Gary Bettman has laid down the law.
League sources told Sun Media yesterday that they've "never seen it so quiet" before the NHL free-agency period begins because teams are worried they'll be charged with tampering if they engage in anything that can be construed as contract discussions before Tuesday at noon.
While agents have always tried to get a handle on the unrestricted market before July 1, sources say Bettman told the GMs during a meeting at the Stanley Cup final in Detroit that if he caught somebody tampering, the team involved "would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
Though punishment would be at Bettman's discretion, an NHL executive believes it would start out with a $1-million fine and, at the very least, a first-round draft pick.
That possibility has made GMs take Bettman to heart because nobody wants to pay the price.
"Usually, in the past, you had some discussions with teams about who might go where, what the player might get on the open market and how things may fall once July 1 begins," an NHL agent said yesterday. "That hasn't been the case this year.
"Nobody wants to take the risk. Bettman has really struck the fear into these guys."
That's why teams have received permission to speak with players in advance of July 1 -- like the Canadiens did with Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin.