It’s all well and good for Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke to tell Scott Niedermayer he needs to know what Niedermayer’s plans are for next season by the time the draft comes in June, but the reality is Burke has absolutely no leverage in this situation.
And that’s something – among a myriad of other things – that needs to be addressed during the next round of collective bargaining negotiations, when it will be crucial for the league to act on guaranteed contracts.
That’s because, despite Burke’s demands, there is absolutely nothing in the CBA that would prevent Niedermayer from doing precisely the same thing next season as he did this season. If there were, there’s a pretty good chance Niedermayer wouldn’t have got away with it in the first place.
Here’s how goofy things are right now. If the team signs a player and decides it doesn’t want him anymore, its recourse is to buy him out of the remaining years on his contract at two-thirds of his salary and have that amount count against the cap over double the number of years left on his deal.
If the player who is under contract decides he simply doesn’t feel like playing – the way Niedermayer did last fall – he can simply kick up his heels and sit out for as long as he wants. The team has no recourse except to suspend the player. But here’s where it gets really silly.
The moment the player decides he wants to come back and play, the team must lift the suspension, reactivate him and start paying him according to the terms of his contract – as long as he decides to return before the trade deadline when rosters must be set.
It’s another classic example of how the players, who were supposedly clobbered in the last round of CBA negotiations, continue to hold an inordinate amount of power. After holding a team to a commitment by signing a contract, the player then decides if and when he wants to come back.
And there is no repercussion for the player aside from not being paid while suspended. The team cannot force a player to file retirement papers or do anything to get him back in the lineup until the player is good and ready.
All that could be resolved in the next CBA negotiations if the league comes in with one deal-breaker; guaranteed contracts immediately be abolished for all players regardless of age and experience.
And there is no doubt the league is looking seriously at doing just that. If Niedermayer’s contract were not guaranteed, the Ducks would simply be able to cancel it if he did not give them an answer in the time frame they’ve set.
By abolishing the guaranteed contract, it would also prevent teams from circumventing the CBA. For example, right now there is nothing preventing a team from signing a veteran player and encouraging him to do what Niedermayer did. That way, the player would be happy because he wouldn’t have to endure the rigors of a full regular season and the team keeps his salary off the books by simply suspending him.
This, of course, should not be confused with Teemu Selanne, who is a free agent and, thus, free to work out any kind of deal he wants. The Ducks can simply refuse to sign him if he doesn’t inform them of his intentions by July 1.
When it comes down to it, Niedermayer’s actions this season are no different than those of players of the past who held out on valid contracts in order to force a renegotiation. The motivation was different, but the act was the same.
Well, that isn’t allowed in the NHL anymore and it’s time the league did something about the Niedermayer-type end-around in the future.
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