Buccigross: Crosby up for grabs?

Updated: June 15, 2005, 2:04 PM ET
By John Buccigross | Special to ESPN.com

On Friday, IMG, the agency that represents Sidney Crosby, sent the NHL a letter requesting that all players drafted in 2003 and 2004 who have not signed contracts yet be taken off the reserve lists of the teams that drafted them.

The biggest name players this affects are probably Jeff Carter (11th overall, 2003) and Mike Richards (24th overall, 2003). These players are not represented by IMG. They were drafted by Philadelphia. There are five other first-round draft picks from 2003 not yet signed, including Crosby's linemate, Marc-Antoine Pouliot.

No first-round pick from 2004 has signed a contract, so it directly affects each North American, non-collegiate player, including players such as Cam Barker (third overall, Blackhawks) and Andrew Ladd (fourth, Hurricanes).

The letter from IMG to the NHL says IMG is requesting that the players be taken off their respective team's reserve lists and that the teams no longer retain their rights. Depending on the player's age, this could mean one of two things for players: either back into the draft or free agency. These players likely would fall under whatever the new rookie salary scale is. There really is no precedent.

IMG is basing its approach on the fact that, if the NHL is suggesting that current, veteran players' contracts are expiring, then they can't also say that time is stuck for these kids not yet under contract.

The NHL's position is that all of this is subject to the collective bargaining process and that IMG has no case and is wasting its time.

Ultimately, this probably is something that will fall under collective bargaining. At the least, however, IMG shows its clients it is being proactive because no one in the hockey universe is operating in an environment where it's business as usual. Everything is up for grabs. And IMG is showing its clients it is mucking and grinding in all of the legal corners.

The letter from IMG to the NHL does not contain any names. IMG recently upset one of its golfing clients, Ernie Els, by including his name in a letter. IMG sent a letter to individual PGA Tour events that included a fee listing for some of IMG's clients, ranging from $50,000 to $200,000. The deal was that these golfers, including Els but not Tiger Woods, would appear in Monday golf outings, thus ensuring the tournament would have the player for the week's PGA event. This would circumvent the PGA Tour's policy of not allowing tournaments to offer appearance money to get players to play in their tournaments. Els was upset his name had been included on the list of players available for the Monday outings even though he hadn't been consulted, and he recently has left IMG for another agency.

IMG's biggest concern for its hockey clients is, obviously, the future of Crosby, its biggest hockey client and one who gives them massive international exposure. IMG would love him, above all, in New York. This is where he would get the most exposure and most endorsement income.

With the new, tightened rookie salary wage scale that will be part of the new CBA, entry-level NHL players will earn far less money than they have enjoyed the last decade. Endorsement money will become more important. Only a handful of NHL players get any kind of non-hockey endorsements outside of your local car dealership quid pro quo. Crosby is the one player who could earn millions more in non-hockey endorsements.

New York would practically guarantee that scenario. It probably wouldn't happen in Raleigh, N.C., Pittsburgh or anywhere else in the U.S. After New York, Crosby actually would be better off in Canada. Like Wayne Gretzky, Crosby likely will get Canadian endorsements anyway. If he played in Canada – most specifically Toronto, and to a sightly lesser degree, Montreal – Crosby likely would earn even more Canadian dollars.

All of this is of no concern to nearly every hockey fan. Especially fans in Pittsburgh, Washington, Raleigh or Phoenix. These teams and fans want a fair shot at Crosby. He will make those franchises more valuable for the owner – and more enjoyable for the fans.

Personally, I don't care where Crosby winds up. I will watch every game he plays anyway. But it would undoubtedly help the NHL if he played in a major U.S. market. For the NBA, MLB and NHL, when big-market teams do well, the league gets more coverage, better ratings and more television dollars.

IMG would love to be able to place Crosby in New York because that would make him more money, and thus get the agency more money and massive exposure. But it appears IMG and Crosby will have to depend on the luck of the draw in some sort of lottery. Whoever wins the lottery will be offered significant trade offers for Crosby, and yes, that team should listen to them. The Quebec Nordiques drafted Eric Lindros No. 1 in 1991. After Lindros declared he would never play for Quebec, his rights were traded to a team that was opening a new arena, wanted to sell its luxury suites, create a buzz, and yes, win a Stanley Cup. The Flyers sent Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, two first-round draft picks (Quebec took Jocelyn Thibault with Philly's 1993 pick, and the goalie was the big piece in getting Patrick Roy) and $15 million in exchange for Lindros, who was viewed as an amalgamation of Mario Lemieux and Cam Neely. Since that trade, the Avalanche have won two Stanley Cups and are a goaltender away from being among the favorites to win another.

Drafting Crosby would be an exciting moment for a franchise. But with so many smaller markets in survival mode, and other large markets looking to sell out luxury suites by marketing young stars, trading Crosby to a shortsighted, big-market franchise might bring the bigger long-term return to the little draft lottery winner. And though the trade would make IMG, Crosby and the NHL happy, the one laughing last could be the team that trades away its hockey future. Hockey is, after all, the ultimate team game.

The Mailbag

John,
I couldn't be happier that the NHL is NOT listening to those folks who think we need bigger nets, or other radical changes to the game. It's not just the old guard maintaining a hard line on antiquated rules, either. It is, however, the recognition that the game doesn't need to be A) the sports equivalent of miniature golf (what's next? windmills at centre ice?) or B) popular with every denizen of North America.
If they will actually call the game the way the rules were intended, we will see what we all love – pure hockey. And it will be good. Bucci, I love your column, but you were (fortunately) way off base in this area. Cheers,
C/RW Kevin Sheets

I remain steadfast that NHL goalies, with equipment, are too big and too good for the present dimension of the net. It all starts there, and all the offensive challenges of the game begin with the small net. I was talking with former NHL goalie and current Flyers goaltending coach Reggie Lemelin last week. Lemelin said another reason goalies are better now is because they actually practice. Lemelin and other goalies of his era had no desire to stand in front of an Al MacInnis slap shot in practice.

Today, with the equipment so safe, the fear is gone and goalies have become, arguably, the best trained and most fearless players on the ice. They are able to execute what they practice more than any other players because they can simulate game conditions in practice with no fear of injury. The game will stay defensive-minded as long as that is the case. Most owners want one thing above all else: a better-than-average rate of return on their investment. That creates a win-at-all-costs mind-set that places a heavy demand on GMs, coaches and players. And the best way to win is to play from the goalie out. A bigger net will create fear and uncertainty for goalies, and that will be good for the game and elevate the excitement level on every inch of ice.

John,
I know some might think this tired, but your expertise in this field and the karma possibilities make at least myattempted requesta must.My wife and I are having our first child next month.I am ordering her first L.A. Kings (maybethe classic white/black Gretz jersey)gear this week.We live in Nebraska and she will be tall (my wife is 6-3) so I am thinking defenseman or power forward.I live and breathe hockey and humbly ask your input for a name. Let 'em drop the puck soon!

Craig Paulsen
Lincoln, Nebraska

You are thinking power forward and defenseman. Let's combine the greatest defenseman in U.S. women's hockey history (Angela Ruggiero) and the first lady of women's hockey (Cammi Granato) and present to the world: Angela Catherine Paulsen.

Werd up to Tom Osborne, yo.

John,
I've been hearing a lot of talk lately about rule changes. That's all good, but what happened to talk of a shorter season? As much as I love hockey, the NHL season is about 20 games too long and goes too far into spring.
Todd Price

Good question, Todd. I'm sure this and other issues are being collectively bargained as we speak. CBA resolution is taking time because so many things are on the table: salary cap, rule changes, entry-level cap, length of season, Olympic participation and the revolutionary idea of convincing the Sutter brothers to buy suits made after 1993. It's better to collectively bargain everything so the two sides can focus on working together to grow the game from scratch. I believe 60 games is best for maximum hockey entertainment over the course of a season. Maybe even 50. But we know the players wouldn't sacrifice that much income, and if I were a player, I'd feel the same way. That said, I'd expect a 72-game schedule: 36 games at home, 36 away.

Hi John,
I agree that Cam Neely not being in the Hall of Fame before this year was a huge injustice. I am from New England and for us kids that grew up watching him here, he is hockey. He scored, checked, fought, and always stuck up for his teammates. If he doesn't define the way a hockey player should play, I don't know who does. We New Englanders could not be more proud of Cam and he is an even better person off the ice for all of his work at the Neely House. Great player, greater man, and he was Sea Bass for crying out loud! This honor is long overdue. Way to go Cam.

Dave
Boston, Mass.

The Neely House has raised $11 million in the last 10 years. Few of us do enough to help make other people's lives better. Yes, taking care of our own should be the first goal of all of us. But most of us have the time to do small things to help others. Neely has done $11 million worth. That money goes to research and helping cancer victims and their families feel directly the beautiful words of compassion, comfort and affection. That's worth about $11 billion.

I just went to www.camneelyfoundation.org and donated 88 bucks. Maybe you can afford 888 bucks or 88 bucks or 8 bucks. If Neely moved you, why don't you go there now and give 888, 88 or 8 as a way to say thanks to Cam for a Hall of Fame hockey career and a Hall of Fame commitment. When No. 8 sees those donation numbers come in, Cam will know they are coming from true Neely hockey fans and along with a compassionate donation, it will be a Hall of Fame congratulation.

John,
All those proposed rule changes, but nobody is talking about taking out the red line with reference to the two-line pass? Why? It seems like a no-brainer to me! The college and international games benefit tremendously. What am I missing? Are they considering it?
Sincerely,
Steve Schaible
Mesa, Arizona

The positive of the canceled season is that it opens the fertile minds of great hockey hearts and minds like Harry Sinden, who has been too obsessed with the economic side of the game. Perhaps Sinden felt it was necessary, and somewhat has been vindicated. But Sinden is far more valuable as a steward to the on-ice game than as a numbers guy. He's a true, passionate sports fan. He watches games. He watches other sports. He is like you. Numbers and money take away people's souls. We need the true hockey souls to police the game, not the finance books. The cap hopefully will do that. The numbers guys and lawyers can run the teams' finances. And people like Sinden can be a part of a new competition committee.

John,
Yes, it was a collective sigh of relief that you all probably heard last Friday at exactly 9:43 p.m. The Philadelphia Phantoms beat the Chicago Wolves in the AHL finals to win the Calder Cup. It was the most amazing night for Philly sports fans as the Phantoms and the Phillies both won their games at the exact same time (9:43 p.m.) and with the exact same score (5-2). With hockey like that, who needs the NHL?
Justin Dietrich

John, Your last article made me excited about hockey again and that hasn't happened in a while. I wanted to respond to Lee Gerston's comment about the Kings of Leon opening for U2. I saw them both nights they played in Denver. I love Kings of Leon and was surprised to hear that they were opening for U2. The two bands don't seem to mesh well. KoL is not an arena band. Their sound just doesn't work. However, nothing is better then watching a KoL show at a smaller venue. The Pepsi Center sits 19,000 for some concerts and that is just too big! My suggestion is buy Youth and Young Manhood or Aha Shake Heartbreak and listen to it loud in the car. Then attend a show at a smaller venue, no more than 1,000 people. You willsee why Bono must have asked these guys to open for them.
Best,
Kate
Denver, Colo.

Hey John!
I was reading your June 9 column, and I noticed the last e-mail was from a person in Boston who had played hockey with a guy with one arm missing from the elbow down. Anyway, it caught my attention because I'm almost 100 percent sure I played against this guy in high school. I don't remember his name, but I know that he played defense for Everett High School. I went to Waltham High from 1993-1997, and we played Everett on a regular basis in the Greater Boston League. What this guy was saying is true. This kid had grit, determination, and uncanny skill for someone with such a handicap. He could stickhandle better than me and my two hands! He made it look all too easy, and made us question why we weren't working as hard as he was. Anyway, if you are ever in Boston, and you can track this guy down, you need to see it to believe it. I'm glad to hear he is still playing. Now that my memory of him has been refreshed, I'm going to tell my 2-year-old son about him.
Thanks,
Kevin Schoener

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.

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