As the Ryan Smyth trade blows up once again, it's worth clearing up some misconceptions about what happened with the proposed Gilbert Brule deal. On the evening of June 24th, Steve Tambellini and Dean Lombardi, General Manager of the Los Angeles Kings, reached an agreement to exchange Gilbert Brule and a 4th round pick in the 2011 NHL draft for Ryan Smyth. Lombardi needed to dump Smyth's $6.25 million cap hit and $4.5 million salary and the Oilers were his publicly-announced preferred destination. Tambellini was willing to take Smyth on, but in exchange, he wanted to dump one of the terrible contracts he'd offered since taking over in Edmonton. Lombardi agreed to take Brule with the intent of buying him out of the final year of his contract, saving $1.2 million and adding only $300k to the Kings' cap over the next two seasons. The agreement was in place, Lombardi just needed to do his due diligence on Brule's condition, especially considering Brule was out of the lineup for half of the season in Edmonton last year. Lombardi wouldn't want to be sold a bill of goods without doing a medical history check, a failure that's previously hurt less stringent GMs. The Oilers submitted documentation to the Kings concerning Brule's status and Lombardi consulted with the league.
And that's where things went sideways.
Darren Dreger broke the news that the deal was off, writing:
Sources say the Kings were willing to accept Brule as part of the deal with the intent of buying him out, however the collective bargaining agreement forbids teams from buying out an injured player.
Steve Tambellini disagreed, at least to the media gathered at the draft, saying Brule was "100 per cent healthy" and was "cleared to play at the end of the year." Fan reaction in Edmonton was swift - Lombardi was just backing out of the deal after seeing he'd been swindled by Tambellini and he was nothing but a weasel. Clearly something was lost in translation between Lombardi and Tambellini, but how were the two so far apart?
Eventually, the two sides worked things out and agreed to swap Colin Fraser and a 7th round pick in 2012 for Smyth. After completing the deal, Lombardi interviewed with Kings Insider's Rich Hammond and revealed a few more of the missing pieces to the puzzle:
"Well, it’s fair to say that we had four league lawyers in there who worked their butts off. I give the league a lot of credit. Those four people stayed there after a long day. It’s not butt-kissing. When they do a good job, I’ll tell them. Four of the league’s lawyers stayed there, well into the post-draft period, trying to find a solution. It was very clear, in discussing with them, that this player would not qualify as being healthy. We tried to find a solution. It was David Zimmerman, Julie Grand, Jessica Berman and Daniel Ages. We said, `We want this deal to happen.’ They said, `Dean, there’s no way.’ Those people tried everything. They looked at the documentation and this was something that could not happen. There was no solution, given the documents and everything that were in front of them. So I’ll leave it at that."
The due diligence paid off for Lombardi. A review of Brule's medical condition with the league resulted in the league's lawyers advising the Kings that Brule was not a candidate for buyout due to his health. Lombardi wasn't backing out, rather, he was going to get stuck with Brule's contract and cap hit for the entire season.
But Steve Tambellini said Brule was pronounced healthy, so there's clearly some gray area involved.
Dreger cleared up the difference in positions on TSN Radio, reporting that Brule was suffering from depression, perhaps related to concussions. The Team 1260's Dustin Nielson tweeted Dreger's information, and the two inadvertently revealed the true extent of Brule's injuries, something the Edmonton media wouldn't do at any point during the 2010-11 season. The media alternated between calling it a "condition" and an "illness" but never reported more than that.
What follows is a bunch of "ifs":
If Dreger is correct, and Brule is suffering from depression, given the nature of mental illness diagnoses as ongoing conditions, it follows that he would be able to file a grievance against any buyout and likely win.
If Dreger is correct, Tambellini is technically correct. Brule was cleared to play and considered healthy for roster purposes, but it doesn't change the fact that he is still suffering from depression and is not considered healthy for buyout purposes. The Oilers cannot buy him out.
If Dreger is correct, it leads to some questions. How much of an impact has Brule's condition had on his career? How long has Brule suffered from depression? If he was diagnosed prior to coming to the Oilers, were the Oilers aware of the diagnosis when they traded for him? If not, was it because they didn't do their due diligence or did the Blue Jackets obfuscate the information?
Regardless of the answers to those questions, Lombardi should be commended for doing the background work on this trade and for cornering the league lawyers and making sure of the circumstances before accepting or rejecting the deal. The Oilers, meanwhile, are left with an even more delicate situation than ever before. Like Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner and Ladislav Smid after the attempted Dany Heatley trade, the Oilers will have to mend some fences with Brule before the 2011-12 season starts.