit, that he was put on re-entry waivers, that he was claimed by the New York Islanders, and that he refused to report to Long Island.

Where I screwed up, and I apologize for my mistake, was in the option to trade Nabokov if the Islanders wanted to do so. In fact, they cannot without putting him on re-entry waivers themselves, and then the option for his rights would go to the next lowest team in the standings who put a claim on Nabokov through waivers. I messed that part up totally, and I apologize for my oversight in the discussion on the comments.

Back to the problem at hand....

There are certainly a number of factors that could have influenced Nabokov to sign with Detroit - the chance at a Stanley Cup, the opportunity to stick it to the San Jose Sharks, a chance to do both in the same season - but the fact is that he signed with a team that is sitting in fourth-place overall in the NHL standings. That means there are 26 other teams below Detroit in the standings that could put a claim in on Nabokov once he hits the re-entry waiver wire.

I fail to believe that Nabokov's agent, Don Meehan, didn't know about what may happen once Nabokov hit the waiver wire. Meehan has been around hockey since the early-1980s as a player agent, and his company, Newport Sports Management Inc., has over 100 current and retired NHL players on its client list. He's been involved in some very tough negotiations over his career as an agent, and he's certainly astute when it comes to the NHL's contractual agreements.

Blaming the agent, in this case, for not knowing the NHL's waiver rule seems futile. Meehan knows. And if he doesn't, he's certainly been fooling a lot of people with his knowledge of the NHL's workings. My guess is that Nabokov was advised by Meehan to sign with Detroit, and walk away if any non-playoff teams claimed him through the waiver wire.

One commenter, Joshua, got me thinking when he said that it was Nabokov's right to determine where he chooses to play. While this is certainly true if he was a free agent, he's fairly limited once his signature is on a contract. But the opportunity to win with a good team rarely comes along as good teams rarely need a goaltender when they are winning. Therefore, Nabokov jumped at the opportunity to join a contender as Detroit was in the position of needing a goaltender with Jimmy Howard hurting, Chris Osgood on the shelf with surgery, and Thomas McCollum out with a broken finger.

Where Don Meehan comes into play is that I feel that Meehan would have advised his client of the re-entry waiver rule as his counsel, and then proceeded to let Nabokov decide his own future. In a way, Meehan did his job while technically not doing his job as Nabokov's contract advisor. Can I blame Meehan for Nabokov's decision? No, not without some sort of concrete proof. Ultimately, the decision to sign with Detroit still comes down to Nabokov because his hand holds the pen that signs on the dotted line.

Where Meehan's advisory role may have come into play is when the New York Islanders claimed Nabokov once he hit the waiver wire. And here's why: I don't know what relationship Don Meehan has with the New York Islanders, but of all the players he represents as an agent, only five of them are New York Islanders: Josh Bailey, Travis Hamonic, Matt Martin, Matt Moulson, and Rob Schremp. Clients Peter Mannino, Pat Lafontaine, Ryan Smyth, Andy Sutton, Trevor Linden, and Mike Peca all left the confines of Long Island, and never returned as an Islander. Do we see a trend here?

Of course, there has been an endless amount of turnover in personnel on Long Island in the last two decades, so I can't really say that Meehan's clients are recommended to sign elsewhere, but you would think that fan favorites such as Mike Peca and Pat Lafontaine - two captains of the Islanders, no less - would have stayed or returned to the Island if they had the chance. Instead, they took their talents elsewhere when the opportunity arose. Again, where the player ultimately decides to sign is his choice, but the player's agent certainly has some influence on that decision.

Going back to the advisory role that Meehan plays, I think that Nabokov wanted to sign with Detroit for a chance at a Stanley Cup, and that he may have taken a shot at a Stanley Cup had teams like Chicago, Vancouver, Pittsburgh, or Philadelphia came calling. But once the opportunity for a long playoff run vanished with the waiver wire claim by the Islanders, Nabokov said "no thanks" despite having signed a valid contract with Detroit. And I think that Meehan may have told Nabokov that if he gets claimed through waivers to just sit it out.

Think about it: if you don't get a chance at a Stanley Cup, why risk injury on a team that sees more rubber than a Goodyear factory? As an advisor, that kind of advice is gold to a player, and I think Nabokov wouldn't bat an eyelash if he was told this.

Again, Meehan knows the waiver rules. There's absolutely no doubt that he's one of the most intelligent and successful agents in hockey today, so he knows what he's doing when it comes to these kinds of situations.

As for Nabokov, I think he knew exactly what he was doing when he signed the contract with Detroit: Stanley Cup or nothing. He doesn't need the money, and he doesn't need the hassle of playing with a bottom-feeding team like the Islanders. So why risk anything by leaving the California sun to play on Long Island?

Oh yeah, there's that little contract issue. If Meehan and Nabokov knew about this waiver issue going in, a bare-bones, minimum salary contract wasn't going to stop them. That's just a minor inconvenience right now. Through this whole ordeal, it seems Nabokov's team never lost sight of their goal: Stanley Cup or nothing.

Who needs free agency in this day and age when you can choose who to play for after half the season is over?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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