Advice for Eric Belanger: Get a new agent!

As painful as losing 9 teeth was in the playoffs, Eric Belanger’s latest contract debate may have been more painful. Photo: AP (Nick Wass)

As painful as losing 9 teeth was in the playoffs, Eric Belanger’s latest contract debate may have been more painful. Photo: AP (Nick Wass)

Well what an interesting debacle this appears to be!

When the Montreal Canadiens signed shutdown centre Jeff Halpern, several fans and media questioned why GM Pierre Gauthier did not spend the extra money and go after local faceoff specialist Eric Belanger instead?

Regardless of which player you get, it would be an upgrading for a two-way centre, and take the added burden of short-handed ice time for Tomas Plekanec. Speaking of two-way players, you should read Dave Stubbs’ fantastic piece on former Habs centreman Glen Metropolit, but I digress.

Belanger was expected to fetch close to the $1.75 million range in salary, which would have been more than what Metropolit made last year, leaving some tweaking for Gauthier to keep his team under the cap, or have zero space left.

My choice? I would have gone after Belanger. He’s been consistent offensively over the last three years, and quite frankly I don’t know many NHLers that can take a high stick, lose nine teeth (pulling one out on national TV) and stay in a playoff game.

In any event, the Habs signed Halpern to a one-year $600K deal, leaving speculation that a deal with Belanger couldn’t bee reached.

Was Belanger looking for more than his value, after a career high 41 points with the Minnesota Wild and Washington Capitals? Was he like many NHL players fearing the high tax brackets in Quebec? Who knows. Maybe he had reached a deal elsewhere…ahhhhh!!!

On Tuesday, Belanger signed with the Phoenix Coyotes for a single $750K a season. Huh???? Makes no sense, or does it?

By Tuesday evening, the accusations from the Belanger camp were fired out. Apparently there was a verbal deal between Belanger and the Capitals for the centre to stay in Washington. A deal that the Capitals allegedly reneged on  according to the forward and his agent.

A frustrated Belanger spoke to Montreal’s Team990 on Wednesday, citing that the Capitals gave him and agent Joe Tacopina gave him a reasonable offer, but did not wanted the signing to be announced as the team was working on a trade.

“They said it would take about a week to make a trade,” Belanger said. “It wasn’t a question of if they were making it but when, and you’re going to be signed, because they didn’t want to lose any leverage on the trade.”

This all started close to seven weeks ago, according to Belanger, who in the meantime leased an apartment and had his children enrolled in local schools. The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle seems to back up the situation with an article from August 12.

“I’m no lawyer guy but the line has been crossed, and now I’m looking ahead,” Belanger concluded.
Tacopina spoke to Toronto’s the Fan590 on Wednesday, reinforcing his client’s statements, adding that he had this all on record, via email, from Capitals assistant GM Don Fishman.

According to Tacopina, he was told by Fishman that this deal would be taken care of, once the trade was finalized, and not to worry about negotiating with other teams.

An exchange of stalling emails from the Capitals were sent to the agent, telling him to be patient. Tacopina also noted that Capitals Team Services manager even emailed his client in assisting with housing and getting his belongings moved from Minnesota.

Mirtle seems to verify Tacopina’s side of the story to an extent, in Wednesday’s article ,in the Globe and Mail, and includes excerpts of emails between the agent and Capitals GM George McPhee.

With time running out, and no contract, Belanger signed for $1 million less than what he thought he would a month prior.

But while Tacopina plead his case in print and on air, after all he is a prominent New York City defense attorney, the all important question came to mind.

If there was a deal, why not get it signed and done with and not dicker around for close to two months?

Tacopina easily should have said, “OK, we have a deal but this trade must happen in five to seven days.” He didn’t and Fishman and the Capitals appear to have played him and his client like a fiddle.

Contractual agreements and plea-bargains, which he is more familiar with, are two different things. From this debacle, it’s questionable if Mr.Tacopina realizes this.

The validity of the afore mentioned Globe and Mail article from mid-August also has some concerns. If the Capitals did not wish to unveil the signing, why would Belanger (according to the Le Soleil source in the article) say anything regarding it? Was this the deal breaker? Why would Tacopina allow his client to speak publically on a deal that way?

Mirtle continues to back the errors on Tacopina’s judgment in his Wednesday article below;

A contract, however, was never signed and registered with the league, an arrangement several veteran player agents said they would never have agreed to.

“They don’t have a legal leg to stand on,” one agent said Wednesday. “The entire situation is governed by the CBA. An agent and the player are obligated under the CBA to not take individual legal action or you can lose your certification to be an agent … The sole remedy would be a grievance.

“The grievance precedent is 100 per cent crystal clear: Unless you have a signed standard player contract on file, registered with the NHL, you have nothing.”

A grievance? Yeah there’s a book the NHL and NHLPA likely don’t want to visit twice in a year, eh?

Mike Vogel, senior writer for the Washington Capitals, also replied to to Tacopina’s statements, and has the backing of the team’s majority owner Ted Leonsis.

So in the meantime, Eric Belanger is stuck with a lease on apartment in the D.C. area, where his belongings likely already are, and now has to look at either finding another school in the Phoenix area, or playing distant father to his kids. Oh, and he could be out a million or so due to his agent’s bungling.

As Belanger said, he’s now looking ahead. For him, the 2010-11 NHL season will obviously be a hockey one, as opposed to a financial one. He should just continue doing what he does, possibly getting some power play time in Phoenix, and start over next July.

Hopefully by then, it will be with an agent that knows what he is doing.