I am not one to let things go lightly. Despite the presence of three former first round drafts picks I can't cheer for the St. Louis Blues because of Sergio Momesso and Allan Bester's five-hole. I'll never cheer for another Canadian team in the playoffs because at some point in time their team has broken the Leafs' hearts or their fans have been jerks. So you can see why I am still writing about this Frogren/draft pick screw-job. And I am not the only one.
MF37 reads my mind and posts a timeline on the events surrounding the Frogren signing along with the salient question:
I understand how both sides interpreted the CBA and their relative positions, but what I don't understand, and what I'd love to know, is what agreements were reached at the mid-November settlement? I'd also love to know how, five months after reaching an agreement, the NHL can apply sanctions against the Leafs...30+ journalists following this team and all we have are more questions.
The silence on this issue is deafening. Whether it's because the reporters do not understand the CBA and do not want to expose their ignorance (not exactly a long-shot considering how complicated it is) or whether everyone has clammed up (but why not report that?) or if they don't think that they're readers can handle it (not exactly news that most people are dumb) I can't tell you. However, there is no better way to describe the entire situation than puzzling.
The most curious part is that even Tim Wharnsby, who wrote about the settlement reached prior to arbitration, is keeping quiet:
Prior to a hearing on Thursday the two sides settled and agreed that Frogren would continue playing under the two-year, $2.13-million (all currency U.S.) deal he signed in the summer. The Swede's contract includes a $755,000 signing bonus and salaries of $475,000 this season and $900,000 in 2009-10.
Yesterday you would have thought that this was some trivial decision going against the Leafs. The media that worked itself into a frenzy over the barest hint of imagined impropriety before Burke became GM were barely able to pen two pieces. The Globe went with the Canadian Press wire story while the Sun and the National Post had nothing (at least online because I won't touch those dirty rags in print). The people that actually bothered to look at the story went the predictable route and blamed it all on Cliff Fletcher. Of course, they did so without conducting any investigative work.
Here's Kevin McGran's "contribution":
Frogren's contract stays as written. Only the Leafs are being punished for the mistake.
Further compounding the embarrassment to the Leafs – a team hoping to compile draft picks as it rebuilds – is having to forfeit the fourth-round pick they got from Tampa in a complicated and controversial trade-deadline deal.
Doesn't that line about the contract staying as written ring any alarm bells in his head? What about the fact that the pick that gets taken is the one from that trade that he labels as "complicated and controversial"? Instead we are handed what appears to be the company line: Fletcher screwed up.
Darren Dreger, the lesser of the Insiders, acts as a stenographer for the NHL and also leaves some huge questions hanging in the balance:
The Jonas Frogren debacle isn't as complicated as some are making it out to be.
Well, that's just condescending. It is much more complicated that he'll try to make it.
For starters, according to the National Hockey League, there was no arbitration in this case. The $500,000 fine and forfeiture of a fourth round draft pick was determined by the league based on the Leafs attempt to circumvent the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
While it's true that there was no arbitration there is no mention that the two sides did come to an agreement in November. How about asking what that agreement was? Was the punishment levied then? How did the Leafs' circumvent the CBA. By reading MF37's post yesterday with the relevant sections of the CBA highlighted and explained it is certainly not clear what the Leafs did wrong.
Frogren's contract permitted payment once the contract was registered, however the contract was never registered, it was rejected because of his entry status at the time, but Toronto paid the signing bonus anyway, violating the rules of the collective bargaining agreement.
Ok, a couple of questions here: If the contract was not registered then how was Frogren allowed to play while the Leafs and the NHLPA and Don Meehan (one of the most powerful, knowledgeable, and evil agents in hockey) appealed the NHL's initial attempt to prevent the contract from being signed? When suspensions in sports are appealed generally the player is allowed to continue playing so that if they win their appeal they are not punished. It does not make sense that Frogren would have been allowed to play without his contract being registered. Plus, if the settlement eventually found that his contract was acceptable then how was the bonus payment against the rules? Not to mention that Dreger cannot even be bothered to explain what rule in the CBA this apparently violated.
All in all it's a very weak piece and sheds no light on the situation. Well, at least not to me. TSM finds the explanation to be plenty good enough:
What likely happened is that Cliff knew what he was doing, wanted the player and figured to hell with the consequences. Ooops.
How is that a valid conclusion? The Leafs bent over backwards to prevent even the smallest hint of tampering with regards to Burke but then they decide they don't give a shit in this case? Over Jonas Frogren? Not likely. As MF37 put it:
I think it's grossly unfair and incredibly simple to paint this situation as any type of incompetence on the part of the Leafs or Cliff Fletcher.
The Leafs, their lawyers, the NHLPA and Don Meehan all agreed and argued that given his age, draft status, and heritage Frogren was an unrestricted free agent who was not limited to an entry level deal.
THis was hardly a case of a doddering old man insisting that he was right. Not to mention that there was apparently an agreement reached in November proving Fletcher right!
But hey, if something is going to be grossly unfair and incredibly simple then Damien Cox wants in! In a piece that is nothing more than a hatchet job on one of the targets of The Omen's vendettas Cox jumps at the chance to get in another shot:
Yesterday, meanwhile, the league fined the Leafs $500,000 and stripped them of a fourth round pick for the Jonas Frogren signing last summer. The contract was illegal, but rather than running it past the NHL first, Fletcher just did it and now the Burke administration is paying the price.
Let's forget that that Leafs, the NHLPA, and Don Meehan all ran the contract by the NHL, filed a grievance about it, and came to a settlement before arbitration. It must just be that Fletcher was hopped up on Mountain Dew and felt like thumbing his nose at the NHL consequences be damned!
That's just ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as Cox (or anyone for that matter!) not looking into why Fletcher thought he was justified in pursuing the contract or what rule the Leafs' broke or why the punishment is so harsh. They might also want to ask why the punishment was chosen as I did Wednesday night. Well, going back to Dreger, I guess he did. But if you believe his explanation then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
Having to forfeit a fourth round pick is also considered by the Maple Leafs to be stiff punishment, although the NHL says the fact this pick was acquired through a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning many have viewed as salary dump is purely coincidental.
It's so coincidental that opposition bloggers say that at the very best the move has terrible optics:
The mixing of two controversies is a poor decision. It appears that the punishment for Frogren is a reaction to the Tampa trade. It appears that in a desire to make the Tampa trade go away, the NHL used the Frogren issue as a convenient excuse. Is it less of a problem to sign players who pay their own transfer if you do not attempt to buy draft picks? Mixing two unrelated issues like this is a bad NHL move.
So why did the league choose the Lightning's 4th rounder? Why not just veto the deal if they had an issue with it? Was the fact that the Lightning qualified to receive revenue sharing because of the deal a factor? Why was Frogren allowed to play if his contract wasn't registered with the league? And what was in this mysterious "settlement" in November? Was the punishment levied then? Did the Leafs get that 4th rounder from Tampa in order to comply with the punishment since they didn't have their own (Thanks JFJ!)?
These are all questions that hang in the air and, at the very least, give the impression of impropriety. Unfortunately for the fans that would like an explanation the reporters covering the team are either parroting the league's statement, taking a chance to get in some ad hominem attacks, or are ignoring the issue. Thank God for the wonderful Toronto media.
Update From The Comments:
Both Wharnsby and McGran emailed me back within about 10 minutes and were very helpful.
McGran said he’s still pursuing this story, has a whole bunch of questions himself and hopes to write more on this.
Wharnsby said the settlement reached in November was simply that Frogren would be allowed to play, the terms of his contract wouldn’t change and if the League took any punitiive measures they would go against the Leafs, not Frogren.
Also, check out the McGran article from this summer. Maybe there is some hope after all.