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McKenzie: Niedermayer fined by Ducks, not NHL

Bob McKenzie
4/22/2008 10:16:48 AM
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The NHL has not fined Scott Niedermayer $500,000 for missing training camp, as has been reported, but the Anaheim Ducks have.

Confused?

That's understandable.

As the New York Post reported on Sunday, Niedermayer has indeed been fined $500,000 because he missed training camp, but the fine was levied not by the NHL but the Ducks themselves. And according to the CBA, it is the Ducks who are mandated to fine Niedermayer for his decision to temporarily retire and miss training camp.

When a player misses training camp, according to the rules and regulations of the new CBA, the club has two choices:

One, they can say, no problem, take training camp off if you like, take as much time as you like to decide whether you want to play again and when you've made up your mind, let us know and we'll welcome you back with open arms, although in the meantime your salary will count against the team's salary cap, even though it's not actually being paid to the player. (Most people would be under the impression that's what the Ducks did, but most people would be wrong. It may have seemed that way because GM Brian Burke was more than happy to await Niedermayer's decision and work to the player's timeline.)

Or two, they can say, you take as much time as you need, miss training camp if you like, but understand this: the CBA clearly spells out that if our hockey club is going to get salary cap relief in the amount of your salary and allow us to sign Mathieu Schneider to fill the void created by your soul-searching, we have to suspend you without pay and if we do that and you miss all of training camp, we have no choice but to fine you the $500,000.

It was an easy decision for the Ducks. They couldn't afford the first scenario because to do that they would have had to count Niedermayer's salary against their cap, and they wouldn't have been able to sign Schneider, so they had to suspend Niedermayer. The minute they did that, and he missed all of training camp, the $500,000 fine was automatic. Niedermayer didn't have the Ducks' permission to miss training camp. Not at all. That's why he was suspended. It's not discretionary. And Niedermayer and his representatives were made well aware of that by Burke in the discussions prior to the player making the decision to shut it down for awhile.

The intent of the rule is fairly obvious - to discourage players under contract, not to be confused with unrestricted free agents such as Teemu Selanne, who can do as they see fit, from doing what Niedermayer did. That is, take off training camp, take off half the season and decide to come back for the stretch drive, all with the seeming blessing of the club. Outside of Anaheim, not many hockey fans or hockey people - read rival GMs - were happy with the Niedermayer situation. They thought the Ducks were getting a soft touch, being able to put Niedermayer in cold storage, take his salary off the cap and use it to sign a replacement like Schneider and then make the necessary adjustments to fit Niedermayer under the cap once he decided to come back.

But the entire scenario was conducted to the letter of the CBA law, including the $500,000 fine to Niedermayer.

Were the Ducks eager to mete out the $500,000 fine? No, but the rules are the rules.

It's all well and good to be critical of the league - let me pull out a hanky for how poor Scott Niedermayer has been treated - but the last time I checked, there are 29 other teams that expect the terms and conditions of the CBA to be met and executed. And let us also remember the NHL Players' Association signed off on this CBA. It's not like someone just made up the rule last week for the hell of it.

Which, by the way, is the reason those other 29 teams may not be too happy with the league right now. And rightfully so.

Because the league, in concert with the NHL Players' Association, is apparently negotiating to ensure that some or all of Niedermayer's fine doesn't actually have to be paid.

I am still trying to understand the rationale on this one. The rules are spelled out clearly. Well, maybe not that clearly - have you read the CBA? - but clear enough that if you read it, Niedermayer should be obliged to pay $500,000 for the right to put his contract on hold until he was good and ready to play. That's certainly the expectation from the other clubs in the league.

Sources say the league is treating this Niedermayer situation - the first of its kind - as a one-off conundrum and trying to settle this amicably for all involved.

I am all for amicable but exactly how amicable that is for the other 29 teams is open to debate.

But sources say that while the league and PA are discussing how to temper or eliminate the penalty to Niedermayer, the rule will remain in place and be enforced to the letter of the law from now on.

If there's a reason to be critical of the league, this is it. That's where the righteous indignation should be aimed.

Either it's a good rule that should stay or it's a bad rule that should be terminated. Make up your mind.

The NHL and the NHLPA need to decide what it's going to be, but it sure doesn't seem that Scott Niedermayer or the Ducks are being unduly punished, not as near as I can tell.

Bob McKenzie

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