Work in Sports
Dumb and dumber
The NHL's top five boneheaded offseason moves
By Al Strachan, SLAM! Sports
When you think all the important lessons have been learned, there is always a development to prove the limits of human folly know no bounds.
There were plenty of dumb moves in the hockey world over the summer months, but here are the top five:
As a result, both players qualified to become free agents without compensation.
Rafalski was due to earn US$450,000 this season and Madden $550,000. Knowing the Devils, they could have expected 10 percent raises for the next few seasons.
Instead, general manager Lou Lamoriello had to cave in big time. Rafalski got a four-year, $11-million deal. Madden will earn $7 million over the same span.
To make matters worse, an arbitrator ruled that since this was an unusual type of free agency, these salaries can be used as comparables for every young player in the league who goes to arbitration.
4. The Toronto Maple Leafs lost Kevyn Adams in the expansion draft.
Adams is a hard-working, team-oriented, well-liked player with considerable potential.
Dmitri Khristich is none of the above.
But had the Leafs exposed Khristich and his $9.5 million salary during the next three years, no other team in the league would have taken him.
Rather than suffer such a loss of face, the Leafs instead lost Adams. At the same time, they exposed Alyn McCauley, probably the best player in camp this season.
It is interesting to note that last season, Adams proved to be the best-conditioned Leaf in training-camp testing. With Adams gone, McCauley earned the honour.
On the Maple Leafs, perhaps it pays to be a floater.
3. The National Hockey League's decided to use arbitration to beat down player salary demands.
Don't believe for a minute that these are decisions made by the individual teams. In the broad sense they are, but teams are "strongly urged" by the New York office to do battle with the players, to refuse to acquiesce to salary demands that, to most fans, sound reasonable.
The idea is by forcing arbitration, the league will be able to keep salary increases at the minimal level.
Nice theory, but it doesn't work.
Then there was John LeClair, who has consistently been the Philadelphia Flyers' best player over the past few seasons and asked to be paid accordingly. The Flyers, following the league dictum, refused his request for $9 million US and offered $4.6 million. LeClair ended up with the largest arbitration award in NHL history -- $7 million. Last season, he earned less than $4 million.
And there were others.
An arbitrator raised Jeff O'Neill's salary from $605,000 annually to $2.25 million over two years. Radek Bonk gets the same and he was earning $800,000 last season.
But there were also the arbitration awards which were more subtle. Teams always want two-way contracts for fringe players because a minor-league contract is often one-tenth of the NHL salary. Many players, including Nolan Pratt, Craig Darby, Anti Aalto, Blake Sloan, Patrick Traverse and Ladislav Kohn, were awarded one-way deals over the club's objection.
2. The decision to prosecute Marty McSorley.
You may or may not feel McSorley is guilty. That is not the point.
The trial took place in a decrepit Vancouver courtroom in a part of town populated primarily by derelicts, hookers, drug dealers, pimps, thieves and strung-out reprobates, many of whom were no doubt waiting for their own court date.
The people of British Columbia footed the bill for the judge's salary, the lawyers' salary (at least three and they all had to do a lot of preparation), the salaries of all the court workers -- the clerks, the sheriffs, the recorders, the janitors -- the cost of legal necessities such as briefs, photocopies and couriers and so on.
When the verdict is delivered, whether McSorley is deemed to be innocent or guilty, the safety quotient of the streets of Vancouver will not be affected in the slightest.
The province will have spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, and for what? How do the people of the province benefit?
The police didn't want to pursue this trial. The Crown Attorney's office didn't want to pursue this trial. But some politically motivated bureaucrat decided it should proceed. The cost should come out of his pocket.
1. The decision by Eric Lindros and his handlers to turn down the Philadelphia Flyers' qualifying offer of $8.5 million.
This is not just the dumbest move of the summer, it may be the dumbest move in the history of NHL contracts.
The Lindros group said it was a decision which transcends money, that they simply wanted to be independent from the Flyers and GM Bob Clarke.
In fact, they are now more under Clarke's control than ever. Clarke and Flyers owner Ed Snider had grown so sick of Lindros they wanted to get rid of him, even if they had to absorb a substantial loss. They would have given him away if necessary.
Now, because Lindros turned down the qualifying offer, he remains the Flyers' property until they decide to move on him or until he signs some other team's offer sheet. But in today's NHL, offer sheets don't get signed (See No. 3 and the reference to New York edicts).
Therefore, the Flyers control Lindros' rights until he is 31 and, in the interim, they don't have to pay him a cent.
Early in the summer, they were asking for a deal of graduated draft picks for Lindros, a package that would be based on his contribution to his new team. Now they want active players. And why not? They don't care whether Lindros plays or not and unless they get a tangible package, they have no intention of moving him.
If the Lindros family wanted to be free from the Flyers' influence, wouldn't it have made more sense to sign the deal and turn the salary over to charity?
Plenty of Canadian charities could do a lot of wonderful things with 8.5 million of Ed Snider's dollars.