After weeks (months?) of Lombardi trying to work something out without making this an official league issue, Lombardi has gone to his last resort, filing a grievance with the NHL. Lombardi’s beef is with Steve Tambellini of the Edmonton Oilers over the Ryan Smyth trade.
First, Tambellini tried to trade Gilbert Brule to the Kings despite the fact that doctors deemed Brule unfit to play. That fact would seriously hinder the Kings since they only wanted Brule in order to buy him out. The Kings eventually settled on Colin Fraser since Tambellini and the Oilers crack team of doctors said Fraser would be ready to begin training the following week.
After the trade, it was discovered that Fraser was not only not fit to play, but required surgery on his foot. Lombardi is likely incensed that Tambellini tried to hoodwink him twice, and succeeded in doing so once.
Lombardi brought this issue up to the Oilers who claimed the Kings knew what they were getting in Fraser and refused to take further action. Then, Lombardi tried to use a league mediator to work something out, but again nothing could be done. So that brings us to now.
A lot has been said about both Lombardi and Tambellini in this situation. Lombardi is a whiner and should get over it. Tambellini is a snake-oil salesman and misrepresented his players’ health and readiness to play not once, but twice.
Now, I can’t be 100% objective here because obviously I’m going to lean Kings-ward on this, but for the sake of argument I’ll try.
What Steve Tambellini has on his side here is opinion and gray area. Brule was suffering from a concussion and concussion symptoms can be vague and almost subjective. We are in fact in an age of a concussion renaissance in a way. Doctors, players, and teams are being much more careful with players and their concussions than they may have been in say, the days of Lindros. We know now that the concussion itself is not totally the damaging part, but it’s how you follow it up. It’s training too early that does the damage. It’s the second knock that does the damage. The whole book is changing. Heck, players families are offering up their brains post-mortem because this is such a serious issue.
However, since we’re in that transitionary period, there is still some gray area. By some accounts, Crosby may have been ready to play during the playoffs last season and an older generation may have rushed him into it to make a run. Yet we understand the longterm ramifications of that. In the case of Brule, maybe he was experiencing headaches, or depression, or blurry vision or something. A doctor may say, “Hey, this guy sat out long enough, he passes all of our tests. He’s good to go.” But maybe Brule didn’t agree, and certainly league doctors did not agree. It’s all a matter of whose opinion you trust, and obviously Tambellini trusts his doctors over the league.
As for Fraser, it was another matter of opinion. Fraser’s foot problem was one that could have gone away on its own, or required surgery. From my guess, when Fraser was offered up Tambellini was working on a best case scenario “diagnosis.” Best case scenario, Fraser could be ready to train come next week. However it ended up being the worst case scenario, and Fraser just had surgery the other day. Tambellini keeps saying Fraser was traded “as-is”, which is a lawyer-y way of trading a used car with a bum radiator that could work for another year, but might just crap out on you. But hey, it was “as-is.”
I feel like it’s easier to see things from Lombardi’s perspective. If you’re not a Kings fan, put yourself in the shoes of one for a second. Okay, if you’re a Sharks/Ducks fan just imagine it happening to you since pretending to be a Kings fan would likely be unsavory. So Tambellini just traded your team a player who it turns out will be costing your team money (albeit, very little) to sit on the bench while he heals from a surgery that he wasn’t supposed to need. This comes right after he tried to trade you a guy still recovering from a concussion. He used vague language and misrepresentation in order to put the trade through and has repeatedly gone against what league doctors say in defense of his own opinion.
What Lombardi has on his side is the honor between NHL teams. You don’t trick another team into taking your damaged goods by, to use an extreme word, lying. You state facts, you tell the whole truth, and you make a fair trade. Even if the guy is your rival and you want your team to win, you do it honorably so it’s fair.
It’s a small issue in terms of goods for the Kings. The Kings got what they needed most, which was cap space. They don’t need a 4th line center, but they would have liked a commodity that could either be traded or bought out or played, instead they have a paycheck to write. However, this is a matter of principle! No really, not to sound snooty, but it is. I’m glad Lombardi is standing up for this relatively small issue, because keeping the honor of trades between NHL clubs is no small issue. If you think otherwise, wait until it happens to your team.
We won’t likely see a reversal of the trade. It’s more likely we’ll see an exchange of money to cover Fraser’s salary or maybe a draft pick. Maybe nothing at all will be done, or maybe it will be done behind closed doors. In any event, it’s in the leagues hands now.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney