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Why we can't blame players who refuse to waive no-movement clauses

It makes too much sense on paper for certain pricey vets to waive their clauses. But to assume they’ll gladly play the odds against Vegas is to forget that they’re human beings with families.

I’m as guilty as anyone. I sorted through every NHL team to predict their lists of protected players for the upcoming expansion draft, and a few names jumped off the page as easy-peasy picks to waive their no-movement clauses. They had such unappealing contracts, I reasoned, that the Golden Knights would never claim them anyway, so these players could really do their teams some good by stepping aside and letting other guys get protected.

I singled out Dion Phaneuf in Ottawa; Jason Pominville in Minnesota; Ryan Callahan in Tampa Bay; Toby Enstrom in Winnipeg; Scott Hartnell in Columbus; Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh; Dan Girardi in New York; Kevin Bieksa in Anaheim; and Francois Beauchemin in Colorado as obvious candidates to waive their NMCs. 

The deadline for teams to ask players to waive their NMCs was Monday, and players have until Friday at 5:00 p.m. ET to decide whether to do so. So far, only Fleury has agreed to waive his, and he has far more to gain by doing so than any of the other candidates. He’s no doubt helping the Penguins, and Fleury is as beloved as any teammate in hockey, but he wants to be a starting goaltender again, and that can’t happen in Pittsburgh with Matt Murray entrenched. The Golden Knights crease thus might appeal to Fleury, who has three Stanley Cup rings and doesn’t have to chase a championship. Fleury is a unique case.

The aging Beauchemin and Girardi were simply bought out, both too old to appeal to Vegas and both taking up valuable protection slots on their teams. Bieksa isn’t waiving his NMC because the Ducks and Golden Knights have struck a side deal that prevents Vegas from claiming certain players the Ducks will have no choice but to expose with Bieksa still protected. That could mean Jakob Silfverberg, for example.

But what about the rest of the candidates? Phaneuf appears unlikely to waive his NMC, putting Senators GM Pierre Dorion in a pickle. If he wants to protect four defensemen, including Phaneuf, Erik Karlsson, Cody Ceci and Marc Methot, he’ll have to expose some valuable forwards in Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith and Derick Brassard. If the Sens protect seven forwards, that means Methot likely gets exposed on ‘D.’

The Jets remain mum on Enstrom, who would force them into a 4-4-1 strategy if he doesn’t waive his NMC and isn’t bought out. That would probably leave forwards Adam Lowry, Joel Armia and Marko Dano dangling in the breeze.

The Wild won’t confirm yet if they asked Pominville to waive, and the Wild need their vet to step aside more than any other team. If Pominville digs in his heels, they’ll have to expose one of Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker and Eric Staal. Those are high-impact forwards. And Zucker, the only Las Vegas-raised player in NHL history, would be extremely tempting to the Golden Knights as a marketable hometown boy.

We armchair GMs can see plainly that most or all of these players would be perfectly safe waiving their NMCs. They’re veterans on the wrong side of 30, and the very fact most of them are buyout candidates tells us a lot about how little the Golden Knights would value adding them to their roster. George McPhee ain’t shelling out $7 million for Phaneuf. Let’s be honest here. 

But should that matter? Look at Hartnell, who wasn’t even asked to waive his NMC. That means the Blue Jackets will have to expose a decent young forward such as Josh Anderson, though Columbus may have struck a Bieska-like side deal with Vegas already to prevent that. What gets lost in the news cycle, though, is that Hartnell doesn’t want to leave Columbus. He loves it there. And he’s getting married this summer. 

Hartnell earned the NMC on his contract in good faith, and he has a right to want to play out the rest of his deal in the city he loves, barring a buyout of course. It’s easy for us to say most of these players won’t get claimed anyway and then slam them for not stepping aside to protect their other teammates. We can even speculate some dressing room animosity if, say, the Wild lose Zucker because of Pominville. But we sometimes forget that these players are human beings. That’s not to tell a sob story about millionaires – let’s get that straight – but think of their families. Pominville has two children, a boy named Jayden and a daughter named Kaylee. Pominville probably cares dearly for his Wild teammates, but I’ll go out on a limb and say he cares more for Jayden and Kaylee. He darned well should. So why, then, would Pominville, earning a $5.6-million AAV for two more seasons, play the odds on a one percent chance of being claimed by Vegas if it might mean uprooting his kids and moving them across the country? It’s not worth even the tiniest risk.

So even if waiving these NMCS makes oodles of sense from a hockey standpoint, we can’t ignore the human element. These players signed contracts with no-movement clauses and thus deserve the right to control their own destinies. If you want to hate on the NMCs – hate on the GMs who handed them out in the first place.

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