The Jonas Frogren contract imbroglio has the Toronto Maple Leafs in the peculiar position of aligning themselves with the NHL Players’ Association against the NHL.
While it could have far-reaching effects when it comes to signing older European players, the whole thing arose out of an honest mistake both sides made when they drafted the last collective bargaining agreement.
“Nobody should blame the Leafs for this. This is not their screw-up,” said a source close to the situation. “The screw-up was in the drafting of the CBA. But it’s not surprising that in a 500-page document, that two provisions would conflict each other.”
It’s not yet known whether the Leafs will re-work Frogren’s contract to comply with the NHL or whether the NHLPA will file a grievance on the matter. NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said Thursday the union is “evaluating its options,” and has until Monday to decide whether to file a grievance.
But both sides feel they’re standing on solid ground when it comes to interpreting the rules in this case. Should there be a grievance, it’s believed Frogren’s contract would remain in effect until an arbitrator deals with the matter. If that doesn’t happen before the start of the season, Frogren would be able to start playing under the terms of the deal, which pays him a one-way salary of $450,000 next season, plus a $700,000 signing bonus, and a salary of $900,000 in 2009-10.
Here’s the crux of the issue. Frogren turns 28 on Aug. 28, and by the NHL’s definition, he’s considered a 28-year-old for the 2008-09 season. In Article 9 (c) of the collective bargaining agreement, it clearly states, “a European player who signs his first SPC (Standard Player’s Contract) at age 28 or older is not subject to the entry level system under any circumstances.”
That would appear to be a clear victory for Frogren.
But in the transition rules drafted after the CBA was reached, Exhibit 16 states anyone who has been a defected player, “shall be subject to having to enter the league through the entry-level system.”
Frogren, who was originally drafted by the Calgary Flames in 1998, was once a defected player with the Flames. He was still an unrestricted free agent, but the league has argued his former defected status makes him subject to the entry-level system.
So, both sides are right to an extent.
What’s at stake for Frogren is the fact his contract exceeds the level of salary for entry level players and it is a one-way deal, meaning he’s guaranteed the salary whether he plays in the NHL or the minors. All entry-level contracts must be two-way deals with a provision for a minor-league salary.
Ken Campbell, a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com, is at the NHL Draft in Ottawa covering the event. His blog normally appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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