Saturday, July 4, 2009

Martin Havlat Believes in Karma

TSN is reporting that several restricted free agents that play for the Chicago Blackhawks:

Chicago tendered qualifying offers to several key players this week, including Kris Versteeg, Cam Barker, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, Aaron Johnson and Troy Brouwer however the investigation underway is to determine whether the qualifying offers were filed correctly.

If not, there is the remote possibility the qualifying offers could be ruled invalid and the players listed above, conceivably, could be deemed unrestricted free agents because of the blunder.


Chicago general manager Dale Tallon says the qualifying offers were mailed to the players in time, on June 29th, but says because of the July 1 holiday, some of the players didn't receive them in time... Tallon says fax copies of the offers were sent to the league, so he doesn't anticipate any significant fall out.

The fact that there is any doubt about whether or not the qualifying offers were filed incorrectly should be reason enough for Tallon to be fired. This is not the kind of thing that is particularly difficult but, if done incorrectly, can cost the team dearly in terms of cash, cap space and talent. Frankly, the Hawks look to be up the creek as well. The CBA seems to be quite clear on this issue (the first paragraph is from 10.2(a) on page 28 and the second is from Exhibit 3 on page 256):

"In order to receive a Right of First Refusal or Draft Choice Compensation (at the prior club's option) with respect to a Restricted Free Agent, the prior club of the Restricted Free Agent must tender to the Player, no later than 5:00 p.m. New York time on the later of June 25 or the first Monday after the Entry Draft of the finaal year of the Player's SPC, a "Qualifying Offer," which shall be an offer of an SPC..."

"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... If no method of service is specified in this Agreement, service of the required notice shall be effectuated by either facsimilie transmission or overnight mail delivery by an established nation-wide delivery service."

There are quite a few problems, then, with what Mr. Tallon has done here. Firstly, Tallon sent the qualifying offers on the day that they needed to be received. The due date for qualifying offers this year was in fact June 29th. His excuse that the players did not receive them in time because of the July 1st holiday is therefore completely irrelevant. The fact that there is a holiday two days after the deadline has precisely no bearing on whether or not the qualifying offer has been received by the deadline. If I have a report due on June 29th I cannot claim that the July 1st holiday prevented me from finishing it on time.

Secondly, Tallon, apparently, used regular mail. This is in clear violation of the CBA which states that all correspondance must be sent to the player via overnight delivery. If Tallon had sent the qualifying offers on June 29th via overnight delivery there is no reason for them not to have been received by June 30th (which would still be late, but we've covered that one already). Thus, it seems that Tallon not only sent the offers late, but also by improper means.

Thirdly, Tallon's defense is that he sent faxed copies of the offers were sent to the league... which is completely irrelevant. The CBA requires that the player receives the qualifying offer by the first Monday after the entry draft. If the player does not receive the offer, the team loses their Right of First Refusal and their ability to collect draft pick compensation. The fact that the league received copies of the offers does not matter if the players didn't receive them.

The fact that Tallon is using this as his defense suggests that he is guilty of being in violation of the collective bargaining agreement. If this is so, he should be fired whether or not the players actually become unrestricted free agents. This is simply terrible management. However, the fact that the players did not declare themselves unrestricted free agents on July 1st is curious. It seems that Tallon may have called the players to let them know that offers were coming and the players decided to let it slide. So why is the story coming out now? To be honest I'm not sure. Apparently Allan Walsh tweeted about the qualifying offers not being sent shortly after the story appeared on TSN. If I had a guess, it would be that Allan Walsh is in fact TSN's source and that, at least his client, may want to test the UFA waters but isn't sure how to go about doing it. If the player agreed verbally that he considered himself to have received a qualifying offer he may not be sure of his status.

The situation is similar to one that occured in 2000 when Lou Lamoreillo forgot (dear me...) to send qualifying offers to John Madden and Brian Rafalski (and he resigned both of them). In that case both players became unrestricted free agents. Still, there are important differences. Firstly, there was a different CBA in place in 2000. Secondly, the players were not sent qualifying offers at all. Thirdly, the players knew that they were unrestricted free agents and didn't, as far as I know, give any verbal indication otherwise. I can see why this situation is a bit more nuanced. Offers were sent but they were late. Tallon, it seems, made contact with the players and the players, by virtue of the fact that they did not declare themselves unrestricted free agents, seemed to accept that they had in fact been qualified. It will be interesting to see if any of the players takes this decision to an arbitrator. Tom Benjamin has suggested that the agents will need to strongly defend the rights of their players here since both the NHL and NHLPA would probably rather the players remain restricted free agents. I don't think that's entirely true with respect to the NHLPA. Surely the union has an interest in making sure the clubs comply with the rules of the CBA. The last thing the players need is for teams to begin to get wishy-washy on whether or not they are restricted or unrestricted free agents on July 1st. As such, I would expect the union to strongly back the players right to be unrestricted free agents.

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