Saturday, April 04, 2009

My explanation of the Jonas Frogren affair

Back in July the Maple Leafs signed Jonas Frogren for $2.1 million over 2 years. The NHL immediately rejected the contract which included a $700,000 signing bonus which it is believed he used part of it to pay his Swedish Elite League club $400,000 to get out of the final year of his contract. Although he was 28 years old, the NHL believes Frogren was a rookie and subject to an entry-level contract. That would limit him to a one-year term, earning as little as $450,000.

The Leafs and Frogren's agent, Don Meehan, believe Frogren is an unrestricted free agent.

The dispute boiled down transition rules between successive collective bargaining agreements, including the interpretation of the 2005 CBA's definition of a "free agent" contrasted with Frogren's status as a "defected" player under the previous CBA. "Defected status" was his official listing, resulting from the fact he had been drafted by the Calgary Flames in 1998, but never came to the NHL.

The NHLPA grieved the NHL decision in August. Frogren was allowed to play under the terms of the rejected contract until the dispute was settled. There was an abritration hearing set in the fall but the Maple Leafs and NHL settled before the hearing. Then on April the NHL announces that Leafs must forfeit a 4th round pick and pay a $500,000 fine for illegally signing Frogren. But you don't even hear one peep out of the normally vocal Brian Burke.

That's because the penalty and fine did not come as a surprise to Toronto. That must have been part of the settlement that was negotiated back in November although no announcement was made until this week.

Suddenly that strange deal with Tampa Bay at the trade deadline makes sense. The Leafs and Bolts swapped minor leaguers, and Tampa Bay also sent the Leafs Olaf Kolzig, Jamie Heward and a 4th round pick. But since Kolzig and Heward were out with injuries for the rest of the season, Toronto actually bought a 4th round pick for about $500,000. That 4th round pick will be handed over to the NHL as part of the penalty for signing Frogren.

As I see it, Burke bought himself a pick so that the Leafs wouldn't be further in the hole on draft day. So the Frogren penalty becomes a $1 million fine and no lost picks which is fine with the Leafs. That Burke is one smart cookie.