It seems like we may never know exactly what happened between the Capitals and Eric Belanger earlier this summer. We've already heard how he feels about the way the Capitals treated him, and his agent Joe Tacopina has certainly made his feelings known. But now, we have the team's perspective from Mike Vogel, a writer for Capitals.com who posted another side of the story on his blog, Dump 'n Chase.
Tacopina and Caps’ assistant general manager Don Fishman began discussions on a Belanger contract in June. No surprise there, as Belanger had stated his intention to get a deal done before he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
One of the most fundamental parts of an agent’s job is to know the market and know how his client’s worth fits in with that market. Tacopina, who never spoke with McPhee at any point during the process, told Fishman that Belanger wanted a three- or four-year deal, minimum. The Caps countered with a two-year pact worth a total of $3 million. Remember, this was before Belanger was officially an unrestricted free agent, before he could negotiate with all 30 NHL clubs.
Belanger declined this offer. Obviously hindsight is 20-20, but given the contract Belanger signed yesterday, it seems like Tacopina had unrealistic expectations about his client's value. So what happened next?
During the week of July 12, the Caps checked in with the Belanger camp to see what was going on. Tacopina said he had some irons in the fire, but nothing his client was ready to jump on.
Washington wondered what kind of deal Belanger would take at this point. Told that Belanger would accept a one-year deal, the Caps inquired as to the dollars. Tacopina mentioned the $1.85 million figure. Washington said it could do that deal, but that it would need to move a contract in order to make it work internally.
The Capitals were still interested in signing Belanger, but they needed to clear some salary off their books before they could proceed. The two parties had mutual interest, and seemed to agree on the terms of a contract, but a formal agreement was never reached.
A month passed, bringing us to mid-August. The Caps told Tacopina that things were really quiet on the trade front, and that if they had something else they wanted to do with another club, they shouldn’t wait. If Belanger had anything else on the table at that point, it probably wasn’t as lucrative as Washington’s offer. Tacopina told the Caps they’d wait. At that point, the Belanger camp opted to leak news of the “deal” to a Canadian media outlet. Which is rarely a good idea.
If it was already hard for the Caps to make a deal, it certainly didn’t get any easier when the word got out that Washington reportedly had an agreement with Belanger, but couldn’t move forward without a corresponding subtraction from the roster and the balance sheet.
So when Tacopina leaked that information, it actually hurt the Capitals ability to sign his client. The Capitals were then unable to make a trade that would clear enough room to bring Belanger back. They offered him a spot in training camp, an opportunity to skate and stay in shape until a better offer came along, but he signed with Phoenix instead. And now we are hearing that both Belanger and Tacopina are upset with the way the Capitals handled things.
The two-year deal Belanger turned down in June probably looks pretty good right now. Tacopina is making noise of a lawsuit (as I understand it, the collective bargaining agreement severely limits the ability of an agent to sue an NHL team) but from this perch he stands a greater chance of being sued by Belanger than he does of successfully suing the Caps.
This article certainly portrays the Capitals as the good guys, and it can't be ignored that Vogel does receive a paycheck from the club. But given that Tacopina is a new agent, and Belanger is among his first hockey clients, it sounds more feasible that this is the way this all went down.