By Michael Russo
Good evening from Chateau de Russeau, where I just drank about three hot teas to soothe my sore throat.
I’m not sick, I was just on the phone a lot tonight. Tobin Wrightgate entered Day Two, or in reality, Evening Two.
Tobin Wright is the Minneapolis-based agent who works for Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based agent Ron Salcer, the agent who represents Marian Gaborik, Brent Burns and Derek Boogaard.
As I reported Sunday morning, Wright has been banned from the Xcel Energy Center event level. I couldn’t report the reason Sunday. I can now.
Salcer is accusing the Wild of banning Wright as punishment for refusing to testify against Willie Mitchell in his arbitration case against the Wild.
Mitchell claims he had a bulging disc in his neck that prevented him from playing during the lockout. If you were not medically cleared to play as of Sept. 15, 2004, players were supposed to be paid their NHL salaries until they were medically cleared. Mitchell is claiming he was unfit to play, and thus should have been paid his $1.775 million salary from the Wild.
If the Wild loses the grievance, it would owe Mitchell his salary plus interest most likely. An arbitrator is supposed to render a decision in 60-90 days, as I reported in Saturday’s paper.
Wright skated with a number of players during the lockout, and allegedly, Mitchell was one of them. The Wild wanted Wright to testify to that fact, but he refused. Wright felt testifying against an NHL player when he’s an agent would jeopardize his future and ability to sign future players.
I called assistant GM Tom Lynn for reaction to Salcer’s allegation, and Lynn emailed me a statement that said, “The team decided not to grant Tobin Wright access to the private Wild family and visitor areas for a period because of integrity issues.”
The statement went on to say, in part, “Wright has … sneaked into off-limits private areas of the arena in the past where he was not allowed to go. Wright has used his Wild visitor access to repeatedly try to recruit players away from other agents, which could cause disruption in the Wild’s relationships with those agents. Wright’s unwillingness to tell the truth in the Mitchell proceeding was only the most recent issue.”
I talked to Wright for a bit. He declined public comment but was not happy. I talked to Salcer for awhile again. In the end, he opted not to respond to Lynn’s email and get into a he-said, she-said thing.
A couple of things:
1. The Wright ban did come the day after the record closed in the Mitchell case, so as Lynn acknowledged in his statement, Wright refusal to testify was an issue.
2. As for the sneaking into off-limit private areas, I don’t know the specifics of what Lynn’s alleging. Maybe there are other instances, but I do know of one I was told about last season by a number of sources. Wright, who is close friends with Gaborik and works as his assistant, drove Gaborik’s girlfriend, Sona, to the arena in Gaborik’s car. Apparently, he drove into the players underground parking lot using Gaborik’s pass.
GM Doug Risebrough saw Wright and, from many accounts because a lot of people were around, Risebrough lit into him for parking in the players area.
3. As for the accusation by Lynn that Wright is recruiting other agent’s clients, Salcer denied that to me. It’s well known that Wright, who used to work in the Wild’s hockey ops department and was fired during the Gaborik holdout, played an integral role in Gaborik going from Allan Walsh (Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s agent) to Salcer. But since I’ve covered the team, I believe Salcer’s had the same Wild clients — Gaborik, Burns and Boogaard. The only guys they’ve recruited from here since were Boogaard’s brother, Aaron, who plays in Pittsburgh’s organization, and minor-leaguer Steve Kelly, who is Wright’s brother-in-law.
This is obviously a very sensitive issue right now. Again, the biggest thing that makes this news is while this has nothing to do with Gaborik, it certainly indirectly affects the Gaborik negotiations.
Like I mentioned on the previous blog, Wright and Gaborik are good friends. Wright works for Gaborik. Gaborik cannot be happy with what’s going on here, and as you all know, he’s in a contract squabble with the Wild right now.
This could very well create an even bigger wedge between the two sides, although I asked Salcer, and he said that one won’t affect the other.
“They’re going to do what’s in their best interest from a business point of view. They’re not going to let hurt feelings or things like that get in the way of them making rational decisions,” Salcer said. “They’re going to do what’s best for them — whatever that is. But we don’t know what that is yet.”
(i.e. trade him, sign him, let him walk as a free agent after the season).
There’s one other thing the Wild should be wary about. Wright’s friends with a lot of Wild players, so there’s a danger a lot more players than only Gaborik will be bothered by this banishment.