Earlier this off-season, I wrote one of my most controversial blogs about Patrick O'Sullivan. I said it then and I will say it again: He needs to man up and take some personal responsibility for this contractual stalemate. Sometimes life really is that simple. He can take control of his destiny – or not. He can delegate this to his agent – or not. For those who reasonably say that it is inappropriate or one-sided to project this inaction solely on O'Sullivan. That is a fair statement. It also fails to address who really has the bargaining power.
One year does not a career make. Potential is just potential. What might be, what he might do is one possibility. The truth of it all is he could just as easily become injury-prone, inconsistent, or frankly an also-ran. The player who implored his teammates to no longer be satisfied with individual success but team success seems to have his own words slap him on the backside. This is either about the whole team or just him. He needs to figure out which is his goal. Yesterday.
This is not Phil Esposito's NHL where you can show up to training camp, out of shape and use the three to four week camp to get one's game on. In the 2008 NHL, players hit the ice on Friday and play a game on Monday. Players who miss all or part of camp are more likely to be less game ready and therefore more apt to injury. No one can make me believe Lombardi lacks motivation to get this deal done. He probably still has nightmares about the effects of Nabakov and Stuart and the consequence of those players' hold-outs had on his job security. I received word on good authority earlier this off-season that O'Sullivan loved this team and wanted to be a King for the long haul. All summer the Kings communicated how O’Sullivan was a core player that this organization wanted in its long term plans.
Here is the rub as I see it. In my day job, when I negotiate if I have an accurate assessment of my client’s strengths and weaknesses and the opposite side does the same – assuming there is client control, a deal gets done. Period. That tells me that someone over-values their hand, someone has delegated the process, someone does not have client control or someone is missing the big picture. Here is what I have heard:
• Per Hammond, O’Sullivan’s agent started at $4 million;
• A Pittsburgh media source talked of a deal at $4.25 million per annum for unknown years;
• Lombardi already lost a GM gig over players’ contractual challenges;
• O’Sullivan has played exactly one year, has won nothing and showed exciting promise and potential only;
• The only quote O’Sullivan gave this summer is that he was delegating this to his agent;
• Solomon said he spent a large part of the off-season with O’Sullivan’s agent paring down to comparable players and that this organization was committed to keeping him here long term.
• During one of the Town Hall Meetings this summer, Hextall spoke of O’Sullivan when he talked about one of the players this organization wanted to build their future around.
Borrowing a line from the movie, “Jerry Maguire”, O’Sullivan now has to decide if he wants to be a ‘paycheck guy’ or a team heart and soul guy who will inspire others to leave their last drop of themselves on the ice – not in their wallet. As much as I spent last season singing O’Sullivan’s praises, if he does not sign, I will drive him to the airport personally if he does not wise up, sign and show up. Period.
Consequences …. it can be so easy to miss the boat on the costs of not taking into account on how what we do today only effects the rest of our lives. Rather than talk in generalities, I will share the last part of my interview with Terry Murray. This is the right time and the right context to give teeth to the point I am trying to make. It would take a major gaffe to think that the coach of a Stanley Cup Final team would be unemployed shortly after the series is over. Murray made such a gaffe.
For those who either are unfamiliar or forgot, when the Murray led Flyers lost to the Red Wings, Murray described Philadelphia’s play in that series as a “choking situation”. I asked him if he knew then the price of that statement, would he repeat it. Here is his response:
“Well, the statement was the wrong thing to say. When we lost that series and went back to Philadelphia, we had our team meeting, break-out meeting two days later. I addressed the team on that, apologized to the players, to the team for saying it. It's – it's something that the terminology should have been different, deer in the headlights. It could have – it should have been different. It's never going to go away. It was said.”
Mr. O’Sullivan, do you want to start your career with a step that will never go away and may lead other teams to see you as someone who is more interested in what you make or more interested in what you plan to do to earn that paycheck you covet. The clock is ticking. Your time is up.