What We Learned: Veteran NHL players must stop betraying rookies

Ryan Lambert

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Brandon Dubinsky had a little bit to say on Friday about the free agency process for four-year college players.

Specifically, he is against it.

It’s tough to figure out exactly what his beef is here; he wasn’t more forthcoming than these two tweets. However, there are a few points worth addressing here.

First and foremost: This is a union member saying that the exercising of collectively bargained rights by other union members is “a joke.” Which is troubling in and of itself, but it really highlights a long-standing tendency on the part of NHLPA members to close the door behind them and not express much interest in boosting the rights of players younger than them, such as rookies who are forced to comply to entry-level contract (ELC) rules and have their free-agent rights controlled by the teams that drafted and/or signed them for pretty much the entirety of their prime performing years.

Second, Dubinsky is one of those aforementioned “guys that play[ed] major junior.” Perhaps the beef here is that major junior players who don’t sign after their eligibility runs out are forced to re-enter the draft rather than go through free agency, which doesn’t strike one as being totally fair on its surface. Except to say that most guys who become college free agents after forcing their way to UFA status by refusing to sign with the teams that drafted them (Will Butcher, Jimmy Vesey, Kevin Hayes, recent Columbus signee Doyle Somerby, etc.) are something like 22 or 23, versus being forced to re-enter the draft when junior eligibility runs out at age 20.

No one, of course, forces players to choose major junior over college, but you can see where these decisions are made; and when players make them, they presumably do so with a full understanding of what that means for their future career prospects. Especially in the case of a Dubinsky, who was a relatively high pick and fairly regular WHL player at age 16, the prospects of an NHL career had to be very real, and if he wasn’t prepared for what that would have meant for his future free agency status, that’s on his agent.

(Not that it mattered, since he signed with the Rangers after his draft-year-plus-1 season.)

Third, Dubinsky has been a member of the NHLPA for about a decade at this point, and while he wasn’t in the league when players lost an entire season to a lockout driven by owner greed (and, to some extent, union incompetence) he certainly saw what happened in 2012 first-hand; he was the Rangers’ player representative in the NHLPA the year before the most recent lockout. So he should know full well how difficult it is for the players, who basically got their asses kicked in two straight lockouts — and oh yeah, seem destined for a third one — to wring any kind of rights out of the league in the first place.

And just in case you were unclear whose side Dubinsky was on in this argument, he clarified pretty much immediately:

To be clear: No player should give a rat’s ass what teams/owners want from the collective bargaining process. It is, in fact, counter to their interests to line up on the side of management. While it’s hard to think of millionaires as being union members whose rights are trampled upon all the time, one has to remember that in most cases, their bosses are billionaires, for whom every cent taken out of the players’ share of hockey-related revenue is going into a Scrooge McDuck pile of money.

If anything, Dubinsky shouldn’t be railing against NCAA players’ collectively bargained free agent rights through the lens of how unfair it is to the teams that drafted them. He should be railing against NCAA players’ collectively bargained free agent rights not being extended to major junior players like him.

It seems the NHL’s sole reason for being in recent years has been to slowly subsume all player rights so that they remain relatively (and artificially) low-paid for as long as possible. Makes sense from the teams’ and owners’ point of view, of course. First there was the lockout to get the league on a salary cap system, then another to make sure that players and owners split HRR 50/50, as well as institute limits on the number of years for which contracts could be signed.

Everyone understands there’s probably another lockout on the horizon for 2020 (and we’d know for sure in 2019). Most observers seem to agree that teams would probably try to further rein in the term of allowable contracts. This helps protect teams from long-term investments that go sour, and opens players up to more risk because that’s less money guaranteed to them. Deals maxing out at five years for $8-8.5 million certainly benefit teams more than eight years at $7 million per.

(Obviously participation in the Olympics will be an issue too, but that now seems an awful lot like a talking point where the owners will say to the PA, “We’ll give you that if you give us five-year limits.” Or something like that. Escrow, too, will be a major point of leverage the owners use against the players.)

Dubinsky, as a former union rep who suffered through a lockout, should recognize that other players aren’t his enemy, and the relatively few rights they have are precious commodities. Whatever rights a player has, he should exercise them to their fullest extent. Because just three years from now, they could be taken away from rank-and-file NHLers.

In situations like this, where the league fights tooth and nail to strip rights from players, solidarity is key and union infighting is counterproductive. Dubinsky needs to save that stuff for the ice.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: This seems like the correct take, frankly. I can’t imagine why anyone would be signing Francois Beauchemin here in 2017, unless their blue line is a mess. Ahh, hmm, I see why the Ducks were interested; Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm are both likely to miss time to start the year. Still! Bad signing!

Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes’ arena thing is never going to be sorted out, is it?

Boston Bruins: The flawed premise here is that Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug are “similar players.” Insofar as they are Bruins defensemen I guess that’s true, but y’know, watch the games.

Buffalo Sabres: Yeah, re-signing Jack Eichel long-term for big money is something you want to keep under your hat.

Calgary Flames: I love this Jagr-to-Calgary rumor. Him and Johnny Gaudreau together, folks? I want that.

Carolina Hurricanes: Seems like an awful lot of tire-spinning all of a sudden.

Chicago: This is my whole thing with Chicago this year: They traded away the guy whose arrival coincided with Patrick Kane going from roughly a point a game to like 1.2 points per game, and that might not sound like a big difference, but it really is. It’s the difference between 85 and 100-plus points, or “He had a very good year” and “He’s the league MVP.” Not insignificant. So I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see Kane’s production take a step back.

Colorado Avalanche: Jeez I hope so.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Yeah, bringing back Rick Nash. That would be cool. I like Rick Nash. He’s going to clear 1,000 games this season and has an outside shot at 500 career goals for his career. Pretty good player!

Dallas Stars: Every once in a while I remember Alex Radulov is going to be on Tyler Seguin’s line and I get all excited.

Detroit Red Wings: On what premise is this kind of thinking based? Ken Holland hasn’t found a way to make the Red Wings better since Nick Lidstrom retired, and even then I think you’d have to go back a few years to find some kind of substantive way in which he personally improved the team.

Edmonton Oilers: Yeah it doesn’t get brought up a lot, but the Oilers’ wing depth (frankly, on both sides of the ice) really isn’t that great.

Florida Panthers: This is a fun little story, but I still don’t see where Blaine Byron thinks he has a serious shot at an NHL contract this year.

Los Angeles Kings: Legit question – If Drew Doughty is interested in playing for a competitive team on his next contract, why would he stay in LA?

Minnesota Wild: Does this strike anyone else as being very weird?

Montreal Canadiens: “Questions” is a funny way of spelling “major major major problems.”

Nashville Predators: Who on earth thinks otherwise?

New Jersey Devils: I can see this working out well but I’m also not holding my breath on Drew Stafford becoming a 20-goal guy again.

New York Islanders: Yeah, everyone is getting themselves all psyched up to trade for Matt Duchene, apparently. The Isles, the Blue Jackets, the Preds. Sure. It’s gonna happen.

New York Rangers: As always, throwing a bunch of money at a guy who shot 30 percent in the KHL playoffs probably isn’t the best idea. Especially when that guy is also 36 years old. Who just test positive for stimulants, diuretics, and masking agents. Just my theory.

Ottawa Senators: Derrick Brassard didn’t even hit 40 points last season when the Sens PDOed their way to success. I’d be a little worried here.

Philadelphia Flyers: Everyone is hoping that having a bunch of really young players on the team will make all the old guys better. Not sure that’s how it works.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Wow, Jay McClement could be a useful fourth-line center. Maybe. I don’t know. He’s got a lot of miles on him for, ahem, only being 34.

San Jose Sharks: I dunno, they were trying to get Marleau to leave for like three or four years, right?

St. Louis Blues: This is the correct answer in the “Who is the better Blues defenseman” debate.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Wait, is there somehow doubt that Andrei Vasilevskiy is not going to start over Peter freakin’ Budaj?

Toronto Maple Leafs: This could end up being a very good contract for the Leafs. Man, I was expecting them to go one year at this money, not three.

Vancouver Canucks: This is classic stuff:


Vegas Golden Knights: Floyd Mayweather’s casual TKO win over Connor McGregor on Saturday night might not even end up being a top-10 beatdown at T-Mobile Arena this season. What I’m saying is Vegas has a bad team that will lose a lot.

Washington Capitals: Evgeny Kuznetsov, new contract and all, is probably going to need to be extremely good this season to keep the Caps going strong in that division.

Winnipeg Jets: Ehh, Matt Hendricks isn’t great.

Gold Star Award

Sign Jagr.

Minus of the Weekend

I have watched that Joel Quenneville first pitch at the White Sox game like 50 times. It’s always amazing to me how, like, throwing a ball doesn’t come easily for a guy who played NHL hockey for 15 years.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “Toby Flenderson” is on the right path:

Flames: Kessel
Pens: Galchenyuk
Canadiens: Sam Bennett + ?


Mostly Madrigals. Hey, that might be good.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)