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The Puck Stops Here

Tampa’s 4th Round Pick

There are two CBA related controversies which the NHL has merged into one that are creating some odd precedents for the league.  Both involve the Tampa Bay Lightning’s fourth round pick in 2009.  Last summer, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Jonas Frogren.  Frogren’s signing created a bit of a CBA mess.  The CBA problems a bit complex, but the biggest thing that bothered the NHL is that Frogren was paying a buyout to his previous Swedish team (Farjestads BK Karlstad) with an increased first year salary.  The NHL had forbidden teams to negotiate transfers of players individually (it would drive up transfer costs).  Technically, the Leafs did not negotiate Frogren’s transfer.  Jonas Frogren did it himself.  The Leafs paid him enough money to do it himself.  It was a creative solution to a problem that probably should not have existed in the first place.

The problem exists because European teams have rejected the old player transfer agreement with the NHL.  It called for $200,000 payments for players who are under contract in European leagues who transfer to the NHL.  This amount of money was not seen as reasonable (soccer player transfers can cost many millions of dollars).  The NHL was not wishing to lose this fight when a team paid a significant transfer fee for a highly touted player, so they banned teams from negotiating these transfers individually.

The effect of this move is to restrict the NHL talent base.  There are players who might be available who are off limits to NHL teams.  This might be the case for KHL players this summer.  The KHL is having financial troubles and might be willing to release players to the NHL if transfer fees are paid, but this appears impossible under the current setup.

The other problem relates to the Toronto Maple Leafs effectively buying a fourth round pick from the Tampa Bay Lightning.  They took on the contracts of injured free agents to be in Olaf Kolzig and Jamie Heward in a deal at the deadline for a fourth round draft pick.  In order to make this a “hockey deal” they also exchanged minor leaguers Andy Rogers and Richard Petiot.  Toronto essentially paid $450,000 to buy a fourth round draft pick.  Tampa Bay managed to drop their payroll enough to earn additional revenue sharing from left-over escrow money. 

The solution to the two problems, as the NHL sees it is to allow the Tampa/Toronto trade and about eight months after allowing the Frogren signing (he has been playing in the NHL all season) is to fine the Toronto Maple Leafs $500,000 and have them forfeit the 4th round draft pick they obtained from Tampa Bay.  It isn’t clear why it took eight months for a decision to be passed down.  It certainly isn’t clear why they can be punished by the loss of a draft pick that is not one of their original picks.  It is an odd “coincidence” that the pick in question is one that changed hands under controversy.  I think the real motivation was to make that pick go away.  The punishment is on the Toronto side because they can afford it.  Tampa Bay is not in a strong financial situation.  Tampa probably needs revenue sharing to help them make ends meet. 

What would happen if a team was found with a similar signing to that of Frogren in the future?  The precedent is for them to lose Tampa’s fourth round draft pick?  They would likely lose a draft pick that falls around the early fourth round (if they have such a pick).

The mixing of two controversies is a poor decision.  It appears that the punishment for Frogren is a reaction to the Tampa trade.  It appears that in a desire to make the Tampa trade go away, the NHL used the Frogren issue as a convenient excuse.  Is it less of a problem to sign players who pay their own transfer if you do not attempt to buy draft picks?  Mixing two unrelated issues like this is a bad NHL move.

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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