September 05, 2010
If the objective for a sports provocateur is to garner attention, whether it's positive or negative, then it's been a banner couple of weeks for Damien Cox of the Toronto Star.
On Aug. 22, his blog The Spin openly questioned whether Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista's offensive surge this season was due to steroids, without providing any evidence behind speculation. It's the nearly same thing blogger Jerod Morris did in writing about Raul Ibanez of the Phillies last year, only Cox wasn't summoned to ESPN's "Outside the Lines" for a spanking like Morris was -- even as his column was pummeled by mainstream and alt-media. He got the buzz without the repercussions.
This week, Cox managed to piss off Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, which in itself isn't a rarity: Leonsis has been known to use his blog Ted's Take to voice disapproval of others' behavior and attitudes before, including this very blog for a Ross McKeon "contract the Caps" post.
But Cox's comments about the 13-year contract Leonsis saw Alex Ovechkin(notes) sign with the Capitals, and Leonsis's response, have an added bit of intrigue: Cox has a book he co-wrote about Ovechkin coming out this fall.
A book Leonsis doesn't appear too pleased about, either.
Here's Damien Cox in a column about the NHL and the NHLPA agreeing to amend the Collective Bargaining Agreement on long-term contracts, and how Gary Bettman's "friends" had been betraying him with cap-circumventing deals:
Ted Leonsis, to name another, was a hawk during the last labour struggle and now drinks deeply and gratefully from the revenue-sharing trough. The president of his Washington Capitals, Dick Patrick, is part of one of hockey's most famous families and a committed league man.
But when they wanted to give Alexander Ovechkin a 13-year, $124 million contract, one they knew Bettman wouldn't approve of, they did it anyway. That encouraged others, like the bizarre Tampa twosome of Len Barrie and Oren Koules, to engineer a deal with Vinny Lecavalier that started with a $10 million salary and wound down to $1 million.
Why? Why did all these powerful owners, largely devoted Bettman supporters, repeatedly ignore his advice and pleadings?
Grouping the Ovechkin contract with those that circumvent the cap is, of course, patently absurd. A quick and dirty comparison between the Capitals star's contract and the 12-year deal for Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo(notes), for example (via NHL Numbers):
Head here for the Lecavalier deal that Cox mentions. Like Luongo's and unlike Ovechkin's, it plays around with numbers late in the deal to influence the overall cap number, something the NHL has attempted to snuff out with the "Kovalchuk Amendment."
On that point, Leonsis was justifiably angry; only within his blog post defense of the Capitals and that contract, he made things a little personal with the writer:
It was all done in the light of day - honest and transparent. By the rules. The writer of this article knows that. He is just mad because he didn't have access to Alex Ovechkin when he wrote his book. We don't agree with his point of view in his book and we won't have anything to do with him and his book now. He is on his own.
Alex's contract was NOT a long term front-loaded contract structured to achieve artificial low contract value for the purpose of achieving certain advantages under the salary cap. Nor was Backstrom's deal. That is why they were approved and why we played by the rules. Alex will still be young enough when his deal ends to sign another contract too! As will Backstrom. The writer knows that. Why he lumps the deal in with these other deals is just mean-spirited and inspired by other factors known only to him.
Caps blog Japers' Rink ran two excerpts from "The Ovechkin Project," the forthcoming book by Cox and the delightful Gare Joyce. Judging from them, and only them, we're not exactly sure the Capitals would have been selling this thing on the lobby of Verizon Center anyway.