[...] Apparently — and I didn’t hear this personally, so please correct any misrepresentation — there was a report out of Edmonton today that the league had "sided" with the Oilers in this dispute over the Ryan Smyth-Colin Fraser trade. The mention of that brought a long, raised-voice denial from Lombardi [...]:
LOMBARDI: "We haven’t got a resolution yet. In fact, I’m supposed to talk to (league lawyer David Zimmerman) today. There’s no question. There’s [...] gray area in terms of whether the doctors think it’s going to need surgery or it’s going to take two weeks or four months. [...] There is no question that this player is not fit to play now, and obviously was not fit to play when he [Edmonton GM Steve Tambellini] said he would be fit to play, which was the Wednesday after the trade. [The doctors] don’t disagree on the fundamental premise, that this guy is not fit to play. [...T]hey might disagree on whether it’s two weeks, four weeks or four months, but the deal was, 'He’s fit to play.’ [...] The independent doctor says, 'Let it go two more weeks to see if it heals.’ Our doctors say, 'Don’t mess around.’ [...] So, the issue is, was he fit to play on the Wednesday after the deal? No. Is any doctor saying he’s fit to play now? No.
[...] We did the deal on (Sunday) and it was, 'Oh, he’s coming to see the doctor and he’s going to be cleared on Wednesday.’ That doctor still would not clear him to play now. [...] If he was ready in two weeks, it might affect how you resolve it. If he’s ready in four months, [there's] a different way to resolve it. [...] [Our doctor] is saying, "there is no improvement in this bone in four months; what’s going to change in two weeks? Let’s go in there and get the surgery done as quickly as possible, so he can get ready to play." Now, if you want to give it another two weeks, to see if all of a sudden this bone starts healing on its own, if David (Zimmerman) says to do that, we’ll do it. [...] We want to save the spirit of the trade, although I did have a team call me today, saying that if it’s not going through, they would take [Smyth], but that’s not the purpose. [Let's] try to work this out the way we understood it at the time we did it."
I especially like that last bit, where Lombardi is threatening to take Smyth back, which would destroy Tambellini with the Oiler fanbase. Can't really do it though, because an angry Tambellini would then be totally justified (in an "it is icy cold in space" sort of way) in offer-sheeting Doughty, and Lombardi wouldn't have the cap-room to match. Although, if he could somehow be 100% certain that Doughty wouldn't sign an absurd offer sheet (so great is his love of the Kings, etc.), then it would be hilarious to mess with Tambellini just to mess with him. Though I can see this devolving quickly into the hockey version of The Butter Battle Book.
If there's anyone out there who thinks Lombardi doesn't have a case, consider:
- the "as is" argument doesn't wash -- if indeed Tambellini offered Fraser "as is", the definition of "as is" is "as described by Tambellini and the Oilers medical staff," and that pivots on "will be ready for full training by Wednesday." He wasn't. So he wasn't "as is." As a commenter pointed out on another post, he wasn't "as described."
- Tambellini's "doctors disagree about exactly how not-healthy he is and what should be done about it" argument (that's a paraphrase; it's from the same interview in which he said "he's their player now") bizarrely underlines something I would think Tambellini would want to conceal: his standards for what constitutes "healthy" are much lower than not only Lombardi's, but the league's (see Brule, Gilbert).
- The difference between Fraser-cleared-to-play and Fraser-maybe-on-the-shelf-till-November is that Lombardi can't buy him out, can't send him to the minors, and can't even put him on IR until September -- all of which handcuffs him in terms of managing payroll, contract limits, roster and so on. The Kings have players to sign, and the fact that Fraser can't be bought-out (for example) means that there is potentially one less contract spot available to Lombardi under the 50 contract limit. That could easily lead to other contracts having to be moved.
- Incidentally, I would think the NHLPA would have something to say about this. Their constituent, Fraser, doesn't know where he stands, doesn't know if he's healthy or not, doesn't know what team he's on (since clearly one resolution on the table is that the Oilers take him back); if he ends up back in Edmonton, what is he supposed to make of the medical opinions of the Oiler staff, who appear to be content just to stick their heads in the sand and hope that injuries that require surgery just magically heal-up on their own? They appear to be either corrupt or incompetent, or a combination of the two, and none of those options makes for a safe work environment.
- Not to mention that whether Fraser can train this summer or is on the shelf for several months could have a significant impact on his career, and at the very least will dramatically affect his season. with each passing week, Mulletgate is putting Fraser's livelihood at risk. Maybe you think I'm exaggerating the significance of that. Hard to know. But easy to say when it's not your job on the line.