Several months ago, LeBron James went on ESPN for an hour long special to reveal what team he was going to sign with in free agency. It was spectacle, wind up, spin, and just about everything wrong with the big business of sports. The verdict on LeBron James?
Evgeni Nabokov was claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders after he signed with the Detroit Red Wings today. Within hours, word came from his agent that Nabokov would not be reporting to the Islanders organization. The verdict on Nabokov:
Hang on a minute here.
The rules on signing a player in the NHL who has played part of the season in a league overseas is that they must first pass though waivers. Any team can claim the player, with the team lowest in the standings getting first priority. If they can afford him, they can have him.
And what recourse does the player have? What can the player do if he doesn’t want to play for the team that claims him off waivers?
Nothing. Except not show up.
Can you imagine that happening to you? You get a job, but because you worked in another state, any other employer can take you away from your gig, and put you to work in their organization. First, you were going to be designing websites with a kick-ass startup, and the next day, you’re working the frialator at a McDonalds in Flint, MI. What would you do?
(and if you can’t get past the McDonalds bit, just insert whatever job that would suck in your field)
In the world of sports, players are treated as, and referred to, as property. In any other context, this would be illegal. But since this is sports, and the people involved are making a pile of cash, they should do what they are told, and put what they want to the side. It’s ridiculous.
So Nabokov should go to New York, and play as well as possible for a team he doesn’t want to be on, in a place he doesn’t want to be? No matter what the NHL waiver rules are, which seem designed entirely around punishing a player for going overseas, the guy is exercising the only real power he has left. In what is probably the twilight of his career, he probably wants to play for a contender. By not showing up, he is bucking the system, which looks mighty flawed at this point.
I bet the St. Louis Blues have a good argument against the waiver system right now, after loosing two players in a similar fashion this season. The only difference is that Marek Svatos and Kyle Wellwood won’t me making the impact that a goaltender of Nabokov’s skill can make (this isn’t to say he’s going to turn things on like Tim Thomas, but they guy can stop a puck).
We haven’t heard word one from Nabokov at this point, but it’s obvious that he doesn’t want to play for the Islanders. If he wanted to be on the island, he would have signed with them. And we have a problem with that?
UPDATE: Nabokov has spoken. Another post should be forthcoming.
Sometimes, this is how change happens. Someone says no, and the rules get looked at. Don’t be surprised if Nabokov, and certainly Nabokov’s agent, know exactly what is going on here, and have a perfectly good understanding of the waiver rules. Instead of going along with them, they are doing something different, which isn’t usually encouraged in big business, or sports.
TSN has a good roundup of what the Islanders can do next. My question is, what can Nabokov do next?
(thanks to @t_san for pointing me to that TSN column)