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.

Burrows on waiving his no-trade clause: ‘I’ve never talked to management or coaches about it’

Vancouver Canucks' Alex Burrows celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, March 28, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
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Alex Burrows doesn’t want a trade out of Vancouver and he wants to make sure everyone knows it.

On Saturday, Sportsnet’s Elliott Friedman reported that Burrows was potentially willing to waive his no-trade clause if a deal came up.

When asked about the report, Burrows went into denial mode.

“There’s no truth to that,” Burrows told beat reporter Ben Kuzma. “I’ve never talked to management or coaches about it.

“Last time I talked to my agent was to wish him Merry Christmas.”

Whether or not Burrows is willing to accept a deal out of Vancouver may be irrelevant.

The 34-year-old has seven goals and 16 points in 53 games this season, and he comes with a cap hit of $4.5 million dollars next season.

That’s pretty steep for a guy who’s on pace to score just 25 points this year.

If the Canucks want to find a taker for his services (assuming he’s willing to go), they’ll likely have to take a good-sized contract back or they’ll have to eat some of his remaining salary.

Marchand scores fastest goal in Bruins’ history; Datsyuk’s 900th point

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It makes sense that a swift bit of history happened in a game in which three goals were scored scored on three shots in about three minutes.

Brad Marchand found the net eight seconds in after an icing call, setting a new record for the Boston Bruins.

(You can see that goal in the video above.)

Watch that three-goal burst in this video:

The two teams weren’t done then. Loui Eriksson made it 3-1 while Pavel Datsyuk scored his 900th point to make it 3-2.

Maybe the best moment wasn’t a goal: Torey Krug was seemingly hurt by a Pavel Datsyuk hit, yet he returned without missing much time.

Kinkaid blanks Kings, Devils move into playoff position

New Jersey Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid (1) watches a shot on goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Los Angeles Kings, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in Newark N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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When the New Jersey Devils shut down a team 1-0, it’s usually with Cory Schneider in net.

Their workhorse got the afternoon off against the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday, yet Keith Kinkaid did his Schneider impression, grabbing his first NHL shutout in the process.

It was a low-event game with just 46 combined shots on goal, but Kinkaid had to work, stopping all 28 shots. To give you an idea of how tight this game was, the only tally was credited to David Schlemko on the power play.

This gives the Devils three straight wins. They managed to climb into third place in the Metropolitan Division, although New Jersey’s edge is a little misleading; the Islanders trail them by one standings point while holding three games in hand.

That leaves the Islanders in the bottom wild card spot, while the Penguins aren’t so far behind either.

Third in Metro: Devils – 65 points with 57 games played
Second wildcard: Islanders – 64 points, 54 GP
First spot outside the East playoffs: Penguins – 63 points, 54 GP

So, the Devils’ hold of a playoff spot is a bit tenuous, yet the bottom line is that they’re staying in the mix.

The Kings, meanwhile, remain comfortably in first in the Pacific.

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings on NBC

Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) and Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mike Green (25) battle for the puck in the first period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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The Boston Bruins (without Patrice Bergeron) take on the Detroit Red Wings (missing Jonathan Ericsson) on Sunday afternoon.

It’s a matchup between the second-ranked and third-ranked teams in the Atlantic Division, with little separating the two in the standings.

You can watch the game on NBC and also stream it online via the link below.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE