Newly-signed Phoenix Coyotes centre Eric Belanger told a Montreal radio station on Wednesday that for seven weeks, the Washington Capitals led him to believe he had a verbal agreement to return to the team for the upcoming NHL season.
"I had a lease on a house, the kids enrolled in school," Belanger said in the interview with Team 990 on Wednesday. "We had a verbal agreement over seven weeks ago, and they said it would take about a week to make a trade.
"It wasn't a question of if we were making it, it as a question of when you're gonna be signed, because they didn't want to lose any leverage on the trade, and we all know the story after that."
While the Capitals appeared to have an agreement in place last month to bring Belanger back, the team never confirmed that it had an arrangement with the centre. A contract was never signed and registered with the National Hockey League.
According to the Capitals website, assistant general manager Don Fishman told Belanger's agent in mid-August that no trade seemed imminent and suggested his client sign elsewhere if he had other offers.
Then a few weeks back, general manager George McPhee called Belanger to tell him that a trade could not be worked out and they would not be able to sign him. The free agent centre was invited to Capitals training camp while he waited for a contract offer from Washington or any other team.
Belanger, who played 24 games for the Washington Capitals during the 2009-10 regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs, instead signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Coyotes on Tuesday.
"I'm no lawyer guy, but the line has been crossed, and now I'm looking ahead," continued Belanger. "I have a great opportunity in Phoenix, and I want to play good for that organization. I feel wanted by them in Phoenix. They have shown a lot of interest for a long time."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was asked to comment on Belanger's situation while he was speaking with the media in Ottawa on Wednesday.
"I don't know the specifics of it, but as a general matter of rule, the only contracts that get respected are standard player contracts in writing and dually signed," said Bettman. "And in the absence of a written signed contract, there typically -- and again I don't know the particular facts of this case -- there isn't a contract."
The Globe and Mail reported on Wednesday that Belanger's agent, Joe Tacopina, is threatening the Caps with legal action because he says they had a deal in place, and the team backed out of it.
Tacopina told The Globe and Mail that the Capitals agreed over the phone to give Belanger a one-year, $1.85-million deal on July 16 that would be made official after general manager George McPhee completed a trade.
“They should be ashamed of how they handled this situation,” Tacopina said of McPhee and Fishman. “We're pursuing and evaluating our legal options in that regard.”