Sakic's farewell, more notes (cont.)
Did the Maple Leafs tamper?
Toronto GM Brian Burke acknowledged this week that the NHL is looking into a possible tampering charge regarding a comment that coach Ron Wilson made on Toronto radio station Fan 590. In an on-air interview with host Bob McCown, Wilson indicated to a Canada-wide audience that the Leafs might have an interest in the Sedin twins should they choose not to re-sign with Vancouver. He made the remark while his boss, Burke, was in Sweden, which just happens to be the Sedins' native country, while the twins were there awaiting the opening of the free-agency window.
Now, Burke has maintained that he was in Sweden only to speak to Jonas Gustavsson, a coveted goalie prospect who also happened to be undrafted and therefore free to sign with any NHL team. Burke's argument is backed up by the fact that he'd made several trips to meet with Gustavsson and the goalie did indeed sign with the Leafs just days after the Sedins re-upped with the Canucks. However, Burke's travel to Sweden is not the crux of the case. Wilson's comments are.
His exact quote was: "You're hearing right now, and this sounds very contradictory but, there's a real possibility, I would think, that we would be going after the Sedins. Let's just speculate there."
Wilson appears to be covering his comment by moving it into the realm of speculation, but NHL bylaw No. 15 (and we all have access to the once-secret NHL bylaws courtesy of them being made a part of the public record in the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy case) defines tampering as: "the making or causing to be made through any medium, public or private, any statement indicating any intention or desire of or interest in acquiring the services [of a player on another club]."
There are several interesting issues here: one is that the Canucks have not filed a tampering charge, so one wonders why the NHL is so interested. Another is that last season Burke accused the Oilers of tampering with forward Corey Perry, who was an Anaheim Duck when Burke was GM. The Oilers' then-GM Kevin Lowe made a statement very much like Wilson's, saying Edmonton would "love to have [Perry]." The NHL is known to have investigated that remark, but it did not fine Lowe or censure the Oilers.
Should the Leafs be found guilty after the precedent set by the investigation into Lowe (and we should note that Lowe and Burke are fierce rivals bordering on flat-out enemies), it would come as a surprise to many and appear to be a case of selective prosecution. What Wilson did was technically -- if you read the bylaw closely -- wrong, and therefore tampering even though he tried to put it in the "speculative" arena.
The intent of the bylaw is to keep club personnel from signaling intent to a prospective free agent or player who might force a trade if it were made clear that a team he was interested in playing for was interested in him. An argument can be made that Wilson did exactly that. He sent a message, if not to the Sedins directly, and any agent worth his commission would have picked up on it. In making the investigation public, Burke appears to have violated an unwritten rule that says neither the NHL nor individuals are to reveal what are almost always internal investigations, but in this case it may have been in his best interest to do so.
On one level, Burke projects the image of an honest, forthcoming executive who wants things clearly above board. He even went so far to say that if the NHL rules that Wilson tampered, the Leafs will accept any punishment even though they might disagree. Burke also set off media who have dug into similar cases (Lowe; one against the Sabres regarding their desire to hire a goaltending coach in the employ of the Ducks before Burke was their GM; and Tampa Bay GM Brian Lawton saying he was interested in trading his second overall draft pick to the Leafs for Luke Schenn and Tomas Kaberle). Reports would seem to box the NHL into a double standard should it come down hard on the Leafs.
Ah the games the boys play. They aren't all on the ice now, are they?
A fishy deal
While on the subject of tampering, perhaps the NHL would want to look into the deal that brought Mattias Ohlund to Tampa Bay. The veteran Vancouver defenseman was one of the first players snapped up after the free-agency period opened. Ohlund signed off on an amazingly complicated deal only 15 minutes after the opening bell. The deal is so complex that it would take an ordinary man some 15 hours just to wade through its various stages and incremental salary increases over its seven-year life. A player and his agent couldn't possibly understand all the ramifications (let alone make a counter-offer or tweak an element of the deal) in the time they agreed to ink the bottom line. The length of term is surprising for a defenseman who will be 33 when training camp opens.
It's not that this kind of hurry-up deal doesn't happen a lot, but if Burke and the Leafs merit an investigation for a simple comment on the radio, it's hard not to argue that a document so complex it would befuddle former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan doesn't merit at least a look-see for any impropriety.
The Leafs made a nice pickup in getting Jonas Gustavsson to commit to a one-year deal. They were limited by the CBA regarding the amount of years (because of the goalie's age and European status, both sides were limited to one year), but there is room for future negotiations.
I'm always leery about players who bear the "best (fill in the positional blank) outside the NHL" tag. There's usually a reason a guy goes from draft age (18) to star prospect at age 24 without drawing NHL interest, but Gustavsson had creditable numbers playing in the Swedish Elite League last season and one need only take a look at how long it took Boston goalie Tim Thomas to develop and attract the attention of NHL scouts (he was over 30 and playing in Finland when he finally got a real offer) to understand that Gustavsson -- nicknamed The Monster because of his size and ability to cover so much of the cage -- was worthy of a bid.
It's not likely that Gustavsson comes in as the starter, but he could get half the games. Should he push past the diminutive and seemingly injury-prone veteran Vesa Toskala, well, Burke and Wilson always did seem to like big goalies best.
Though it was not meant with any ill feelings, former Canadiens captain Saku Koivu struck exactly the right tone at the presser to announce his free-agent signing with the Ducks when he said, "What (I was) looking for was a team that had a legitimate chance to compete for the Stanley Cup."
Did you get the message, Montreal and Minnesota?
Montreal simply didn't want their captain anymore. They felt his time as an upper echelon player was over and that investing more money in his slow downward spiral wasn't in their best interest. It's a fair, reasonable business stance given the state of the franchise these days. The Canadiens aren't a Cup contender and there are concerns that the remade version GM Bob Gainey is putting together might not even be a playoff team next season, so not attempting to sign Koivu actually did him a favor.
The slippery forward got good money for his one-year deal with the Ducks (reportedly $3 million U.S.) and he'll skate for a team that could have a shot at the Cup next season. Just as important, Koivu gets to play with a fellow Finn and friend Teemu Selanne. There should be enough chemistry and skill left in those four aging legs to make something happen on a quality second scoring line and very interesting power play for a team that just missed getting past Detroit in the Western Conference.
As for his much-rumored signing with the Wild and brother Mikko, Koivu addressed that properly as well. He said there was a risk of jeopardizing his relationship with his brother by signing with the same team, and that it was a safer, easier choice to sign elsewhere. Saku probably could have also said that the Wild weren't likely to contend or offer the same money the Ducks did, especially for the time he has left, but this guy never was one to rock the boat. He left Montreal with the class and dignity that have been as much a part of his career as his immense skating ability and crafty touch around the net.
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