It's good to have friends.
Current former Flyer Chris Pronger has a lot of friends. Given his style of play, he might still have a few enemies. That's perfect for the newest member of the NHL's Keep It Safe Club, a move which was finalized over the weekend.
As a longtime player with a careeer spanning almost twenty years of hockey, there's no reason to think Pronger will want for perspective in his new role as an advisor in the NHL's Department of Player Safety. But that's not the issue. The issue is that the NHL didn't have to hire Pronger to the DoPS.
Not right away, and especially not with that Flyers contract still doing its thing.
It's a pretty cut and dried case of conflict of interest, and it's been covered in better ways with fewer words than you'll find here. But it's still worth noting. Not that Pronger is going to be a pro-Flyers force in the league offices. There may never be a single problem caused by Pronger and his judgement of players who have broken the rules on the ice.
You can sink all of that, because his very hiring broke the rules of the league's collective bargaining agreement before he could ever step foot into his new office.
Which is just kind of business as usual in the NHL.
With his new gig, Pronger is going to judge the conduct of active NHL players while still collecting on his own player contract that, technically speaking, defines him as "active." That's a patent conflict of interest, and it violates Article 26 of the league's CBA.
If favoritism is the built-in flaw, it's not very likely. After all, Pronger played for five teams and captained three. The Flyers just so happened to be the last. And, to his credit, it wasn't really Pronger's decision to stop playing. That eye injury he suffered in 2011 was horrific, and concussion symptoms are not to be taken lightly.
And as for conflict of interest? The Flyers signed off on the fact that he is indeed never going to play for them again. His character has been vouched for across the board, and he won't be part of processes involving Flyers or their respective opponents.
Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo confirmed all of this to Pronger's credit, noting that, "His career ended because of concussions, but he couldn't officially retire because of rules that would have saddled the Flyers with his salary-cap hit."
Pronger can't retire without the Flyers foregoing the remaining benefits of his contract (to the team, really), which is currently supplying a monumental long-term injured reserve (LTIR) benefit to their always-awful cap position.
The rub here is that the whole situation never had to metastasize into any conflict of interest at all. Pronger could get the DoPS gig now, or wait it out until his Flyers deal has expired. The Flyers could let Pronger retire and assume the new job immediately, or continue to ride out the LTIR savings in a way that saves them from cap jail but ensures Pronger, and the NHL, are co-conspirators in violating the CBA.
Options were plenty, though not ideal. So, what's a league to do?
Let them all eat cake, apparently.
So Pronger gets his new job. The Flyers get their all-important cap relief. And what of the CBA? Well, you know.
It's just one of those things.
This wink-and-nod arrangement is the kind of thing the NHL is guilty of having done for a long time. Pronger's untimely hiring is just the latest incident. Conflicts of interest are really a case-by-case thing in the NHL, where it seems everybody is everybody else's friend.
And the league has apparently never been too worried about it.
- Marc Savard, currently formerly of the Boston Bruins, is working for the Ottawa 67's junior team as a scout, despite still holding a contract with the Bruins. Like Pronger and the Flyers, that LTIR contract is providing critical cap assistance despite Savard fielding a new, simultaneous job. That violates Article 26 of the CBA.
- Mario Lemieux became the league's first Player/Owner last decade when he turned years of back salary into primary ownership of the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins. One assumes that what was good for the goose would be good for the gander in such a situation, but that unprecedented move could have opened itself up to all kinds of legal maze running.
- Staying with the DoPS theme, Colin Campbell held chair in the office while his son, Gregory, played for the Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins. And that did lead to some pretty blatant conflicts of interest. Father-son tandem Brian and Patrick Burke are in a bit of a similar situation, and although Patrick Burke's counsel isn't taken into consideration for instances involving the Flames, the very possibility of bias is at least strengthened with such an arrangement.
But wait, there's more.
- The DoPS has almost always featured a former player (and really, what administrative post in the NHL hasn't?), and Pronger is following right in the footsteps of Brendan Shanahan. Before joining the Maple Leafs, Shanahan was the chair in the player safety office. Like Pronger, he had played for five NHL teams, and talk of bias towards his last club (the Rangers) was prevalent.
- Without a proper ownership group in place, the NHL took possession of the Phoenix Coyotes from 2009 to 2013. While the city of Glendale was stuck with most of the tab for the losses racked up by the Coyotes, the NHL was still the primary owner of a team over which it held governing (and monetary) responsibilities. What would have been good for the Coyotes would have also been good for the NHL. And that created a bees nest of potential legal issues, belied perhaps only by the team's staggering obscurity.
- The Flyers are owned by a Comcast chairperson, whose company happens to own the league's national broadcast rights in the United States. The ownership group looking over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the league's most valuable franchise, hold national broadcast rights in Canada, where the game is tantamount to religion. Both ownership groups have their hands deep in broadcast companies that have made the NHL very, very profitable, and Bettman still answers to them given their capacities as team owners. Yee-ikes.
Look, the NHL is a small league. Small, small. Like, everyone in the league is friends with each other on Facebook small. When former players become coaches and executives at such a regular clip, incestuous business practices are inevitable.
So when a situation like Pronger's arises, there are more than enough old friendships in place to grease the skids and see that the legalese doesn't interfere with what's going to be an otherwise beneficial arrangement.
Legally speaking, that's a soft way of doing things.
The CBA is a pretty comprehensive document, and lawyerin'-types on both sides of the owner-player table spend a lot of time each lockout making the document as strong as it can be.
That's great and all, and it's also great that friends can help friends by pushing the papers aside when it suits everyone.
But when the time comes for someone to lean on the CBA as an indisputable legal benchmark, will it suit everyone to point to the document and agree that it's as good as gold?
Maybe. But that's becoming a pretty heavy rug to have to pull off of your most critical piece of paperwork.
Tuesday Slew is a feature that runs Wednesdays throughout the season. Shower James with your praise and adulation on twitter, @SlewFooters.