The Washington Capitals have spurned unrestricted free agent Eric Belanger. Belanger recently signed a one-year, $750,000 deal with the Phoenix Coyotes. However, Belanger and his agent—prominent New York defense lawyer Joe Tacopina—state that they had a contract in place with the Capitals for a one-year deal worth $1.85 million.
The Capitals insist that while they were discussing a contract, GM George McPhee was never involved in the negotiations and a solid agreement was never reached. However, the Capitals did go as far as offering assistance finding Belanger's two daughters a school and helping find the family a new home.
Now for some reason the fact that Tacopina was working with assistant GM Don Fisher is supposed to mean that the deal was less legitimate, however as many know, assistant GM's sign players all the time.
What is of interest is a letter sent to McPhee from Tacopina. It states: "Don sent me a text message confirming our agreement."
Contrary to popular belief, a legally binding agreement often constitutes verbal and written consent between two parties. If this text message does in fact collaborate what the Belanger camp has been saying, things could be very interesting.
Granted, Tacopina really should have signed a contract, ensuring his client was secure in his position with the Capitals. On the other hand, the Capitals should have been up front with the Belanger camp in the first case.
In Tacopina's defense, you have to think that one of the higher profile defense lawyers in New York would know a thing or two about ensuring the legality agreements such as this.
The real mystery here isn't what trade didn't occur or why didn't both sides just make the signing official. It's that the Capitals have almost no depth at the center position, after letting their Nos. 2 and 3 centers walk away for nothing. A little odd for a team with more than $5 million left to spend.
The situation creates bad publicity for the team and the league while leaving a horrible impression for potential signings.
Between this, the Damian Cox battle, and the lack of acquiring established goaltending, the Capitals are sending out warning signs. Lots of questions with insufficient answers, raising a red flag that points to an organisation in turmoil.