Lightning deal conspicuously fast


You don't have to look far to find head-shaking material following the July 1 free agent folly fest but the best of all might have happened 15 minutes after the opening bell.


You don't have to look far to find head-shaking material following the July 1 free agent folly fest but the best of all might have happened 15 minutes after the opening bell.

We speak here of the curious contract signed by Mattias Ohlund, one of the classiest Canucks of all time both as a player and a person. Wishing him well in Tampa is a given, and if teams wish to throw large amounts of money around, they may as well throw it in his direction because he's been underpaid for much of his career.

Canuck management felt Ohlund's skills were slipping ever so slightly, even if he disagrees, telling the Tampa Tribune on the day of his signing that he feels at age 32 his best hockey is still ahead of him. Given all he's done for this franchise, without the cap system, they would have overpaid him on a three-year deal just to make sure he finished his career as a Canuck.

He'll be 33 by the time training camp finishes this fall and when his agent began with an opening salvo of $5 million per for five years, Vancouver quickly determined he was too rich for their blood. It wasn't fair to everyone else on his own team to pay that much.

But not Tampa. Not a team that sells $10 tickets and each year begs for NHL revenue sharing so that Vancouver fans, who so generously contribute to the fund, can shell out for such a team to take their better players. And take them at numbers which are so staggering, you're left wondering about this league and the fairness of the collective bargaining agreement.

Ohlund's deal begins with him making $4 million in the first two years, which is great, perhaps just about bang on where he should be, although the $2 million paid in signing bonus seems a bit over the top.

But then it turns into a pyramid, and Matty is mighty grateful to the Egyptians for conceiving of such a structure. At age 35, he'll begin the third year at a cool $5.5 million and follow that up at 36 with another $5 million. In fact, unless he's using a walker by then, there is every possibility Ohlund will play six of the seven seasons in the contract, the sixth paying him $2 million, something he'll not be able to replace going back to Sweden. Despite the extravagance, however, the cap number is just $3.75 million with the one or two walk-away years.

If you don't think the NHL is going to slam this loophole shut when next the CBA is opened, you probably think Bill Daly is Santa Claus.

But here's the kicker. How the hell do you agree to a contract structured so bizarrely 15 minutes into free agency without any tampering going on? How does that work?

Who proposed this deal? Did Ohlund's agent J.P. Barry have this all conceived going in and say to the first team that called: 'This is the asking price,' at which point Tampa simply said 'sold' without the slightest haggling?

Did Tampa get enough time between the hassles in their own ownership to formulate this generous payout and then present it to Barry, who was so bowled over he took it immediately?

Either scenario is about as likely as Darcy Hordichuk winning the Art Ross trophy next year, and Barry was not returning my calls to explain how this sudden meeting of the minds on such a complicated, unusual deal came to pass in nanoseconds.

To top it off, Ohlund responded with: "I was ecstatic when they first called," as if there was time for a telephone call to him. Hell, the ink was dry before you could dial enough numbers to make a call from Europe to North America or vice versa. And then the topper: "It felt from the beginning that this is the place I wanted to be."

How long had Ohlund been thinking about it? Who thinks of Tampa as the place you want to be unless you're planning on a working retirement or you're going spend a lot of time on the beach? They have good young players, but they won't be ready to win it all until Ohlund is done.

Everyone knows this type of behaviour goes on, but most agents and teams at least have the courtesy to cover their tracks a little better than this. After all, why the rush to announce it?

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