Friday, September 14, 2007

Numminen suspended for heart ailment


To make matters worse, Numminen learned Thursday night the Sabres had suspended him for failing to report to camp in good physical condition, a move the team declined to announce publicly.

“The NHLPA was notified today that the Buffalo Sabres have elected to suspend Teppo Numminen without pay,” NHL Players Association spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon told The Buffalo News. “We are currently reviewing this matter.”
Ah, the optics on this one certainly aren't good.

It's difficult at first glance to discern why the Sabres would even feel the need for this move, especially given that salaries don't start counting against the cap until the first game of the season. There is, however, more to this story than Numminen's heart surgery, as the contract wasn't insured given his previous health problems and Buffalo would be on the hook for the full dollar amount had he been placed on the long-term injury reserve.

Even still, the NHL's really going to need some allowances in the CBA for serious ailments, or it's only a matter of time before we see "Deceased NHLer suspended without pay" in the headlines.

Barring an agreement between the team and player regarding his condition, I believe Numminen should see his money, insurance payout or not. It seems incredibly cold that he's facing potentially life-threatening surgery and his contract being voided.

UPDATE Numminen's surgery is now being described as repairs to a heart valve, with the recovery time set at six weeks. He has said he would like to continue to play after the procedure.

UPDATE One tidbit from the collective bargaining agreement that may be of relevance here: "For any other Player who fails the Club's initial physical examination in any League Year, or is injured, ill or disabled while not on the Club's Active Roster, he shall not be eligible for, and may not be placed on, Injured Reserve, but instead shall be eligible to be, and may be designated as, Injured Non-Roster."

I wasn't able to find any documentation relating to suspensions and illness, however.

UPDATE This is taken from the Standard Player Contract:
5.(b) If the Player, in the judgment of the Club's physician, is disabled or is not in good physical condition at the commencement of the season or at any subsequent time during the season (unless such condition is the direct result of any injury sustained during the course of his employment as a hockey Player with the Club, including travel with his team or on business requested by the Club) so as to render him unfit to play skilled hockey, then it is mutually agreed that the Club shall have the right to suspend the Player for such period of disability or unfitness, and no compensation shall be payable for that period under this SPC.


Even so, I expect the NHLPA to grieve this suspension in Numminen's case. The provision above is clearly established as a measure to protect clubs against players reporting out of shape or as the result of non-hockey injuries, and I'm not certain that applies to a longstanding heart ailment.

UPDATE The Buffalo News has comments from Sabres GM Darcy Regier on the situation.

related
>> FanHouse: Numminen Suspended for Inadequate Conditioning

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23 Comments:

At 11:54 AM, September 14, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

Unfortunately things like this are par for the course. My stepdad was a founding partner at his firm, got aggressive brain cancer, and when he woke up from surgery found out he'd been suspended without pay due to absence at work.

Some employers need to think about more than the bottom line, Buffalo should rethink this move. Given that a few short years ago Buffalo was close to bankruptcy, they probably didn't think twice about throwing Numminen in the trash.

 
At 12:23 PM, September 14, 2007, Blogger courtney said...

I think that since they knew going into this season, that there was already an issue, they really should not suspend him without pay, unless he found out in june, he needs more surgery, and is only letting them know now.

 
At 12:27 PM, September 14, 2007, Blogger Blitzen said...

Buffalo went into this contract with eyes wide open. By signing a contract that they knew was uninsured by a third party, they were accepting the risk. I think a half decent lawyer could make short shrift of this move. A player showing up in bad condition because he's lazy is a country mile from a player being in bad condition due to a deterioration in his health that was out of his control.

Cruel, just plain cruel.

 
At 12:54 PM, September 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Classless move.
I already had no respect for Douchey Regier after his whiney baby routine over the Vanek fiasco, but this is beyond the pale. Karma's gonna take a big bite out of Buffalo this year.

 
At 1:03 PM, September 14, 2007, Anonymous Kate said...

This is totally depressing. Poor, Teppo.

I have been defending the Sabres management all summer, but this has stopped me dead in my tracks. I don't understand what is going on here, and I really hope that the situation isn't as gross as it appears at first glance.

 
At 1:04 PM, September 14, 2007, Anonymous Frank said...

I think Courtney is right on point - as a lawyer would say. If a player knows before he signs a contract to deliver his personal services that he has a health issue that might impair the delivery of those services - and does not fully disclose everything he knows to the team about that health issue before signing the contract - then he is acting fraudulently and the contract is void.

Notwithstanding this, Buffalo should have signed this contract with the condition that the contract could be voided by the team if the player fails to pass a subsequent physical examination determined by the team - especially given the player's health history.

Anyway this one is certainly headed to court.

As for all those people who think this is cruel - let me remind them that most people in Canada and the US work in non union jobs making $10 to $20 an hour with no long term disability insurance, who in similar situations would be lucky to get one to three weeks of severance pay and then have to survive after surgery on a miniscule government disability pension. And for those in the US without health insurance, they may not even get the needed surgery.

So while I feel sorry for the personal health of the player, I could care less whether a multi millionaire player is denied another $2.6 million. My empathy is with the hundreds of thousands of North Americans who face similar issues everyday without any financial support.

PEOPLE, LET'S GET OUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT.

 
At 1:26 PM, September 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank, you remind me of Pierre Elliot Castro who, in response to the incessant bitching he was hearing about the Canadian economy, said, (I'm paraphrasing): "What are people complaining about. Africans have it a lot worse."
Empathy for a millionaire does not lessen my empathy for the homeless. The principle of fairnesss applies to everyone.

 
At 1:31 PM, September 14, 2007, Anonymous double d said...

Kate,

I agee with you whole heartedly. Even if there is something more to this story that would cast management in a better light, their silence on the issue is puzzling. For all of the fans bitching about their inabiltiy to re-sign the captains, to me it is their heavy handedness in the PR department that is their biggest failing.

 
At 2:02 PM, September 14, 2007, Anonymous double d said...

James,

Tom at Sabre Rattling reminded us of a similar situation that occurred with Afinogenov under the old CBA. He was unable to start camp due to a concussion sufferd in Russia. The Sabres were required to suspend him. Do you know of a similar provision in this CBA?

 
At 2:22 PM, September 14, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

There's nothing specifically related to injuries in the off-season, but this clause is somewhat relevant:

"For any other Player who fails the Club's initial physical examination in any League Year, or is injured, ill or disabled while not on the Club's Active Roster, he shall not be eligible for, and may not be placed on, Injured Reserve, but instead shall be eligible to be, and may be designated as, Injured Non-Roster."

In Afinogenov's case, he would have been suspended because his injury occurred while doing a non-sanctioned physical activity. I don't believe this is relevant to Numminen's illness, which was well-documented.

 
At 3:05 PM, September 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the Buffalo News:

"There's a clause explicitly in the contract that states the player must pass the physical and be fit to play," Regier said. "It's the collective bargaining agreement and in no way is it personal to Teppo. I had the conversation with Teppo. He understands it's business. It has a lot of implications on the salary side, on the cap side.

"He's still part of the team. We're going to assist and help in any way we can. He's down there this morning, the guys saw him. In no way is the organization going to do anything other than support him in this situation."



If it turns out he is able to play, he can be re-activated to the roster and he will be paid. Suspension sounds like a harsh word, but this is not a sleazy loophole or anything.

 
At 3:14 PM, September 14, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

At the very least, the league should rework things so that teams don't have to suspend players to get relief when serious health concerns come up.

Other players who had health issues like Numminen, namely Keith Primeau and Jiri Fischer, were not suspended and were paid by their teams. Why the Sabres have chosen to do things differently, I'm not sure.

 
At 3:25 PM, September 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regier should hook up a generator to his bike. All that back-pedalling shouldn't go to waste.

 
At 3:36 PM, September 14, 2007, Anonymous double d said...

James,

I think the differnce may be that since Teppo was a FA this offseason, his contract may not be valid until he passes a physical, whereas I think Fischer and Primeau were under contract at the time of their ailments.

Even so, I agree that there should be some accomodations made for situations like this.

 
At 3:39 PM, September 14, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

If Numminen's contract was invalidated, there would be no need to suspend him.

 
At 10:25 PM, September 14, 2007, Blogger Lowetide said...

The NHL is run by cavemen. I imagine an NHL owner's worst nightmare is that their son becomes an NHL player. Special place in hell for these men.

 
At 12:06 PM, September 15, 2007, Blogger The Puck Stops Here said...

James wrote this post slightly over one day ago and there is no story up on the tsn.ca website (yet?) about Teppo Numminen's suspension. What is up with that?

 
At 12:15 PM, September 15, 2007, Anonymous Gerald said...

I think a half decent lawyer could make short shrift of this move. A player showing up in bad condition because he's lazy is a country mile from a player being in bad condition due to a deterioration in his health that was out of his control.

As a way-more-than-half-decent lawyer, I can tell you that you are dead wrong.

The provisions in the SPC are relatively straightforward. James is wrong in that the provision is intended to address players who show up out of shape. IT also addresses players who are disabled.

This issue has nothing to do with empathy or any of the other irrelevant stuff that is posted above. It is about allocation and management of risk. The player's deterioration in health is out of his control, yes. It is also out of the control of the team. They did nothing wrong, but they must still pay? At the end of the day, a contract is still maney paid for services rendered. IF a party cannot provide those services, why should the other party pay (unless the other party's inability derives from having attempted to provide those services and sustaining injury as a result)? Teppo has the ability to insure himself.

 
At 12:20 PM, September 15, 2007, Anonymous Gerald said...

The principle of fairnesss applies to everyone.

Apparently it does not apply to the team, accoridng to some posters.

 
At 12:22 PM, September 15, 2007, Anonymous Gerald said...

Notwithstanding this, Buffalo should have signed this contract with the condition that the contract could be voided by the team if the player fails to pass a subsequent physical examination determined by the team - especially given the player's health history.

They did, Frank, and they are availing themselves of their freely bargained contractual rights. What is fairer than that? Your other observations are on point, IMO.

 
At 1:42 PM, September 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the end of the day, a contract is still maney paid for services rendered. IF a party cannot provide those services, why should the other party pay (unless the other party's inability derives from having attempted to provide those services and sustaining injury as a result)? Teppo has the ability to insure himself.

Gerard, I concede your point and perhaps many of us are letting the human side cloud the legal side. But if one were to accept your first point (about only paying for services rended and not paying for services not rendered) then why would it make any difference whether the player is injured in the course of providing the services or not? And should there be distinction between illness and injury since an illnes is not something that that results from actually providing the services (Jiri Fischer)?

 
At 2:42 PM, September 15, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

The phrase 'guaranteed contract' comes to mind, but I'm no legal expert.

 
At 7:33 PM, September 15, 2007, Blogger mc79hockey said...

The phrase 'guaranteed contract' comes to mind, but I'm no legal expert.

The problem, James, is that you a two word label doesn't explain the entire legal relationship between Teppo and the Sabres. It's a guaranteed contract in the sense that they can't cut him if he sucks, without more. It's a guranteed contract in comparison to an NFL contract.

But if one were to accept your first point (about only paying for services rended and not paying for services not rendered) then why would it make any difference whether the player is injured in the course of providing the services or not?

Because that's the deal that they've made. If they wanted to contract in a different way, they could, subject to the controlling law.

 

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