Canucks and Beyond

Save the GMs!

07/09/2008 at 6:04pm EDT

While $2.5 million should be no laughing matter, I couldn’t help being amused by the series of events involving Steve Bernier yesterday. Nor could Adam Proteau at The Hockey News apparently, who would’ve enjoyed watching it go even further:

The only way this soap opera could be more entertaining would be if the Lightning’s braintrust discovered a hidden clause in the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement that allowed them to somehow supersede Vancouver’s ability to match and bring Bernier to Tampa Bay – a move that, by my calculations, would give the Bolts approximately 89 forwards heading into training camp.

Lordy. Is there any saving the NHL’s GMs from themselves?

I ended up in an unintentional argument with someone shortly after Bernier signed that offer sheet, who felt strongly that the whole situation says more about Bernier’s character than about anyone else. I can appreciate the point, but I happen to disagree with it.

My impression is that this mess says more about the boys in management.

Vancouver knew the risks in trading for Bernier, an RFA who was vulnerable to offer sheets, and obviously wanting to get the best deal he could. And who wouldn’t? He has no reason to be loyal to Vancouver three days into his trade. The onus was on Vancouver to get the deal done a.s.a.p. and they couldn’t.

That being said, it’s also easy to believe Vancouver was misled about Bernier’s intentions given a statement from his agent back on July 5th. At that time, Gilles Lupien said this on the subject of offer sheets and his client:

“I don’t work like that. I’ve always asked teams to be honest with my client and I’m sure he [Canucks GM Mike Gillis] is going to be honest with players after being a former player himself.”

So either Lupien was lying from the start, or something went very wrong in negotiations between himself and Gillis.

And then there’s the John Davidson aspect of this.

I’m sure the St. Louis Blues GM sincerely considered Bernier’s usefulness to his club in the very unlikely event that Gillis didn’t match his offer. But even if he didn’t ever want Bernier, there wasn’t much of a risk. For all intents and purposes, Gillis was pretty much trapped by that offer sheet and everyone knows it.

The result is probably a giddy group of GMs all over the NHL who (I’m betting) enjoyed what happened immensely. They may not like offer sheets in general, but I’m betting they loved that one. In their minds, this fiasco will cause the next GM to think twice before trying to poach one of their own players.

But it’s all just foolishness. As plenty of people have said, offer sheets are now a reality and if GMs can’t get deals done with players heading into their RFA year, it’s a risk they’re going to have to live with. And pissing matches don’t help anyone—they’re just escalating the prices.

The sooner they all figure that out, the less likely it is that we’ll be thinking of them as children in a playground spat, rather than managers of the multimillion dollar business enterprises that they are.

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