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.

Devils unveil ‘The Salute’ statue in honor of Martin Brodeur

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The New Jersey Devils on Monday unveiled ‘The Salute’ — a statue paying homage to one of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Martin Brodeur, who will have his No. 30 uniform retired Tuesday at Prudential Center.

“Looking at the pictures of my career and some of the events that meant a lot to me, I always saluted the fans,” Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup winner with the Devils, told the Fire and Ice blog.

“That picture, at different times, in different jerseys, actually, like with Team Canada, it all came to that same pose.”

More on the statue from the Devils:

The 900-pound bronze statue was created by renowned sculpture and artist Jon Krawczyk, who worked with Brodeur on the design. Krawczyk, a Boonton Township, N.J. native and lifelong Devils fan, who also created the hockey statue on Championship Plaza outside of Prudential Center, personally drove “The Salute” from his Malibu, Cali. studio to the arena late last week.

Video: Panthers furious after Abdelkader ‘cheap shot’ hit on Barkov

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The Florida Panthers are fuming after their skilled 20-year-old forward Aleksander Barkov left Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings following a hit from Justin Abdelkader.

Abdelkader caught Barkov with a hard hit near the goal line as the Panthers player tried to move the puck up ice early in the second period.

The only call on the play was to Panthers’ blue liner Alex Petrovic for the retaliatory cross check on Abdelkader. Barkov left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury.

Members of the Panthers irate with the hit, and the fact there was no call.

“It was a cheap hit, I don’t know how the ref didn’t call it,” Nick Bjugstad told the Miami Herald. “It was frustrating, the whole bench felt that way. We’re not happy with it. It turned the game around. Barkov has tough shoes to fill. It looked pretty serious. We’ll see how the league handles it and I think they will. I just don’t know how it wasn’t handled on the ice.”

“You hate to lose your top player, but that’s part of the game,” added Panthers’ head coach Gerard Gallant.

“We’re disappointed to lose him. I thought it was a cheap shot but the referees didn’t see it that way and explained to me it was a clean check. It’s tough. It happens quick and we get to see the replay. I think it’ll be looked at. [Abdelkader] left his feet a little and got him in the jaw.”

The Panthers gave up three goals in the third period in a 3-0 loss to the Red Wings.

Penguins thump the Ducks as Crosby’s hot streak continues

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In a meeting between two clubs enjoying hot streaks and their own subsequent climbs through the standings, the Pittsburgh Penguins bested the Anaheim Ducks courtesy another dominant Sidney Crosby performance on Monday.

After that slow start, Crosby has put together a growing number of dominant performances of late.

The latest, a four-point night, helped the Penguins to a 6-2 final over the Ducks, stopping Anaheim’s winning streak at six games.

— He extended his scoring streak to a career best seven games, and did so with two beauty goals versus the Ducks.

— From Dec. 18 to Feb. 8, he’s appeared in 21 games. In that span, he’s recorded 34 points.

— Crosby is now into the top five among NHL players in points, with 53 in 51 games this season.

He wasn’t the only Pittsburgh player to have a big night. Keep in mind, Evgeni Malkin wasn’t even in the lineup due to a lower-body injury.

Ten different Penguins players recorded points. In addition to Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang had multi-point efforts, and four players — Kunitz, Crosby, Olli Maatta and Patric Hornqvist — were plus-four.

The Penguins now move into third in the Metropolitan Division, while the New York Islanders slip into the first Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh’s lead over the Islanders, however, is only one point.

The Islanders also have a game in hand.

Panthers’ Barkov (upper-body injury) leaves game versus Red Wings

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The Florida Panthers will be without Aleksander Barkov for the remainder of their game versus the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

As per multiple reports, Barkov will not return due to an upper-body injury suffered after a hit from Justin Abdelkader early in the second period.

Abdelkader wasn’t given a penalty on the play. Barkov didn’t play another shift after that hit.

In 42 games this season, the 20-year-old Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points.