We’ve said a lot about the way Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi handled the Mike Richards situation, but know this: It was a cold-hearted, brazen attempt to reduce the Kings’ cap penalties on Richards, and it ended up working.
Which, naturally, enraged other general managers who aren’t as cold-hearted and brazen with their own problematic players.
Via Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, what is and what might have been with the Richards contract:
If the Kings had bought out Richards last summer, he would have stayed on their payroll until the end of the 2024-25 season. The cap hit would move from approximately $1.2M this season to $1.7M next year, followed by $2.7M in 2017-18 and a two-season peak of $4.2M in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Then it would stay just under $1.5M for the final five seasons.
With the agreement, Richards’ cash lasts until the end of 2030-31 campaign. As part of a cap-recapture penalty due to decreasing dollar values towards the end of his contract, the Kings lose $1.32M from their cap this year — and the next four — with the settlement amount added to that total. Starting in 2020-21, the team’s only penalty is the settlement itself — and that’s not a high number, believed to be somewhere in the $550,000 per season range on average.
Friedman says that “privately, other teams are screaming bloody murder and are threatening to make an issue about it at December’s Board of Governors’ meeting.”
First, it should be said that part of this settlement is the agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA that this isn’t to be treated as precedent. It’s a one-time deal, a unique situation, and the sides opted to avoid a legal challenge to the Kings’ decision – and, frankly, a provision in the standard player contract that allows termination for illegal behavior.
But here’s the thing: The rest of the NHL can scream bloody murder, but the moment the NHLPA grieved the decision it set into motion the parts of the CBA that allow for teams and players to settle. “There was a grievance filed by the Union seeking resolution of that dispute. The Club is entitled to settle that grievance just as many Club-Player grievances are settled all the time,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, to TSN.
Furthermore, the NHL monitored the situation to ensure that there wasn’t any cap circumvention in the settlement.
“If the settlement was simply a disguised way to get favorable Cap treatment, we certainly would have considered it to be a circumvention and acted accordingly. But this wasn't that. Far from it. There is absolutely zero concern that anything that transpired here could in any way be considered a `circumvention’ of the CBA. Anyone who believes to the contrary is clearly not privy to the facts,” he said.
There’s apparently some panic behind the scenes among agents, who are wondering how many other NHL teams might attempt what the Kings attempted here. And they should wonder, because the NHLPA collectively bargained to have the following language in the standard player contract:
"[The player agrees] to conduct himself on and off the rink according to the highest standards of honesty, morality, fair play and sportsmanship, and to refrain from conduct detrimental to the best interest of the Club, the League or professional hockey generally."
And if he violates that?
“The Club may also terminate this SPC upon written notice to the Player (but only after obtaining Waivers from all other Clubs) if the Player shall at any time … fail, refuse or neglect to render his services hereunder or in any other manner materially breach this SPC.”
Again, say what you will about Lombardi, the Kings and the way they handled Richards. But every team in this league is afforded the chance to make the ruthless decisions the Kings made. Every team in this league can find its way out of toxic contracts, if it has the spine to follow through to arbitration.
How? If the player gives them an out as Richards did. Why? Because the NHLPA collectively bargained with the teams to give them that power. It’s amazing no one before Lombardi chose to wield it.
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