Mike Richards and the De-Termination

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This was written for The Broad Street Bully, a blog and podcast my friend Drew and I started based off of our mutual interest in the Philadelphia Flyers. See it on http://broadstreetbully.net.]

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, and you’re a hockey fan, you know that Mike Richards had his contract terminated by the Los Angeles Kings.

Here’s why Mike Richards will (probably) end up playing for the Kings next year.

The genesis of the termination came as a result of Richards being stopped at the border when the RCMP found a bottle of pills in his car during a random search.  This was a great turn of events for the Kings, who did not use a compliance buyout on Richards last summer when they had a chance too.  Their regret has been well documented.

The pills found in the car were deemed to be intended for the hockey player’s personal use.  This translates to charges of simple possession, instead of possession with an intent to traffick.  Trafficking charges are wholly more serious.  Currently, Richards faces six months in prison and/or a fine of $1,000.  Richards will assumedly pay the fine and that will be it, unless they tack on some community service.

The Kings most likely intended to use his arrest to terminate his deal but now it’s looking like Richards has a good argument for the arbitrator in getting his contract reinstated.

Richards’ victory lies in theNHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program Policy.  The policy outlines specific drug treatment protocols that have to be followed in case of any arrests or convictions related to drugs.   These terms were agreed upon in the collective bargaining agreement so it’s mandatory to follow.  The policy was designed to get players help if they have addictions they can’t shake.

If a player, like Richards, gets picked up on drug charges, the following occurs:

The player is required to submit to substance abuse evaluation, or any other treatments, ordered by a doctor.  If a doctor orders treatment, the player is placed in Stage 1 of the program.  Stage 1 requires inpatient treatment.  Stage 1 does not affect the player getting paid.

If a player is convicted, which includes plea agreements, they enter Stage 2.  In Stage 2, the player is suspended without pay.  They can be reinstated when doctors recommend it.

For a player with repeated rehab failures, the final step is a one year suspension without pay.  Reinstatement comes at the discretion of the league.

By summing up all that, it shows that the NHL and the NHLPA are not calling for contract terminations immediately.  Rather, they want the player to begin treatment before their league status is dealt with.

The Kings, therefore, cannot argue that they terminated Richards’ contract because of his arrest.  The Kings can try to argue that Richards failed to alert the Kings that he had been arrested.  If they go that route, the Kings can try to terminate Richards for being arrested for possession and then not advising the team of the arrest.

The NHLPA’s counter argument in support of Richards would be that the Kings are just attempting to create salary cap room.  Richards is no longer in the Kings’ plans and the team is actively on record saying that should have got rid of Richards when they had the chance.

The NHLPA pretty much has to challenge this way because if they don’t, and a precedence is set, the strength of guaranteed contracts weakens.  This, in turn, would directly affect the player’s rights.

The NHLPA has invoked their right to an expedited hearing with an impartial arbitrator.

Strangely enough, this isn’t just an important case for Mike Richards.  It’s actually important case for both the NHL and NHLPA in more clearly defining both sides’ rights.

[I paraphrased an expertly written article from TSN Canada, written by TSN Legal Analyst Eric Macramalla.  The link to his piece can be found here: http://www.tsn.ca/talent/richards-case-against-kings-after-charge-1.353065%5D

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