ACME World Sports hockey agent Bill Zito has joined the Blue Jackets as Assistant GM “after spending weeks breaking ties with players and divesting his interest in the agency he helped found,” according to Aaron Portzline of the COLUMBUS DISPATCH. Zito co-founded ACME in ’95 with current Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen and had “emerged as one of the NHL’s top agents during the past two decades.” Kekalainen said that Zito will head the team’s pro scouting department and “play a heavy role in scouting and signing college players." Zito: “I want to apply what I’ve learned the last 20 years to a different entity, and I want to try and win something. To work in this league ... it’s a privilege.” Portzline notes Zito’s hiring “required extensive legal maneuverings and NHL approval.” Recent rankings by Forbes.com had ACME “as the eighth-most powerful agency in the NHL” with $194.1M in active contracts among all clients. Blue Jackets D James Wisniewski, a former Zito client, said that he was “planning to remain with ACME,” relying on ACME co-Founder & President Markus Lehto “as his primary agent.” Early signs “suggest Zito’s other former clients will do the same” (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 8/13). Other former clients of Zito include free agent G Tim Thomas, Bruins G Tuukka Rask and Flyers D Kimmo Timonen (CP, 8/12).
In Ottawa, James Gordon reported the Senators are "operating under an internal player salary budget" of just over C$50M. The club has C$50.8M in salary "committed already ... with young restricted free agent defenceman Jared Cowen still to sign." Senators Owner Eugene Melnyk said that the team's budget is a necessary move because of the "razor-thin margins his team operates under." He added that between "player costs, operating expenditures and capital improvements, revenues haven’t kept pace." Melnyk acknowledged the lockout-shortened season was "extremely financially painful." He noted that he and GM Bryan Murray had a "long discussion about what it would take to ice a competitive squad" and the number came in at around C$50M (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 8/10).
BLUE SKIES: In St. Louis, Jeremy Rutherford reported the Blues have $57M "committed in cash payroll" for the '13-14 season. The $4.8M increase from last year’s payroll ranks fifth "among NHL teams in biggest boosts this offseason." But the Blues’ figure "doesn’t account for the re-signing" of restricted free agent D Alex Pietrangelo. If he is paid more than $3.8M in '13-14, the Blues "will leap over Nashville to No. 1." Blues Owner Tom Stillman: “When we purchased the Blues a little over a year ago, we said that our plan was to straighten out the business side and put a strong, competitive, contending team on the ice. In my view, all we’re doing here is following through on what we said we would do" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8/12).
RAISING ARIZONA: NBCSPORTS.com's Joe Yerdon noted Coyotes GM Don Maloney is "happy to have some worries put to rest" regarding the status of the team's ownership. Maloney said, "I don’t want to say the job’s easier, but a lot of uncertainties have been limited. We feel as much relief as anything else in the sense that we’ve just eliminated those questions. When you feel like you’re a ward of the state, which basically we were, it’s nice to know people don’t have to talk about this anymore and we can just talk about the job we do on the ice" (NBCSPORTS.com, 8/11).
In Ft. Worth, Drew Davison writes Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan on Saturday "didn't declare that he'd be back next season, but said he didn't anticipate any changes at this point." Ryan said, "At this point in your life, where I am, get through the season and see how you feel about things. There are a lot of factors in play, but do I anticipate any changes? No." Ryan said of the search for a president of business operations, "Best way to say it, it's in mothballs. ... We're not going to go out and bring someone in. We're going to move forward with the existing executive team we have in place" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 8/10).
KEEPING IT FRIENDLY: In Phoenix, Gary Nelson reported the relationship between the Cubs and the volunteer organization Mesa HoHoKams during Spring Training will continue "in the wake of a deal" between the two sides. HoHoKams President Mike Whalen said that his group and the Cubs "have a memorandum of understanding that will lead to a five-year contract." Volunteers will "park cars, take tickets, sell programs and serve as 'ambassadors' for fans" in the team's new 15,000-seat ballpark (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 8/12).
NOT KID STUFF: In DC, Adam Kilgore reported the Nationals are suing Westschester Fire Insurance Company "in an effort to recover $1 million of the signing bonus they gave to a fraudulent Dominican prospect" in '06. The Nationals that year "signed 16-year-old shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez with a $1.4 million signing bonus." It was revealed in '09 that Gonzalez "lied about his identity and his age." The Nationals in their complaint against Westchester Fire "make a claim that validates a long-speculated belief: the player once known as Smiley kicked back part of his signing bonus" to then-Nationals Special Assistant Jose Rijo (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 8/12).
THE BEST POLICY: CRAIN'S N.Y.'s Aaron Elstein reported Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez, by returning to the team, "probably lost his chance for the ... largest insurance payout" in MLB history. If Rodriguez had not returned due to injury, the team's insurer "would have been left picking up a hefty portion" of the nearly $100M remaining on Rodriguez' contract. The Yankees "secured a policy" for Rodriguez' contract via Pittsburgh-based Team Scotti. The team reportedly has "insured 80% of A-Rod's contract, though it isn't clear when the policy was bought, its duration or what sort of deductibles are involved" (CRAIN'S N.Y. BUSINESS, 8/12 issue).