March 14th, 2003


Charlton's NHL

NHLPA To Have Their Day In Court re: McAmmond?

by Rick Charlton

Uh oh.

The lawyers are on it.

The Dean McAmmond fiasco, we would suspect, may not be over yet, a veritable Pandora's box of minor troubles for the NHL.

McAmmond was traded to the Calgary Flames earlier in the week, a barely under the wire deal on trade deadline day that managed to squeak by a phalanx of authorities before the Flames turned themselves in, guilty, along with Colorado, of having worked themselves around a long forgotten rule designed to prevent teams from circumventing waiver wire regulations.

While the spirit of the deal was obvious, a player ecstatic to be returning to Calgary after being benched in Colorado, a Flames team happy to have him back and a Colorado GM who seemed genuinely pleased to help a young family move back to where they wanted to be, the deal was nevertheless in clear violation of the rules.

With the trade in dispute even after having been approved at the league level, the NHL was forced to come to a compromise although finding itself between a literal rock and a hard place.

The ruling today that McAmmond is indeed a Flame but in name only, ineligible to play for the remainder of the season, leaves one wondering if the NHLPA will now step up in McAmmond's defence.

Does the player have bonus clauses in his contract for games played? For goals scored? Is he being denied those bonuses through no fault of his own?

While the NHLPA is often whipped for its perceived lack of effort to avert labour Armageddon with the NHL in 2004, this is an area where it was expressly designed to step in and protect the rights of a player who is clearly in an untenable position, faced with a system that has arbitrarily ruled against his interests.

Indeed, a grievance by the NHLPA followed by a request to immediately seek an arbitration ruling on this matter wouldn't be unexpected.

Preventing the NHLPA from going forward with such an action might be the fact the waiver regulations the McAmmond trade has bent are very obviously designed to help NHLPA members from being buried in organizations forever. These rules are meant to enhance player movement, to create opportunities for the membership, which might otherwise be denied.

And so the NHLPA is in no great position itself, protesting the very rules it bargained hard to achieve and may let the matter rest as a result.

Where does the blame for this lie?

The Avs wouldn't have been dirty enough to have known about the clause and then initiated the trade anyway to get McAmmond's salary off their books? Probably not given the money involved is chump change considering the big picture. But they didn't want him back either.

The NHL could have let the deal go through and other GM's who might be impacted by the success or failure of the Flames down the stretch might have cried foul. Indeed, the NHLPA might have grieved THAT decision as well since it was in clear violation of the tenets of the CBA!!

Some are already trying to play "Pin The Tail On The Button" for this one but a GM three years into his tenure and currently in 14th place in a 15 team conference will probably be judged on other things when contract time comes up this summer.

The blame for this could easily be spread around but in the end the responsibility for the public relations nightmare has to rest at the NHL level where teams of lawyers address every trade as they happen. These are the guys and gals paid to know their stuff, even more so than the wily GM's and staffs of the respective teams, the final tripwire to catch mistakes like this.

Here's something you don't know - what percentage of trades come across the desks of NHL lawyers that are rejected for similar technical reasons? What other mistakes or what other rules are overlooked and caught by this last line of defence, the tripwire, and never reach the public eye?

Probably more than we know.

But this one got through and now the poop will hit the fan, a real mess as the length of time to solve it would suggest.

The blame for this lies with the NHL.

Is it over or will the NHLPA now step forward in McAmmond's defence?

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