by PuckStopsHere on 12/10/08 at 06:58 PM ET
The Tampa Bay Lightning made the biggest splash in the free agency market this summer. They spent significant amounts of money to sign free agents Ryan Malone, Radim Vrbata, Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts, Olaf Kolzig and others. For the most part, they are regretting those decisions as the Lightning sit in last place in the NHL with a 6-21 record (with eight regulation tie points). One of the signings they regret the most is that of Radim Vrbata. Vrbata has 6 points so far in 18 games played. He has been a healthy scratch for the Lightning in several games this season. They bought that for the healthy price of $9 million paid over three years.
In the crazily run Tampa Bay organization it wasn’t too long before they decided to undo the Vrbata signing. They magically made his contract disappear this season. Vrbata has returned to his native Czech Republic. He will play with BK Mlada Bolesov. Although this has been presented as Vrbata making the decision, one can’t help but suspect that Tampa Bay ownership pushed him out the door and are happy he left.
If the current CBA is truly an attempt to achieve parity in the NHL (I contend that it isn’t - the salary cap though sold this way was primarily a way to reduce costs) this is a glaring loophole and it isn’t the first time it has been exploited. NHL teams have already pushed unwanted contracts to the KHL. Since salaries don’t count against the salary cap if the player is re-assigned out of the NHL and the European leagues are sometimes willing to pay the player in question, there is no repercussion whatsoever for a bad contract if he can be found a European team to play with.
The KHL may not be as viable as it had been this summer to take on bad contracts due to changing economics, but it is not the only player in town. The Czechs took Vrbata. Maybe the Swedes or Finns would take one of their countrymen under the right circumstances.
If the NHL is serious about installing parity with a salary cap, they need to close this loophole. It makes it a better move to pawn off your player on a European league than to buy out his contract, so why buyout anyone? It leaves no harm at all for a bad contract.
Vrbata can come back to Tampa in the future if he wants to. He still owes them two years on his contract. Maybe if things get better in Tampa Bay he will be happy to come back. Right now, I can understand his desire to get out of that zoo. The Tampa Bay Lightning are on a fast track to last place right now. Extremely poor management set them apart from the other struggling franchises. In the meantime, Tampa got out of his contract scot-free. That loophole they are using ought to be filled in to at least maintain the image of a CBA designed to keep teams financially responsible by holding them to repercussions from their mistakes. It also shows the hypocrisy of the NHL when they scream bloody murder when a player they want like Alexander Radulov leaves the league, but they find ways to let players in contracts they don’t want get playing in other leagues. These moves are not good for NHL public relations.
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