It has been over a month since the announcement of a trade between the Los Angeles Kings and the Edmonton Oilers that sent veteran left winger Ryan Smyth back to Edmonton. Unfortunately for fans of the two teams, the details of the trade may still be in limbo.
Last week, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi filed a formal grievance with the National Hockey League, claiming the Oilers misrepresented the severity of an ankle injury that sidelined Colin Fraser since the end of March.
Prior to filing an official grievance, Lombardi has not been shy about taking his case to the court of public opinion, claiming to the media that his calls to the Oilers were not being returned and even making references to well known scam artist Bernie Madoff. Since the trade, Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini hasn't had anything to say about the situation.
Now that the trade has reached "grievance" status, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will be charged with determining fault and the appropriate settlement. However, we can only wonder what effect this incident will have on the reputation and public opinion of these two general managers, not just with fans but with other GMs throughout the league as well.
Let's start with Tambellini. Now that Fraser has undergone surgery, it is clear that his recovery time is months away and not "day to day," as it is still listed in the injury report on the Oilers web page. The Oiler faithful will claim Tambellini isn't dishonest, just misled by his medical staff.
Is it possible that Edmonton's medical staff is so bad as to not catch something on Fraser that the Kings' doctors and an independent NHLPA doctor did? The Oilers are usually at the top of the NHL in games lost to injuries. Irate ex-Oilers have blasted the organization on rushing injured players back to action before they are fully healed. So, perhaps there is some truth there. Unfortunately, all that means for Tambellini is that in the worst case scenario, he is dishonest. In the best case, he is clueless.
And then there is Lombardi. How do people outside of the Kings' fan base see the self-proclaimed victim in this saga? After all, does he have a right to be upset because Fraser is injured when Fraser was on the injured reserve list at the time of the trade? After the NHL's lawyers reportedly stepped in to stop him from trading for an injured Gilbert Brule just two days before, shouldn't he have taken his own due diligence this time around?
And what does Lombardi really lose in this deal? He still gets what he needed most in the Smyth trade: cap space. He stated that he planned to let Fraser compete for a fourth line slot. ("Compete" being the key word.) Fraser was never a lock to make the team and Lombardi's choice of words confirms that Lombardi understood he may only walk away with a seventh-round pick for Smyth.
True, he is stuck with Fraser for a few months, but he can replace an injured player without having that salary count against the cap. Even still, Fraser's salary is only $825,000 per year. And when Fraser is healed, he can play him, waive him or buy him out altogether.
Perhaps it is my bias as an Oilers fan, but I don't see Lombardi winning much favor with a grievance. Should Bettman side with Tambellini, Lombardi will look like a cry baby. Should Bettman find fault with the Oilers and void the trade, Lombardi will have serious cap issues and may not be able to re-sign Doughty. If Bettman decides to award the Kings additional picks at the expense of the Oilers, it will seem as though Lombardi took a backhanded move to increase the trade payoff of a player he could only give away.
Even without Fraser, the Smyth move benefited both teams. Lombardi should just leave it at that.