Silly NHL expansion draft outrage and the war on success

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NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 23: Dan Girardi #5 of the New York Rangers skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 23, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Rangers 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

NHL--Dan Girardi #5 of the New York Rangers

NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 23: Dan Girardi #5 of the New York Rangers skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on February 23, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Rangers 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Let’s begin with the obvious: Successful teams are penalized for being successful in the NHL, in the name of parity. 

It’s a point of annoyance for those of us who think the NHL is at its best when it has dynastic stalking horses for other franchises – 'to be the best, you have to beat the best.' The League has a slavish dedication to competitive balance, and yet which teams do they continuously call for those outdoor games? Big money glamour franchises who wear artificial shackles to prevent them from keeping together successful teams.

The salary cap exists to break up the monopolies, as essential players trickle down from potential dynasties to other, lesser teams. The creative accounting by high-payroll teams has also come under attack, as the NHL banned front-loaded contracts and practices like burying contracts in the minor leagues.

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The only way to reverse course on this would be the abolishment of the salary cap and the adoption of some sort of luxury tax, but the NHL would just as soon play every game on a giant sheet of flypaper. The cap is here to stay – gotta have that “cost certainty” and equality.

So in order to reduce the price-tag on players, or to lure players to less desirable destinations through free agency, the dark arts of the No-Movement Clause are frequently dabbled in. Teams hand over the fate and future of player transactions to the players, and frequently face the consequences when unforeseen circumstances change.

Sometimes it’s something common, like when successful teams suddenly have to change course and rebuild; and sometimes it’s something uncommon, like when the NHL decides to hold an expansion draft in 2017 and you’re stuck holding a bunch of big-ticket contract with No-Movement Clauses.

Now, the CBA never specifically mentions the expansion draft as it pertains to No-Movement Clauses, which led to some initial speculation that they could be exposed. But NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly explained that teams must protect players that have No-Movement Clauses, as those clauses prevent, you know, movement.

So those players would count towards a team’s total number of protected players.

The expansion draft for the Las Vegas team – it’s coming, people – is expected to take place sometime between the end of the 2016-17 season and the 2017 NHL Draft. That’s been known for months. Which means that a player like Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers, whose contract flips from a No-Movement Clause to a No-Trade Clause on July 1, 2017, would have to be protected by the Rangers. That’s also been known for months.

But Larry Brooks of the NY Post, carrying water for the Rangers as usual, put this expansion draft detail on full blast on Sunday, railing against the inequity of having teams protect No-Movement Clause players whose status was due to change “10 days later.”

In the case of Girardi, it’s one clause becoming another. In the case of over a dozen other players, it’s because their contracts are due to expire at the beginning of July, becoming free agents – and thus, would not need protection in the expansion draft.

From Brooks:

Slap Shots has learned that rules for the 2017 expansion draft that will precede Las Vegas’ anticipated 2017-18 admission to the league as its 31st franchise (“Done deal,” we’re told), will compel teams to protect players with no-move clauses even if they or the contracts themselves expire at the end of 2016-17.

This means if the expansion draft is held, say, on June 21, 2017, teams will be obligated to protect players who, a) would become unrestricted free agents 10 days later; or, b) would be able to be waived or traded 10 days later.

This is, of course, completely illogical … except when applied against Sixth Avenue’s overriding philosophy of punishing teams for following certain regulations within the CBA that for some reasons offend the league. Then it makes perfect sense.

First off, it’s amazing Brooks can just toss off this restriction as being “illogical” when he’s arguing for the NHL to materially violate the terms of standard player contracts on, like, a whim.

Let’s say I want to sign Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, one of the most prominent of the affected players. He has a no-move, and he goes UFA on July 1, 2017. Now, can my team sign him on June 21, 2017? Can we just swoop in and give Bishop a contract of our own while he’s under contract to the Tampa Bay Lightning? And, conversely, is Bishop unable to block a trade to my team on June 21, if in fact he doesn’t want to go there?

No, no, no and no and also no. He has a contract. The terms of that contract are in effect for Bishop, just like they are for a guy in the fifth year of an eight-year deal. No exceptions. 

Secondly, here are the players affected by this scourge on the expansion process:

  • Ben Bishop

  • Pavel Datsyuk

  • Andrew Ference

  • Dan Girardi (signed through 2020)

  • Nathan Horton (2020)

  • Jarome Iginla

  • Vincent Lecavalier

  • Patrick Marleau

  • Chris Pronger

  • Tuukka Rask (2021)

  • Patrick Sharp

  • Cam Talbot

  • Joe Thornton

  • R.J. Umberger

  • Thomas Vanek

  • Antoine Vermette

  • Dennis Wideman

  • James Wisniewski

Yes, 18 players. That’s what we’re on about. Just 18 players.

Ryan Lambert is going to have a deeper look at these contracts on Tuesday, but in a general sense we have:

- Players who might be on their last contracts now, and whose retirement before the expansion draft could invalidate the necessity to protect them.

- Players whose sole existence on an NHL roster is as dead salary cap space, a loophole exploited for years. If you want to weep for the teams that game the system, by all means. We're not offering a tissue. 

- A few frustrating names that teams are stuck with but have no intention of bringing back, like Vanek and Umberger.

- Dan Girardi and Tuukka Rask.

In theory, the NHLPA is going to step up and support the idea that these contracts shouldn’t count towards the total. And the NHL might acquiesce, or it might stick to its guns, honor valid contracts and force teams to cough up a good player while keeping one they don’t want.

There’s some gray area, too: What about retirements? What about players waiving their No-Movement Clauses (although we’re not sure what scenario might compel them to do so)? We're not sure.

And at the end of the day, many of these are going to be buyouts.

Brooks is right: The NHL’s dedication to forced parity produces far more negatives than positives. But while he’s quick to paint successful teams as victims, they’re actually victims of their own success.

From Brooks again:

Teams that grant no-move clauses do so because they believe they must in order to sign or keep players. More often than not, those contracts generally come back to bite teams. Case in point: Well, Rangers fans know. But now the league — with the NHLPA’s assent — is seeking to punish teams that use no-moves as a tool to try and win. It always can be distilled to this: The NHL is a lowest common-denominator league that uses its power to sanction successful teams that try to win.

These are two separate ideas.

The NHL’s policies do break up successful teams. But successful teams that hand out No-Movement Clauses are doing so by their own volition, and at their own peril. It’s not Gary Bettman’s fault that the Edmonton Oilers needed to sweeten the pot for Andrew Ference with a No-Movement Clause, nor is it Gary Bettman’s fault that the Colorado Avalanche had to compel Jarome Iginla to sign there with one either. 

So, to summarize Brooks’ piece: Sorry, New York Rangers, but the expansion draft will likely not be your Dan Girardi bailout. 

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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