Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The No Movement Clause

Of Laraque, Nylander And Sykora

Last week, apart from the losing, the disappointment of the week was Georges Laraque's failed transfer to Swedish club AIK. In what was a hopeful story, Georges had said that he'd be willing to play for free in Sweden. The Canadiens on their part jumped at this and instigated an international transfer request.

Alas it was denied by the NHL.

All the details of this story are a bit murky. For instance, we don't know for certain whether the request was instigated, who instigated it and why, if it was begun, it fell down.

The easy speculation on this is that Georges Laraque ran his mouth about playing in Sweden for nothing in typical fashion, but when it came time for action he bottled out. This is indeed the most logical scenario, since the whole transfer hinged on Laraque first waiving his no movement clause. As Georges never turned up on the waiver wire, it is safe to assume he probably didn't.

The timing of the Laraque banishment

Many questioned the timing of showing Laraque the door just after a Haitian catastrophe. Indeed, I was puzzled at first too. However, it didn't take much investigative journalism to work out what was behind the urgency.

Unreported in the whole affair was the closing of the IIHF transfer window, which was due to take place on January 31, 2010. Given Laraque had to be coaxed into waiving an NMC, then possibly clearing waivers, time was not on the Canadiens side. They needed a couple of weeks to get paperwork done (Ryan White knows how efficient they are at that) and finalize the deal. They couldn't in the end.

Transfer window closed

January has turned to February and the IIHF transfer window is now closed. Laraque cannot go to Sweden or Finland, or Switzerland or anywhere. Sorry, but it's true.

It's a shame that Laraque is either so full of it, non-compliant or unrealistic, because this move really would have been possible. The Washington Capitals faced the identical situation (albeit with a bigger salary and a legitimate gripe) in dealing with Michael Nylander. The critical difference with Nylander was that a) he wanted to earn his money and b) he waived his no-movement clause. Way back in November, the Capitals put Nylander and his $5.5 million salary through waivers on his way to Grand Rapids. The fact he is now playing in the Finnish league means that Nylander also followed through on his stated desire to play rather than collect a contract in stagnation.

A couple of lessons can be taken from this. One, know the player you are giving an NMC to, if he's a bit of a selfish self-promoter, probably negotiate a different clause as a cherry on top. Two, transfers take time to arrange. Perhaps leaving it till the 11th hour isn't the way to go.

Laraque can't come off the books now... Or can he?

With no IIHF transfers available, one has to think Laraque is hogging a roster spot and salary until the end of the year.

But then one looks around the league and sees other news coming out of Minnesota. Specifically, the alleged voiding of Petr Sykora's contract – which frees up the roster spot and the cap room for the Wild. One has to wonder whether there's something to be done with Laraque here.

A closer look reveals some pretty critical differences in the contracts, however. First, Sykora doesn't have an NMC. This means the Wild can freely demote him whenever they feel like it, which they did a couple of weeks ago when he appeared on waivers. Second, Sykora's contract is running out at the end of the season. So, while he'll lose plenty of money in voiding that contract, it wouldn't be as much as Laraque would lose from his buyout potential of $1 million and the hundreds of thousand left this season.

Is it possible that in this scenario the Wild and Sykora knew there would be no reporting to Houston and that any demotion would mean Petr not reporting and thereby voiding a contract? Is it possible they colluded to free Petr to pursue mid-season free agency on a lower contract that more teams would likely look at favourably? Could this all be construed as collusion? The commenters on Hockey Wilderness seem to see the same sort of shadiness as I.

It's not very fair is it? That there's a loophole for Sykora, but not for Laraque. But not all's fair in love and CBAs. At the end of the day, Gainey dug this NMC hole himself. And by not alienating Laraque soon enough (a la Nylander) he let the transfer solution become too frantic a rush. It was a mismanagement based on a bit too much hope, and little logic.

Still, I wonder if there is some grounds to show that Laraque hadn't fulfilled his contract, because goodness knows he totally flew in the face of the spirit of his contract. As a fighter who at times flatly refused to fight, he was grossly unethical, in effect holding on to his millions based on a known technicality. He must have known why he was signed, and it wasn't, as he seemed to latterly think, to make tape to opposition tape passes. Is there any chance to show that Laraque did not act in good faith to complete the terms of his contract?

In a land where unions see that players can be paid many millions years after they play a useful minute, I think not. But hope springs yet...

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