— Erik Erlendsson (@erlendssonTBO) December 15, 2015
What could be seen as a harmless joke by a local Toronto radio station could turn into a punishment for the Leafs organization.
As we all know at this point, there are strict rules regarding organizations talking to players outside of their own while they’re under contract to other teams. In the case of Steven Stamkos, this would mean that the Leafs can’t enter any discussions or leave any public comments involving him until no earlier than July 1st, 2016.
While the signage you see above isn’t being created by the Leafs themselves, they’re still connected to it through the complicated ownership web. TSN 1050 Toronto is one of many radio stations owned by TSN, who are 80% owned by Bell Media. Bell Media, coincidentally, is a subsidiary of BCE Inc., which owns 28% of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, who operate the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In short, Bell owns both TSN 1050 and the Toronto Maple Leafs. As such, this could be seen as Leafs ownership trying to publicly sway Stamkos to sign with the team.
The Leafs have had run-ins with tampering penalties before though their situation was more direct; the team was fined an undisclosed sum after Ron Wilson suggested that the team would try to sign Henrik and Daniel Sedin two days before free agency in 2009.
With that said, the NHL’s rules are far from concrete, and it’s hard to decide where the lines are drawn. Would declaring this a form of tampering mean that Bell and Rogers are no longer able to broadcast or publish discussion about non-Leafs players without sabotaging Leafs assets, delivering a gigantic blow to TSN, Sportsnet, and Canadian print media? Can you argue that “Sign Stamkos” is a vague statement that doesn’t implicate the Leafs or Steven specifically, like how scalpers sell “hockey tickets” outside the ACC?
Going back to the Vancouver situation, the Canucks also suggested that a “behind the scenes” mini-documentary by Leafs TV had tampering implications in it by revealing back-room conversations by management regarding Canucks assets. The league ruled that it wasn’t in violation, which could give credence to the idea that the actions of media assets in the corporate umbrella having immunity from affecting the team.
Both sides of the coin could no doubt produce interesting arguments. To me, the biggest issue with this sign is that it seems to be more focused on putting pressure on management rather than on the player; if you’re going to tamper, go with “Come Home, Steven”.
Whatever the case, I’d assume that the otherwise fantastic TSN 1050 will be more careful with stunts like these moving forward.