Sakic's farewell, Blackhawks gaffe, Leafs tampering and more
Joe Sakic surprised the NHL and perhaps himself during his stellar 20-year career
Chicago GM Dale Tallon's CBA violation in a free agent gaffe may cost him his job
A radio remark sparked an inquiry in Toronto, but Tampa Bay smells more fishy
It's never easy saying goodbye to a career, especially one that has been as productive and lengthy as Joe Sakic's, so it comes as some surprise that the laconic one actually consented to a media conference to say his farewell. Then again, Sakic was always full of surprises.
He surprised a lot of people when he emerged from a relatively mediocre 1987 draft to outshine the 14 players selected before him and everyone else taken after. He stunned the hockey world when he managed to play all of his 20 years with the same franchise -- the Quebec Nordiques-turned-Colorado Avalanche -- and he likely even surprised himself by playing most of them at such a stunningly high level.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Sakic is walking away after being named to Canada's tryout camp for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in his native British Columbia. But when you think about it, that is something Sakic would do.
All players claim to know when it is time to walk away, but very few really recognize when their time is at hand. Sakic does. Injuries have marred the last two years and prompted some to write that he may have stayed a year too long. But nobody knows Joe Sakic like he knows himself. He tried to come back, for himself and the Avs, and his comeback was a full-effort affair, but his body sent the message and his mind has received it.
Sakic said his initial plans don't go beyond taking some time to relax and think about his future, but he did say he spoke with Avs President Pierre Lacroix about the possibility of some role with the team and received an indication that there could be something there for him in the future.
"I want to get involved in a management role at some level," Sakic said about the only franchise he has ever played for. "I'm not sure what that role would be or even when, but I'm interested and we've discussed it. I'd like to learn that side of the business."
He also spoke with Steve Yzerman regarding his being invited to Team Canada's Olympic Hockey evaluation camp in August.
"I told Steve 'thank you", but I just couldn't do it," Sakic said. "It was hard because it's really my hometown (the 2010 Games are in Vancouver and Sakic was born in nearby Burnaby) and having been in three of them it would have been nice to make the last trip and have it be there, but I told him I couldn't. I was going to retire. That was really hard."
Sakic told Yzerman that if he had an off-ice role or need for his services in any fashion other than playing, he would be happy to help out, but he was not expecting anything to come of it. And so a great career is over, and this is one player who can surely walk away with no regrets -- as long as he doesn't think too much about those upcoming Winter Games in his backyard.
Chicago Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon did the right thing in taking blame for the foul-up that put his team at risk regarding eight restricted free agents. But like most people in authority, he didn't bother to explain exactly why the Hawks were late in filing their paperwork, who was responsible for the miscue (contrary to public perception, a GM generally doesn't lick stamps, call Fed Ex, or make sure there's toner in the fax machine). And Tallon hasn't exactly addressed the cost of his actions, which appear to be noteworthy.
If you missed the little kerfuffle, not only were the Hawks' offers late going out, they went out in the mail, a direct violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which specifies that they must be sent to players and their agents by fax or courier. In not doing so, some offers showed up in the mail after the deadline date, and the NHL Players Association filed a grievance.
In his defense, Tallon reported that the contracts went out before the deadline and it wasn't the Hawks' fault if they didn't reach their intended parties on time. He also said the team had faxed copies to the league office. The NHL is said to have looked into the matter and found no fault, but the PA sees it differently.
While that might seem like a small thing, it isn't.
The players had a right to know, on or before deadline, whether they'd be receiving qualifying offers. If they don't get one, they usually become unrestricted free agents and can sign with any team at any price they can negotiate. Technically, the Hawks didn't meet CBA obligations, and the PA is arguing, rightly, that the players should be free agents. The timing issue is most important because much of the market's money is consumed in the first 24 to 48 hours of the free agency period. After a certain amount is spent, teams, because of the cap, have less at their disposal and offers tend to go below market value.
On a second level, the miscue may have cost the Hawks a great deal of money and set them up for cap problems down the road, possibly as early as next season. In an effort to bring in the players before the grievance was decided, Tallon made offers and signed them, but in several cases, and we'll use the example of Calder Trophy finalist Kris Versteeg, Tallon may have been forced to overpay.
Versteeg on Wednesday signed a deal that reportedly pays $9.2 million over three years, a number similar to what teammate Cam Barker, also an RFA, received. That's a lot more than the Hawks would have paid if they'd made a timely offer for the required 10 percent on Versteeg's previous contract of $490,000. Had another team tried to sign the promising young player who had 53 points in 78 games, the Hawks would have had the right to match, or accept draft picks as compensation. They did get Versteeg signed, and that's a good thing, but they also take a much bigger cap hit on it and Cam Barker's new deal than maybe they would have. That's not a good thing for a team that was up against the cap last season before adding Marian Hossa and his 12-year mega-deal.
Because of the Hawks' signings, the PA has withdrawn its grievance, but the issue isn't over. The mistakes coupled with the surprising and lamentable loss of highly-regarded assistant GM Rick Dudley (to Atlanta in what amounts to little more than a lateral move) have people wondering about the status of the good ship Blackhawks.
The franchise is the feel-good story of the recently completed season, but there have been several questionable moves of late (Hossa's contract could be crippling over time) and teh money spent -- some would say overspent -- on goalie Cristobal Huet and defenseman Brian Campbell last year likely will prove to be misspent. The Hawks have a problem if the erratic Huet can't step up to replace the departed Nikolai Khabibulin (now in Edmonton via free agency). There are whispers of infighting between the hockey department and the business side (whispers that team owner Rocky Wirtz has emphatically denied), but if true they suggest that perhaps not everyone is on the same page as to what needs to be done to keep the once moribund franchise going forward.
In taking the blame for the mistake, Tallon sets himself up as the fall guy when the cap issues come to a head. When young stars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brent Seabrook come off their current (and very affordable contracts), the Hawks will have real problems. If they lose one of those players and ownership or upper management comes looking for someone to sacrifice to a questioning fan base, Tallon -- the only real holdover from when Wirtz's father Bill ran the organization with an iron fist wrapped around every nickel and dime -- will make a more than convenient scapegoat.
That could happen a lot sooner than even Tallon suspects.
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