Visnovsky Arbitration Day: The Case of the Vanishing No-Trade Clause

Wait, is this all there is to the Visnovsky grievance?

At last, the day arrives to sort out the strange case of Lubomir Visnovsky's no-trade clause, which has been ridden hard and nearly put away wet. Today Visnovsky has his arbitration hearing to determine whether the clause was still in effect and/or should have prevented his June 22 trade from the Anaheim Ducks to the New York Islanders.

For Visnovsky's part, he's voiced no ill will to his would-be acquiring team, as his agent Neil Sheehy told Newsday last month...:

"...this has really nothing to do with the Islanders. For Lubo, this is about establishing what's right and whether a team has the right to move him in the manner that they did."

...but as you'll recall, Visnovsky's been shipped off multiple times since he signed the original contract with the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings are the team where he'd spent all seven of his NHL seasons up to the day in 2008 when they sent him packing -- just one day before that NTC was to kick in:

"I'm frustrated and very sad. They pretty much didn't do anything that they couldn't, according to the contract. However, there was a verbal deal under the table, according to which they shouldn't trade me at all. They told it to me and my agent straight into our faces a year ago, when we were signing the contract. 'You're our player, we won't trade you.' Even the owner called me back then and told me: 'Lubo, your home ain't Bratislava and Slovakia, it's LA..."

--old message board source to expired link

In that trade the Kings acquired Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene, two players who helped them to their first Stanley Cup win this year, so the Kings come out of the whole ordeal smashingly. (To be clear, it seems GM Dean Lombardi was also trying to create cap space and get out of what was about to be no-trade commitment on a serious cap hit ... because we know players with NTC's never get traded.)

Of course Visnovsky's saga did not end there. He played almost two seasons in Edmonton before the Oilers sent him packing again -- happily for him, they at least sent him back to Southern California. That's where things get foggy.

  • Did the Oilers agree to honor his NTC when they took him on? (The CBA bizarrely says an acquiring team doesn't have to honor the clause if it hasn't kicked in yet.)
  • If so, did he then waive it to accept the trade to the Ducks? And if that, then does that affect whether the clause still applies to future trades?

The facts are somewhat foggy in this case -- partly because the NHL is a league marked by strange clauses and implied, unseen documents (Anyone have that CHL-NHL agreement that keeps 19-year-olds out of the AHL?). I know I used to see reporters occasionally report that when an NHL player waives his NTC for a team, that NTC doesn't carry on to the next destination -- but that's not something I've seen in the CBA.

What is in the CBA deals only with players who were in Visnovsky's situation in L.A. (i.e., a new UFA contract) or Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in Philadelphia (i.e., an RFA who signs a contract that carries through to his UFA years, when an NTC can take effect):

The SPC of any Player who is a Group 3 Unrestricted Free Agent under Article 10.1(a) may contain a no-Trade or a no-move clause. SPCs containing a no-Trade or a no-move clause may be entered into prior to the time that the Player is a Group 3 Unrestricted Free Agent so long as the SPC containing the no-Trade or no-move clause extends through and does not become effective until the time that the Player qualifies for Group 3 Unrestricted Free Agency.

If the Player is Traded or claimed on Waivers prior to the no-Trade or no-move clause taking effect, the clause does not bind the acquiring Club. An acquiring Club may agree to continue to be bound by the no-Trade or no-move clause, which agreement shall be evidenced in writing to the Player, Central Registry and the NHLPA, in accordance with Exhibit 3 hereof.

So Edmonton didn't have to honor the clause. If they did, it should be in writing and in both parties' hands. Visnovsky's camp clearly thinks it has that, and clearly thinks it followed them to Anaheim.

There are general recollections from fans and followers on the Web that the Oilers honored his clause, but it's not written in stone anywhere and not clear from Visnovsky's post-trade reaction back then:

"I was a little bit surprised because I have a big contract and not too many teams have space," said Visnovsky who was acquired two years ago from the Los Angeles Kings. "I’m a hockey player. I loved Edmonton. I have great memories."

Again, that doesn't tell the whole story, and it appears the NTC's actual content said Visnovsky could provide a list of 10 teams he could be traded to (or, alternatively, 19 teams he wouldn't accept a trade to). No-Trade Clauses can take any number of permutations and windows, which also makes sorting this out difficult.

No doubt a return to the Ducks and Southern California was acceptable, so there was no issue when the Oilers dealt him in 2010. A deal to the East Coast and one of the league's bottom-five teams is another matter, as is, apparently, whatever the outline for a trade in the final year of the contract (though do note that on June 24 Visnovsky was arguably not yet in the final year of this current contract, which begins on July 1):

"There are parameters on if he is moved in the final year of his contract how that is to take place," Sheehy said. "The Ducks have an issue with that and we have an issue with the way things went. My job is to enforce the CBA on behalf of the player. So that’s what I’m doing. "Ultimately it has to be settled at higher level than just us sitting down and just because the deal was announced. This will be decided by an independent arbitrator, which the CBA says you can do if you have a disagreement.

And this is why they have arbitrators. The NHL approved the deal when it happened in June, but if there is information they or the Ducks or the Islanders didn't have, obviously new Avery has come to light, Dude.

What's Next?

And of course the next question is what happens if Visnovsky wins his case?

The trade would be voided, but then does he accept a re-do since he "likes what" the Islanders have told him about his role? Do the Ducks shop him elsewhere, to a team on his acceptable list, for a higher return especially now that the market of available quality defensemen has dried up?

It's not exactly exciting or promising, but it beats a week of grandstanding CBA talks.


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