Earlier this summer, the Vancouver Canucks invited NHL veteran Owen Nolan to training camp. The move made some sense, especially in light of the Stanley Cup Final, where it became clear the Canucks were in need of a more effective fourth line (i.e., one they could play).
Later, when Vancouver announced that they had invited Steve Begin as well, the same reasoning held up.
But, when news broke that the Canucks had also invited Niko Dimitrakos, Manny Legace, Todd Fedoruk, and Anders Eriksson to training camp, eyebrows began to raise.
GM Mike Gillis was handing out PTOs like they were individually wrapped butterscotch candies. Canucks Army called him the Oprah of the PTO.
Now, there are plenty of reasons a player gets invited to a training camp. Sometimes it's because the team is genuinely interested in his services; sometimes it's to increase competition at a certain position; sometimes it's as a favour to the player or his agent.
In the Canucks' case, it's to circumvent the CBA.
As we've seen over the past few years, if there's a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement, NHL GMs will find it and exploit the Hell out of it. Mike Gillis and the Canucks have found one, and that's exactly what they're doing.
Because the NHL still charges a pretty penny to attend these preseason games (tickets for Thursday's game in Edmonton started at $42.50), they need to ensure that the product on the ice in some way resembles two NHL teams playing hockey with one another.
With that in mind, the CBA ensures that teams don't just dress a bunch of stiffs for these meaningless September contests. Here's the rule:
15.3 (d) A Club shall be permitted to dress a minimum of eight (8) veterans for any Exhibition Game. For purposes of this Section, a veteran shall constitute either: (1) a forward or defenseman who played in thirty (30) NHL Games during the previous season, (2) a goaltender who either dressed in fifty (50) or more NHL Games or played in thirty (30) or more NHL Games in the previous season, (3) a first round draft choice from the most recent year's Entry Draft or(4) any Player who has played one-hundred (100) or more career NHL Games.
Each team is required to dress a minimum of 8 veterans, and all six of the Canucks' invitees qualify.
Here are the eligible veterans from the lineup Vancouver sent to Edmonton on Thursday: Ryan Parent, Andrew Ebbett, Nolan Baumgartner, Alexander Sulzer, and Eriksson, Fedoruk, Nolan, Dimitrakos, and Legace.
That's nine. Way to go above and beyond, boys.
Of those veterans, last season, only Ryan Parent played a game with the Canucks (he played four in total), and only Alexander Sulzer played in 30 games. The rest make the cut by virtue of having played 100 or more NHL games in their career, despite none of those games taking place last season.
Thursday's team wasn't the Vancouver Canucks, not even close. As it stands, the Canucks only dressed two players from the Stanley Cup Final roster: non-veterans Victor Oreskovich and Cody Hodgson, who played upwards of three minutes a game from the fourth line last June.
Oreskovich had three points in a Canucks' uniform last season. The rest of Thursday's Canucks' roster had four combined. In short, this wasn't an NHL team, either. (That said, the Canucks still won the game, 2-1, so Edmontonians should rightly be upset with the quality of both teams.)
The Canucks crapped all over the rule on Tuesday as well, during two split-squad affairs with the Calgary Flames. From Pass it to Bulis:
In Vancouver, the Canucks actually had 10 players who qualify as veterans: Ryan Parent, Keith Ballard, Marco Sturm, Andrew Ebbett, Aaron Rome, Maxim Lapierre, Cory Schneider, Owen Nolan, Chris Tanev, and even Nicklas Jensen, who qualifies by virtue of being the Canucks' 2011 first-round draft choice. That group of veterans almost looks legitimate, with only one player on a tryout deal.
Where it really comes into focus is when you look at the lineup that played in Calgary. The veterans in that lineup were Andrew Alberts, Victor Oreskovich, Alexander Sulzer, Anders Eriksson, Steve Begin, Manny Legace, Niko Dimitrakos, and Todd Fedoruk. Five of the eight veterans in the lineup were on tryout deals.
It's kind of shameful, really.
Granted, the actual Canuck veterans are likely still somewhat weary from the Cup run, and Mike Gillis deserves credit for finding an innovative way to sneak in a few more days of recuperation for them before they have to get back to full speed.
But fans are paying NHL prices, due primarily to the promise that they will be watching NHL teams. And that's not what they're getting.
Here's hoping this is addressed in the next CBA. If it isn't, expect to see more and more NHL "veterans" -- many of whom haven't played in the league for years -- invited to attend training camps in the future.
Edit: reader Bradford points out that the New York Islanders did something similar last year, in order to make up for all the injuries they suffered in camp. Interestingly, two of the veterans they invited were Manny Legace and Anders Eriksson, whom the Canucks are employing this season. Think these guys do it for the free food?