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.

Report: Capitals keep Connolly for two years, $3 million

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Earlier on Monday the Washington Capitals did not extend a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Brett Connolly. Even with that decision there were indications the team was still looking to re-sign him before he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

On Monday night the team reportedly did just that.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie the Capitals have agreed to terms with Connolly on a two-year contract that will pay him an average annual salary of $1.5 million per season.

He played the 2016-17 season on a one-year deal that paid him $850,000.

The 24-year-old Connolly appeared in 66 games for the Capitals this past season, scoring 15 goals and posting excellent possession numbers to make him a valuable depth player for a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy for the second year in a row. But after being held without a point in his first seven playoff games he found himself as a healthy scratch for the remainder of their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, being replaced by Paul Carey.

 

Trade: Vegas sends Marc Methot to Stars

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After being selected in the expansion draft Marc Methot‘s stay with the Vegas Golden Knights was a very brief one.

The veteran defenseman was traded to the Dallas Stars on Monday evening in exchange for a 2020 second-round draft pick and goalie prospect Dylan Ferguson.

Ferguson was just selection by the Stars this past weekend in the seventh-round.

It has been expected that Vegas would continue to deal players it selected in the expansion draft as it looks to build its organization from the ground up, and draft picks seem to be their desired return at this point in trades.

After making 12 selections this past weekend thanks to their many pre-expansion draft dealings, the Golden Knights have already started to stockpile future draft picks in several trades. They already have 11 draft picks, including three second-round selections, for the 2019 draft (which is still two years away) and already nine for the 2020 draft (three years away!). That total includes another three second-rounders in 2020 including the pick they just acquired for Methot.

They also have Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in 2020 in exchange for taking goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft.

As for the Stars, they are clearly looking to reshape their defense after taking a pretty significant step backwards this past season. They were 29th in the NHL in goals against.

In 68 games with the Ottawa Senators this past season Methot scored zero goals while recording 12 assists. He spent most of his time the past few seasons playing alongside Erik Karlsson. He might get an opportunity to play next to another Swedish star in Dallas if the Stars decide to pair him with John Klingberg.

Vegas picked a lot of veteran defensemen in the expansion draft with the hopes of potentially flipping them to other teams (Jason Garrison, Alexei Emlin, Clayton Stoner, just to name a few). If the return for Methot on Monday night is any indicator of what to expect, you should probably expect more future draft picks to come their way if they end up dealing any of them in the coming weeks.

Stability, Stanley Cup aspirations ‘a breath of fresh air’ for Mike Smith

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The Calgary Flames officially introduced their two newest players on Monday afternoon when they welcomed starting goaltender Mike Smith and defenseman Travis Hamonic to the organization.

The addition of Hamonic gives the Flames what should be an outstanding top-four on defense as he joins a blue line that already features Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton.

While that defense might be one of the better ones in the Western Conference, the Flames are hopeful that Smith can help solidify a goaltending position that was a major question mark this past season and a significant weakness for much of it.

It’s not only a big move for the Flames, but it also seems to be an exciting one for Smith as he goes from a team in a clear rebuild mode that hasn’t made the playoffs in five years to one that suddenly has Stanley Cup aspirations.

On Monday, Smith was asked about what it is like for him going from a team that was constantly surrounded by uncertainty off the ice and what it will be like to play for a team that wants to keep getting closer to a Stanley Cup.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” said Smith. “It’s something I have been begging for quite some time now. I am a competitor, and I want to win real bad. I feel like this move is an opportunity and a challenge and I am going to take it on full steam. I really respect this team, playing against them is always a challenge. I look forward to being on this side of it and helping this team be real successful.”

Smith spent the past six seasons in Arizona, compiling a .916 save percentage during that time. He is coming off of a 2016-17 season that saw him go 19-26-9 in 55 games with a .914 save percentage.

Flames goalies finished the season with a .910 mark as Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson spent most of the season splitting time in the crease. Neither goalie will be back this season making it the second year in a row they have completely overhauled the position.

With a defense that figures to be one of the best in the Western Conference and an offense led by young stars Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk the Flames are clearly in a win-now mode. That is going to put a ton of pressure on Smith to solidify the position. That pressure does not seem to bother him.

“The position calls for that,” said Smith, via the Flames’ website. “I’ve taken it upon myself to be that guy, every time I go on the ice.

“I’m one guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. I want to win so bad that sometimes it can work against me. I think, though, with experience in the league I’ve learned how to handle that, how to be a solid force back there. I think I can bring some leadership, be a calming influence back there.”

Bennett, Grigorenko, Chiasson among notable players to not receive qualifying offers

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Monday was the deadline for teams to extend qualifying offers to pending restricted free agents, and there were a number of notable ones to not receive such an offer from their teams, making them eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1.

Among some of the bigger names to not receive offers were Washington Capitals forward Brett Connolly, St. Louis Blues forward Nail Yakupov, New Jersey Devils forward Beau Bennett, Colorado Avalanche forward Mikhail Grigorenko, and Calgary Flames forward Alex Chiasson.

Connolly scored 15 goals in only 66 games for the Capitals this season, and it sounds like even though he did not receive a qualifying offer on Monday the team would still like to re-sign him. Update: The Capitals have reportedly re-signed him for two years, $3 million.

Playing in his first season with the Devils, Bennett set new career highs in games played (65), goals (eight), assists (11) and total points (19) but it was not enough to get him a qualifying offer so he will head to the UFA market.

Chiasson is an interesting one because he was a regular in the Flames’ lineup this past season, appearing in all but one game and scoring 12 goals.

Yakupov is notable because he was a No. 1 overall pick back in 2012 and has simply never been able to become a consistent impact player in the NHL. He played in 40 games for the Blues this season, scoring only three goals and recording just six assists.

Overall, it was a rough day for the 2012 draft class. Yakupov was one of four first-round picks from that class to not get a qualifying offer on Monday as Mikhail Grigorenko (No. 12 overall), Henrik Samuelsson (No. 27 overall) and Stefan Matteau (No. 29 overall) all joined him.

Grigorenko was originally drafted No. 12 overall by Buffalo but was traded to Colorado as part of the Ryan O'Reilly trade, a deal that has, to say the least, not worked out at all for the Avalanche.

Samuelsson to this point has only played in three NHL games.

Matteau, selected by the Devils, was traded to Montreal for Devante Smith-Pelly a year ago.

Joe Morrow was not given a qualifying offer by the Boston Bruins meaning every piece they originally acquired as part of the Tyler Seguin trade will no longer be with the organization. The only link remaining to Seguin is forward Jimmy Hayes (he was acquired for Reilly Smith, who was a part of the original Seguin trade).

Andrej Nestrasil was also not given an offer by the Carolina Hurricanes, which probably should not be a surprise given his comments back in March.