Jul 102008
 

There are some strange happenings in regards to the Toronto Maple Leafs attempts to sign Jonas Frogren and one has to wonder if and why the NHL is standing in the way of the Leafs signing the Swedish defenseman. Yesterday was the day it was expected that the Leafs would finally announce the signing of Frogren but instead news came out that the league had nixed the deal stating that Frogren had to be signed to an entry level contract, not a standard contract.

Yesterday news came out that the NHL has rejected the Leafs contract with Jonas Frogren stating that his contract needs to be an entry level contract. Steve discussed the issue saying that the contract issues made no sense because the CBA states that a player age 28 isn’t required to sign an entry level contract and although Frogren is 27 now he will be 28 on August 28th so the Leafs just need to wait until then.

But it gets even stranger because in the same section of the CBA that states that a player aged 28 does not need to sign an entry level contract it also states the following:

9.2. Age of Players. As used in this Article, “age,” including “First SPC Signing Age” means a Players age on September 15 of the calendar year in which he signs an SPC, regardless of actual age on the date he signs such SPC.

Now I don’t give Gary Bettman and his gang a lot of credit but I will give them the benefit of doubt and assume that they are able to read. Now I believe my reading comprehension skills are not too shabby either and when I read the above it seems clear to me that Frogren’s age when he signs the contract is not an issue but rather his age on September 15th of the year he signs the contract. Now my understanding of the calendar is that August 28th is before September 15th and thus Frogren will be 28 on September 15th. Hmmm, maybe they can’t read all that well.

So you would think that Fletcher just had to call up Mr. Bettman and inform him of the rules and the contract would go through. But apparently that hasn’t happened, or at least Bettman didn’t accept Fletcher’s argument. Instead Frogren’s agent Don Meehan said “We are working with the NHL Players’ Association to resolve the matter.” So it appears that the NHLPA is going to have to file some sort of informal or formal grievance on behalf of Frogren to get the deal to be accepted.

So, what could be the issue? Well, as many of you are probably aware, the NHL and the European teams no longer have an IIHL transfer agreement in place. The transfer agreement allowed NHL teams to bring over their European prospects at a cost of $200,000. But now there is no agreement and thus NHL teams are technically free to bring over whoever they want, potentially even players signed to a contract with a European club with no compensation required. Essentially the NHL could grab any European player regardless of their contractual situation with no consequences. Conversely the European teams could do the same. In essense a contract signed in one league is not required to be honoured by other leagues.

This is a potentially big issue for the NHL because of the cration of the new Russian super league. If the Russian Continental Hockey League is not required to honour NHL contracts there is no obligation by Continental League teams to wait for an NHL players contract to expire before the lure them over to Russia to play. The fear is that at some point down the road, maybe one year, maybe 5 years, some Russian team will offer Alex Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin a $20 million a year contract that Ovechkin or Malkin can refuse and the NHL will lose one of their prime superstars. So, it is in the best interest of the NHL to not get into the habit of breaking existing contracts and set a precident.

And guess what? Jonas Frogren has an existing contract with Farjestad. The Hockey News Ryan Dixon has an interesting story on the Frogren contract and how he himself is going to buyout the final year of his Farjestad contract.

In the absence of a player transfer agreement between the NHL and IIHF, teams associated with both organizations have agreed not to go after players currently under contract on either side of the Atlantic.

The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement prevents teams from negotiating individual release fees with each other, but by giving Frogren the money directly by way of a salary – which will count against the cap – the Leafs found a way to get it done.

To get around those issues the Leafs are seemingly intending to give Frogren a hefty signing bonus which Frogren will use to personally buy out the contract he has with Farjestad. So if this is all true, could the NHL big wigs be looking at the hefty signing bonus and Frogren’s personal buyout as a workaround to the system and ultimately create a fear that this could be the first step down a downward slope to a near anarchy system where contracts on both sides of the ocean are not honoured as the NHL hopes they will be? Could this be the reason why this seemingly imminent announcement more than a week ago still has not been announced and is this the reason why the NHL is playing every possible card in the book to hold up the signing, including playing semantic games with CBA rules that are seeming perfectly clear to anyone able to read? It is the only possible motive for the NHL nixing the deal that I can see.