SUN Hockey Pool

Families and NHL teams deserve a commitment

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

Between no-trade clauses and unrestricted free agency cash grabs, some NHL GMs have recently had to deal with another sticking point.

The family factor.

Who could fault a league with a number of players so completely devoted to their partners and children? The whole thing smacks of Norman Rockwell. It's quaint, it's admirable... and it's an utterly frustrating reason to rely upon when requesting a trade.

You can understand why some players do it. The claims of family unhappiness or distance from loved ones helps to soften the blow. What can they do? Throw up their hands and claim, "It's not me -- it's them"?

Take Chris Pronger, for example. With four years left on his Edmonton contract that will pay him $6.25 million (all terms US) a season, Pronger requested a trade from the Oilers after the playoffs (and Edmonton's Stanley Cup run), had concluded.

The media was baffled and the fans were shocked. The initial claim that circulated involved the unhappiness of Pronger's wife, Lauren.

Regardless of the cause, Lauren Pronger is the party bearing the brunt of the fans' frustrations. Is it admirable that the defenceman stuck it out for a season, in spite of his wife's misery? Some may say so.

But unless Chris Pronger is psychic, and could have predicted the stellar run the Oilers were to go and reach the Stanley Cup final, we are led to believe that he made a commitment to Edmonton based on the large salary the Oilers were prepared to pay him.

Pronger was traded to Edmonton as a restricted free agent, but he chose to sign a long-term deal with the Oilers, thereby avoiding free agency this year. A big part of that choice should have hinged on the contentment and comfort level of his family in Edmonton.

If you're willing to relinquish your UFA freedom to make a long-term commitment, you'd better run it by the wife and kids first.

Chris Pronger isn't the only player depending on family as a reason to request a move.

Gary Roberts has asked Panthers GM Mike Keenan for a trade, so he can be closer to his teenage daughter who currently attends school in Toronto. Roberts signed with Florida as a UFA last August, garnering a two-year deal at $4.5 million.

Roberts' 16-year-old daughter would be unsupervised, as his ex-wife recently moved to Calgary. However, if the teen was always a priority and Toronto wasn't an option during unrestricted free agency, why didn't he seek out a deal in a closer city?

Instead, Roberts dashed to Florida with his good friend, Joe Nieuwendyk. The trio of sun, hockey and golf seemed optimal, but family problems changed everything.

Are there no appropriate guardians in Toronto? Not one acceptable private school in Florida or Calgary? No simpler way to battle these sudden changes? Guess not.

No one's dismissing the importance of family to NHL players. But there are times in a player's career when they can own their destiny, and commit to longer deals with salaries that reflect their obligations. A family is directly affected by that commitment.

And if their issues lead to the breaking of a contract, then perhaps players should rethink their approach. Being in a city that's preferable for the family's situation should be the No. 1 priority -- even if it means accepting a smaller paycheque.

If family is first, then prove it. Do what's best for them, right off the bat. It'll save everyone a lot of grief in the long run.

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