Does Eric Belanger have a 'leg to stand on' in pursuing legal actions against the Capitals?

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Thumbnail image for georgemcpheecapsgm.jpgWhen word broke that Eric Belanger signed with the Phoenix Coyotes yesterday, I have to admit that I was stunned that his deal with the Washington Capitals didn’t work out. As we’ve learned today, Belanger was stunned too, as his agent Joe Tacopina lashed out at Capitals management including general manager George McPhee (seen in the photo to the right) for breaking their verbal contract.

The story might not end with mere hurt feelings, though. Belanger reportedly trusted the parties enough to get a lease on a DC-area house and enrolled his children in area schools, thinking that he would be a Capitals center once again. If that wasn’t enough, the deal he signed with the Coyotes was for $750K, more than a million less than the supposed word-of-honor deal with the Caps. His agent Tacopina discussed the possibility of taking legal action against Washington, a scenario that encouraged debate among hockey agents, writers and bloggers.

The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle published Tacopina’s comments and also quoted a veteran rival who thinks that legal moves would go nowhere.

“They should be ashamed of how they handled this situation,” Tacopina said of McPhee and Fishman.

“We’re pursuing and evaluating our legal options in that regard.”

[snip]

A contract, however, was never signed and registered with the league, an arrangement several veteran player agents said they would never have agreed to.

“They don’t have a legal leg to stand on,” one agent said Wednesday. “The entire situation is governed by the CBA. An agent and the player are obligated under the CBA to not take individual legal action or you can lose your certification to be an agent … The sole remedy would be a grievance.

“The grievance precedent is 100 per cent crystal clear: Unless you have a signed standard player contract on file, registered with the NHL, you have nothing.”

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for ericbelanger.jpgTyler Dellow – an Oilers oriented hockey blogger with a legal background – disagrees with the veteran agent’s stance that the entire situation would be governed by the CBA, though. Read the full article for a more fleshed out discussion of the legal possibilities at play here, but I think the final two paragraphs of his piece illustrate that it’s not impossible for Belanger to take some kind of action. (Even if Dellow points out that it’s plausible that his agent might be somewhat culpable for giving him poor advice, too.)

 … Tacopina takes a hammering in Mirtle’s article for his failure to get a signed deal. I have some difficulty with that. While we all know that there’s no deal under the CBA until one is signed, a lot of lawyers work on trust when it comes to their dealings with other lawyers. George McPhee is a lawyer. Don Fishman’s title is Director of Legal Affairs, so I assume he’s a lawyer as well. If you can’t trust the lawyer with whom you’re dealing, a lot of legal dealings become a lot more arduous. Lawyers will generally try to accomodate one another when they can and, where someone is told that a deal is done but that it won’t be formalized yet for other reasons, I can understand why Tacopina was inclined to let it go. You generally get to burn someone like Tacopina has been burned only once though, if it’s public enough, as this is.

In any event, regardless of the potential legal consequences, if there’s any truth to Tacopina’s account, the Capitals have acted in a pretty despicable manner, most likely to Belanger’s detriment. Doctrines like promissory estoppel arose as a response to shortfalls in contract law, as basically a way for courts to protect reasonable expectations that people form in circumstances where they’ve relied on the promises of others to their detriment. Even if there is no legal remedy here – and I’m not an American lawyer and this has been sort of stream of consciousness thinking, if you need legal advice, you should speak to a lawyer – the Capitals’ conduct is shameful. The Capitals can probably forget about ever getting the slightest indulgence again from a player, because there isn’t an agent in the world who would advise them to do so. That’s something that has a cost, even if they saved money by not signing Belanger.

What does this all mean? Well, Belanger might have a leg to stand on, even if that leg is atrophied. He can provide some tangible examples of how the broken verbal contract hurts him (house lease, kids enrolled, lost free agent negotiation opportunities) but very little in writing beyond the letter/e-mail Tacopina provided in Mirtle’s story.

Chances are that Belanger will just have a lot of hard feelings for the Capitals organization and many outsiders might find it a little tougher to root for the high octane, but perhaps ethically questionable franchise. Then again, dissenters will simply say that the Caps weren’t bound to the center and would have done the right thing if they simply were able to trade an extra player.

It’s probably been blown out of proportion a bit, but there’s little doubt that the poorly handled situation had a negative impact on Belanger. Is it enough to fuel a successful lawsuit? Probably not, but it certainly doesn’t put the parties involved in a very good light. Then again, we haven’t heard much from the Capitals side of the story, so maybe there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

Video: Tempers flare between Oilers and Predators, as Lucic and McLeod drop the gloves

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Things got feisty between the Edmonton Oilers and Nashville Predators on Friday.

It started in the second period after P.K. Subban took an elbow from Matt Hendricks along the end boards. Hendricks was immediately grabbed by Anthony Bitetto. Nothing really materialized from that, however the main event broke out between Milan Lucic and Nashville newcomer Cody McLeod.

Lucic landed some pretty heavy punches before the two players fell to the ice.

Video: Cam Ward loses it on Hornqvist, Hurricanes suffer ’embarrassing’ loss to Penguins

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Cam Ward had enough.

The Carolina Hurricanes goalie seemed particularly ticked off with Patric Hornqvist on Friday, twice taking out his frustrations in front of the net on the Pittsburgh Penguins forward.

Earlier in the game, Ward delivered a slash to the back of Hornqvist’s leg. In the third period, with the Hurricanes down five goals — that should give you an indication of what kind of night this was for Carolina — Ward snapped, delivering a punch with the blocker to Hornqvist after he slid into the Hurricanes puck stopper a split second after Evgeni Malkin jammed the puck in for a goal.

The final score? A 7-1 disaster of a loss to the Penguins, highlighted by Pittsburgh’s second-period offensive outburst. Ward played the entire game, allowing seven goals on 41 shots.

Carolina’s night also included star forward Jeff Skinner getting benched for the third period, after he took a pair of minor penalties — embellishment and unsportsmanlike conduct — in the second period.

“That’s pretty embarrassing. You don’t want to suffer a loss like that, especially in your home building,” Skinner told reporters.

The Hurricanes entered this game with a chance to jump into a wild card spot in the East.

Last week, the Hurricanes won four in a row, including a victory over Columbus, and continued their steady rise into the playoff hunt in the East. This week? It’s included losses to the Blue Jackets and Penguins.

The Hurricanes won’t have much time to think about this one. They travel to Columbus for a game Saturday evening.

With Claude Julien on the hot seat, Bruins lose late heartbreaker to Blackhawks

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The Boston Bruins have now lost three in a row, a losing streak that coincides with reports circulating that head coach Claude Julien’s job security is in jeopardy.

The bad news just keeps piling up for the Bruins: They’ve been shut out twice this week, as scoring continues to be an issue in Boston. They’re 22nd in the league in that category.

On Friday, the Bruins had their chances and once again held the edge in puck possession against the Chicago Blackhawks, finishing the game with 19 more shot attempts then the visitors, per hockeystats.ca.

But they couldn’t beat Scott Darling, who made 30 saves, and the real dagger came late in the third period when Marian Hossa scored off the rush with just over one minute remaining in regulation. Boston couldn’t even salvage a point out of this contest, losing 1-0.

The Bruins were all over the Blackhawks in the first period. They held a wide edge in shots on goal, but the Blackhawks were able to escape on the strength of some solid goaltending. They just hung around, and were able to break through in the third period.

The Bruins are still in a playoff position in the Atlantic Division. They are the top puck possession team in the league (although they have the second lowest shooting percentage at five-on-five) and Julien has had plenty of success behind that bench, helping guide the organization to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011 and a run to the Final in the lockout shortened campaign.

It would seem unfair to pin this roster’s shortcomings on the coach, especially given the offseason plans initially set out by Bruins management.

Though this loss likely puts Claude Julien Watch on high alert.

Sabres’ McCabe suffers shoulder injury, will not return versus Red Wings

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The Buffalo Sabres will be down a defenseman for the remainder of Friday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Jake McCabe has left the game due to a shoulder injury suffered during the first period and will not return, the club stated during the second period.

Signed to a three-year, $4.8 million contract extension last summer, the 23-year-old McCabe has one goal and 10 points in 44 games this season for Buffalo

More recently, McCabe drew the immediate ire of the Winnipeg Jets after he delivered an open-ice hit on rookie Patrik Laine, who suffered a concussion on the play.