The Detroit Red Wings have signed their third round pick (91st overall) in the 2008 Draft to a three-year entry-level contract. Former Boston University defenseman Max Nicastro is expected to join the Grand Rapids Griffins for the 2012-13 season following an eventful year for the Thousand Oaks, California native.
If the name rings a non-hockey bell, it’s likely because he was charged with rape in February. He was subsequently thrown off of the Terriers hockey club and eventually withdrawn from Boston University altogether. On June 1st, however, the charges were dropped when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided that they had insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that anything other than a consensual act took place. The complainant has maintained that she was sexually assaulted, and Nicastro has maintained that there was no criminal action on his part. With the legal system deciding to drop the case altogether, we’ll never know exactly what happened but no one should expect a professional sports club to punish a man if the State feels that no punishment is warranted.
We had heard rumors during this past season that the Griffins expected the Wings to sign Nicastro, assuming he was acquitted of his charges and was legally allowed to play (meaning, not in jail). It seemed unbelievable at the time, since pro sports teams — and in particular, the Red Wings — seem to distance themselves from those who may bring a “black eye” to the organization. Nicastro isn’t the first player with ties to the Red Wings to have some legal trouble before his debut in Detroit. Brendan Smith and Riley Sheahan both got into some “boys will be boys”-type trouble during their stints in college (though, to be fair, neither was accused of anything even remotely similar to rape), and Todd Bertuzzi’s legal troubles are on-going and in their ninth year. Former Wing Andreas Lilja was also accused of rape prior to his tenure with the club and similarly had his charges dropped due to lack of evidence.
Max Nicastro is a big (6’3, 215), stay-at-home defenseman who, according to assistant general manager Jim Nill, “is physical, can shoot the puck, and is a strong skater.” Sounds like a winning combination for a 22-year-old, and he’ll be able to develop at his own pace in Grand Rapids.
If my understanding of the rules are correct, the Wings didn’t have much choice but to sign Nicastro if they wanted him to play hockey anywhere next season. He was a collegiate player, meaning the Wings had until his senior year ended to sign him to a contract before losing his exclusive rights — and those didn’t expire until August of 2013. Since he was removed from BU’s hockey team, he was ineligible to play for Boston — or any other collegiate club, because the NCAA requires a year in between seasons if a player transfers from one school to another. He’s too old to join any of the junior league, and he couldn’t play for any professional club (including the Griffins or Walleye) since the Wings owned his exclusive professional rights, though he could be assigned to them if the contract belonged to the Wings.
Photo Credit: Andre Ringuette, Getty Images
If the Wings didn’t sign him wouldn’t he of become a FA like Justin Schultz? I believe that if a player leaves college early, their NHL team has to sign them or they lose their draft rights.
That’s a good question, and I believe the answer is ‘yes.’ By no means would Nicastro be sought after in the way that Schultz was, but he also played a year of Junior after being drafted (but it was American Junior and not Canadian Junior, so maybe that’s the difference) before going to college… and then was removed from the team and eventually withdrawn.
In theory, he would have become an unrestricted free agent 30 days after withdrawing from school, but there would be nothing stopping Detroit from signing him after those 30 days (just as Anaheim COULD HAVE signed Schultz if he wasn’t such a prima donna).