Wednesday, September 15, 2010

For your mystery reading enjoyment

Sometimes, the Caps read like a Stieg Larsson novel – sparse, but full of intrigue. The latest chapter in the Caps mystery to unfold is what happened to the signing of center Eric Belanger. The erstwhile Caps center, obtained by the club as a rental at the trading deadline last season but since an unrestricted free agent, had been reported as more or less signed-in-secret for the past several weeks. All that delayed a formal announcement was a concurrent trade of a Caps roster player to be consummated.

Well, this morning, Eric Belanger is a Phoenix Coyote, having signed a one-year deal for a reported $750,000, a sum that is $1 million less than he earned last season. Belanger’s agent, Joe Tacopina, was not pleased at the Capitals’ treatment of his client:

"It's just disingenuous. Despite a two-way commitment and requesting Eric to commit to them and take himself out of the [free agent] mix, when they wound up not being able to make the trade several weeks later, they decided they couldn't sign him."

Agent’s spin their tales to put their clients in the best light, and sometimes that means taking on the air of the aggrieved party, whether the circumstances fit the narrative or not. But this certainly has been a bizarre case from start to finish. It isn’t the first time the Caps have been involved in a tale with many twists and turns, however. You don’t even have to go too far back in time to find them. Two seasons ago, there was the matter of Bill Guerin and a “mystery team” to which he was going to be traded. Speculation at the time centered on Washington, and there was no lack of discussion about that potential destination.

Then there was the almost year-long mystery surrounding the eventual destination of exiled center Michael Nylander. He had a role in the Guerin story (mostly about his having to be moved to clear salary cap room to accommodated Guerin’s salary), but he was a candidate to settle in any number of world locales – Switzerland, Russia, Finland, Michigan.

Now we have Eric Belanger, the unmade deal, and the mystery trade that was never made. The Caps have been quite the mystery over the last couple of years. And their close-to-the-vest manner of operating, leaking little, but leaving much to the imagination – no better personified than by the poker-faced general manager George McPhee – makes for interesting reading.

We might call it “The Boy With The Inscrutable Expression.”


Boush said...

Let me lead by saying that GMGM and Boudreau have done wonders for reviving the franchise and building a fantastic team, and their work over the past decade at the NHL and AHL levels has been top-notch.
That being said, their jobs are not lifetime appointments. You can work hard and do well, but when that stops, your job should be less than secure. The lack of playoff success should put Boudreau on the hot seat, and I think that most agree with me there. Our team has had plenty of regular season success, but for nearly 40 years we've been haunted by the lack of a Cup.
GMGM has built a great team. But the past two years have been pretty poor, in my opinion. Contract extensions for guys like Erskine, Steckel, and Sloan (without debate our current three worst consistent starters), the lack of activity during free agency this year (no defensemen when there was ample opportunity and cap space), and now the Belanger mess. If we don't win the cup this year, and if GMGM doesn't prove that he knows something we all don't, then a change in management is needed.

Anonymous said...

Typical tap dance around the issue to avoid any friction with the hand that feeds the blog. Grow a pair and be critical. McPhee obviously communicated to them the deal was going to happen (evidenced by the house lease and enrollment in schools for the kids) and shame on Belanger's agent for believing them, but the money was probably too good to pass up. Now we find out what really happened - classless management and lack of professionalism in pro sports. McPhee is useless.

Anonymous said...

Not exactly the offseason fans were hoping for. GMGM has failed - new blood is required.

The Peerless said...

Seems there is a nasty rumor going around that we get paid for this sort of thing. Just to be clear about this, we don't.

As for being critical, I'll assume the stance you're thinking I should have taken was to bash George McPhee. Of what, precisely? Of not signing Eric Belanger earlier? Of not considering an oral agreement as binding? Of not making the rumored trade?

As to the first, let's not attach too much value to Belanger. He has value to this team, in my opinion, but he's not irreplaceable. Second, other than a breathless e-mail from the player's agent, we don't know precisely what was and what was not agreed to by the parties. Third, what trade was in place? What do we know about what the Caps were offered? Contrary to popular opinion, neither Tomas Fleischmann nor David Steckel (the rumored players to be moved) are worth less than the proverbial bag of pucks.

Bart said...

We don't know what was communicated to the agent (whether Belanger being signed depended on a trade or whether promises were made that he was guaranteed a spot), but an agent worth anything should have known that if you don't have a signed contract then you have no deal. From the sounds of it either Belanger made assumptions or the agent made assumptions and communicated said assumptions to Belanger resulting in chicks being counted before they hatched. McPhee and the Caps can't take the blame for an incompetent agent who is now trying to save face with the media.

Belanger was a good guy and took a puck for the team but didn't seem to show the skills necessary to anchor our second line.

In response to repeated failures in the post season, we have a team that won the regular season, hands down and lost to a team that had our goat during a season when we owned every other team in the league. I had a feeling last season that if we drew Montreal, New Jersey or Ottawa we'd have our work cut out for us to make it through to the next round and my worries were right. So we failed this time around...lets blow up the team that got us there! We have a minor league team that's won the Calder Cup 3 out of the last 4 years. With Alzner and Carlson moving up and possibly some new blood at wing and center from the lower team mixed with all of the experience and chemistry from the past few years makes us a better team from last year.