Athletes often get a bad rap for being too concerned about their finances. Players who decide to test the free agent market because they believe they can make more money elsewhere are labeled selfish by people who, given the opportunity, would probably do the same in a heartbeat. While the franchise player may be a dying breed, this might have more to do with politics and new economic landscapes, like the salary cap, than it does with the morality of its players.
However, there is a time and a place for everything. New York Islanders forward Jason Blake, who is enjoying a career-best season in points, is also conveniently in the last year of his contract, rendering him a free agent at the season's end. While General Manager Garth Snow has made it clear he wants to re-sign Blake, who has become an integral part of the team's push for a playoff birth, he has opted to put off any serious talks with Blake or his agent while the team is battling for the postseason. And with the NHL trade deadline is in late February, the team has several subsequent months to seal a deal with the energetic left wing when there will be less distraction. But earlier this week, Blake opted to voice his disapproval and impatience to the media, threatening to test the open market and all but setting his own deadline for the Islanders at the February trade deadline.
There are so many things wrong with Blake's approach to the situation that his comments may have effectively killed his Islander career. The problem is that fans are outraged for the wrong reasons. It's not Blake's feelings that are at fault; he's only human, and is rightfully worried about the security of his future, whether it be on or off the island. It's the way he expressed those feelings that was severely inappropriate. Coming onto the final third of the season, in a position where scoreboard watching and neck-and-neck footraces to the big show are common issues, a team has enough to worry about without its top scorer threatening to leave over a matter that isn't even relevant for another four months.
Snow has a few options in this situation. He could take Blake's comments to heart and spitefully deal him to another team before the end of the month, but that would hardly bring a return that would help the team now. They could give in to Blake's demands and sign him, but at the age of 33, his suggestion of a five-year deal is downright ludicrous, even considering the Islanders' history of signing ridiculous contracts. The best situation is to keep him for the playoff push, let him walk after the season, and use the extra money to sign another free agent.
Snow's situation is one that is becoming more and more common in sports. Blake is an interesting example because this situation shows the importance of timing. A player should not be crucified for a request like Blake's, but players need to act responsibly, especially when they are technically still under contract. If the Islanders organization opts to let Blake walk, it will set a strong example of how a team shouldn't let a player's ego dictate team business and how the team should set a precedent for the kind of behavior that should not - and will not - be tolerated by a professional sports franchise.