So Players Can Control Trades Now?

You’re eighteen years old. You’ve been doing great in school, excelling in all areas, demonstrating responsibility, and showing your parents that you’re going to be a well-rounded adult. When you graduate, your parents give you two choices:

  1. Your parents saw a great new car and they’re willing to buy it for you, but it doesn’t come out for another year. So you have to wait—but you’ll get the coolest car that everyone wants as soon as it comes out.
  2. You can keep your current car (that you think has some hidden potential) that you’ve had since your 16th birthday. Instead of getting the new car, your parents are going to give you a boatload of money, but you have to keep your current car for the next eight-years.

You decide that you’re going to keep your current car because you really think that it has some hidden potential and, let’s be honest; you’re getting a boatload of money.

So in what world is it OK to take all of the money, then change your mind two years into the eight year commitment and insist on the great new car? No, you’re not offering to give the money back—you just wanted your cake and you wanted to eat it too. And most importantly, you didn’t want to have to wait for the damned cake.

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Attention all NHL fans that have been living under a rock for the last seven months: Rick Nash wants to be traded. If you’re a sports fan and were unaware that Rick Nash asked for a trade, you probably watch too much ESPN. Otherwise, you know. We’ll save you from rehashing all of that here.

Both Blue Jackets’ Captain Rick Nash and GM Scott Howson have played their role in making it a complete train wreck in Columbus. Nash put Howson in the unenviable position of moving his captain, biggest box office draw, and best player in team history. There’s no script in the world that makes this easy. But when Howson failed to get a deal done at the trade deadline and proceeded to tell the world that he’s looking to move his captain because Nash himself asked for a trade, he pretty much knocked out the only leg he had left to stand on.

From Travis Hughes at SBNation.com:

“Howson didn’t reveal this in an answer to a question during the press conference. He said it as part of his own remarks, a detail that should not be ignored. In coming out and calculating such an announcement — an announcement that was completely counter to the conventional wisdom surrounding the entire Rick Nash trade speculation at this deadline — he’s clearly shifting the focus back on his star player.”

Like a train wreck, it’s been hard for the NHL world to stop watching. We know the ending—but we can’t stop ourselves from watching the impending chaos. This is where some writers would insert their unoriginal joke about the Blue Jackets organization.

It hasn’t always been this way for Rick Nash and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rewind 12 months ago and Nash was acting like an Ohio State football coach as he recruited Jeff Carter to accept the trade that sent him from Philly to Columbus. Only three years ago, he willingly signed an eight-year extension with the team that drafted him—and he did it only three days after the Blue Jackets were allowed to start officially negotiating with him. Needless to say, both sides knew what they wanted.

Regrettably, things aren’t as placid in the Buckeye State anymore. The man who has the 5th highest cap hit in the entire league isn’t happy with that contract that kicked in two years ago. No, he’s not willing to give any of the money back; he’s just fine with the contract that pays him an average of $7.8 million per season. What about that no-movement clause that’s in his contract until 2015 (when it converts to a no-trade clause)? Nope, he’s just fine with that aspect of the contract as well. In fact, that might be the part he likes the most about his deal right now. No, it looks like he still likes everything about that contract except for the team he signed it with in 2009.

You know, the devil is always in the details.

Nash is only the latest high-profile player to hold his team hostage with a trade request. But let’s call a spade a spade: a “request” leads us to believe that the Blue Jackets have a choice in the matter. When a player asks for a trade, it means there’s a very good chance he’s going to be traded. When those wishes make their way to the public and everyone (including his fans and teammates) knows he wants to be traded, the “very good chance” of a trade morphs into “there’s no way in hell that guy can come back to the team.”

Is there any copacetic scenario where Rick Nash returns to Columbus and everyone lives happily ever after? Of course not. This is a trade demand.

If he wants to be traded, then the only choice he should have regarding his future address is that it’s NOT Columbus. If he wanted to play for the Sharks, Rangers, Flyers, or whoever else is on his wish list, he should have resisted the urge to sign his huge contract with the Blue Jackets and waited for free agency. You know, when NHL players are allowed to choose their most desired destination. Two years into an eight-year contract is not exactly the right time to go looking for a change of address card at the post office.

Dany Heatley: the original Rich Nash. (BridgetDS/Flickr)

Unfortunately, the Nash v. Columbus drama isn’t an original tale. Only a few years ago, it was Dany Heatley wanting out of Ottawa, shunning Edmonton, and eventually landing in San Jose where he’d underwhelm Sharks fans for half of his two season tenure. The man has since been traded to Minnesota, but he STILL hasn’t heard the end of his well-publicized exit from Ottawa. He made his bed, so now he must lie in it.

Then again, that’s what happens when a guy makes $10 million in the first year of a six-year contract and immediately asks to be traded.

Then there is last year’s requestor: Kyle Turris. Here was a guy who thought that his development had been severely retarded by the Coyotes and asked for a trade so he could get a fresh start with another organization. What he really wanted to do was kick start the career that had had severely gone off the rails. Yet how could Phoenix get fair value for a player (the 3rd overall pick in the 2007 Draft, no less) that had made his intentions clear? His reasons for wanting a fresh start may have been justified, but once the trade requests were revealed, the Coyotes were put in a position of weakness in any negotiations.

Rick Nash isn’t even the only player out there who is trying to put himself on the trade market. Roberto Luongo isn’t necessarily DEMANDING a trade out of Vancouver (yet), but with Cory Schneider signing a 3-year deal with the Canucks for #1 goaltender type money, Luongo can see the writing on the wall. Depending on whether you talk to the Canucks coach, general manager, or the goaltender himself, you’re likely to get a different response concerning any trade requests. Likewise, Jonathan Bernier in Los Angeles isn’t demanding a trade per se, he just says that he “expects to be traded before training camp starts.” Bobby Ryan has never asked for a trade from the Anaheim Ducks, although he’s been rumored in so many trades, he doesn’t even care anymore.

Next year there will be a new crop of players under contract that want a change of scenery. And so it goes…

What (if any) obligation does an organization have to fulfill the players request? The worst part for any general manager is that technically, the team is not required to grant a player his request. If we go by the letter of the law, here’s how an unwanted trade request between a hypothetical player (we’ll call him Nick Rash) and an organization would go:

Nick Rash: “I would like to be traded to another team.”

General Manager: “No.”

Of course, that’s not how real life works. In reality, any potential problems are directly proportional to the value of the player to his team. If the player isn’t important and he asks for a trade, then the player is either shipped out of town with little fanfare for draft picks or told to wait until his contract expires. If a fourth line grinder is complaining about his ice time and wants to be traded, no one is going to miss him when he ends up in the press box—or worse yet, the AHL.

The problems arise when a superstar asks to be moved. You know, the kind of guy who makes over $7 million per season. A guy who was a top-3 draft pick. A guy that the team depends on to sell tickets—or more importantly—a guy the team can use to sell hope.

Roberto Luongo wears #1 for the Vancouver Canucks

What will be the logo on the front of Luongo’s jersey next season?

It’s easier to bury a disgruntled fringe player than a player whose jersey fills the arena. When Mr. Fourth-liner is benched and the team loses, no one is going hit HFBoards or comment sections complaining that the coach’s decisions cost the good guys the game. But if superstar/captain/goal scoring machine is benched and the team loses, then it’s the only reason the home team lost.

That’s not even taking into consideration the public relations nightmare if/when a big-time player is moved. How do you explain to a 6-year-old that their favorite player isn’t around anymore because he didn’t want to be there anymore? How do you explain that a hero is gone because he wanted to win—and didn’t think he could win here? How do you get that kid and his parents to come back when the main attraction has moved on to a new city? Forget wins and losses—this is about dollars and cents.

Almost as bad as the PR disaster are the ensuing problems on the ice. No one knows when Rick Nash is going to be traded and no one knows where he’s going to end up. But here’s what we know—the Blue Jackets are going to lose any trade. They’re giving up their best player and they will not be getting a marquee player in return. They’ll get spare parts, some young kids with potential, draft picks, and maybe someone with a bloated salary to make the deal work financially. But add all the pieces up and they won’t equal Rick Nash.

“Ladies and Gentleman, Columbus faithful, come out and get your first glimpse of… Joe Pavelski?”

When the Blue Jackets lose the Nash trade, it won’t be Scott Howson’s fault. Just like it wasn’t Bryan Murray’s fault when the Ottawa Senators gave up a guy that had scored 180 goals in four seasons for a player with potential (Milan Michalek) and Jonathan Cheechoo’s bloated salary. Just like it won’t be Mike Gillis’s fault in Vancouver when he gets 25 cents on the dollar for Roberto Luongo. The list goes on…

In each of those instances, there’s a no-trade (or no-movement) clause throwing a wrench into the proceedings. Here’s the question: If a player has a no-trade clause, should they be able to ask for a trade—and then limit the teams the organization is allowed to negotiate with? After all, if they are fulfilling a player’s request, then they should have to compromise, right? No-trade clauses were created so a player would have security with his team over the duration of his contract. He would be able to buy a house (not rent) and safely plant his family’s roots in the community.

They were not created so a player could lay down his roots in five different markets of his choosing two years into an eight-year contract. Can we just go back to the good-ole days when players controlled games and teams controlled trades?

That was a lot easier and there were no cars or cake involved.

One Comment

  1. So, the “good old days” were back when players were treated like commodities, and had no control over their destinies? Or the good old days, like when Jeff Carter committed 11 years to a team and was traded before the contract went into effect? Good old days indeed.

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