It should really come as no surprise that of the 25 players who were slated to go to salary arbitration this summer, none has actually sat in front of the arbitrator and 22 of them have resulted in contract resolutions. That’s pretty much the standard these days.
And it should also come as no surprise if the remaining three are resolved well in advance of their hearings. Well, except Tyson Barrie of the Colorado Avalanche, largely because we have no idea what Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy are thinking these days. He actually might end up going. He’s slated for Thursday. (Martin Marincin of the Toronto Maple Leafs is scheduled for Aug. 2 and Michael Stone of the Arizona Coyotes is on the docket for Aug. 4.)
But the point is that the dearth of actual arbitration hearings is undisputable proof that salary arbitration works. It is not the bogeyman. Quite the opposite, actually. Instead of having to go through long, protracted negotiations that can turn nasty, teams and players who go the arbitration route have one of two choices – they can either come to a settlement upon which they both agree or they can have one imposed upon them under which they have no control. But the key is that either way, both the player and the team know that they’ll be together once training camp begins.
In fact, it worked twice for Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators, who went to arbitration last summer and was awarded a one-year deal, then had his arbitration hearing set for Aug. 4 before he and the Senators came to a four-year deal worth $20.75 million.
In some cases it’s used as an insurance policy. When Detroit Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser filed for arbitration, he and the Red Wings were already well into negotiations that led to his six-year deal worth $30 million. DeKeyser filed for arbitration simply as a means of ensuring that things didn’t fall off the rails and if they did, there was a backup plan.
And the best thing about arbitration is that nobody walks away from the process feeling as though he’s been taken. The very nature of arbitration ensures that doesn’t happen. The thing arbitration does better than any other method is that it forces both sides to be reasonable in their projections. With that as a starting point, teams and players then, more often than not, find common ground and come to a resolution. And it’s a resolution that, in many cases, would have dragged through the summer and perhaps into training camp had the two sides not been forced together by the impending arbitration hearing.
Of the 25 players who were slated to go to arbitration, only Detroit Red Wings goalie, Petr Mrazek, who settled just before his hearing, was taken to arbitration by his team. Mrazek was looking for $5 million per season on a two-year deal and the Red Wings were offering $2.7 million in the first year and $3.15 in the second year. The two sides ultimately settled on a two-year bridge deal worth $4 million a season, which is a win for Mrazek, but certainly not an obscene one.
Arbitration works so well because it’s something both sides want to avoid. At its worst, arbitration can be a nasty process where the team, in trying to state its case, attempts to diminish the accomplishments of a player and actually make him look like a liability. That has the potential to lead to some hard feelings and some awkward moments. The specter of doing that almost always leads to a resolution.
Which leads us to wonder, why would the NHL not want to broaden the net for arbitration? It seems the league has always been wary of the process, but history has proved the league has nothing to worry about here. If fair resolutions are what the league is after, then arbitration should represent a solution.
As it stands, a good number of restricted free agents coming out of their entry level contracts don’t qualify for arbitration. It means those players essentially have no leverage in contract negotiations short of sitting out of training camp and the season until a deal is done. Why not extend arbitration to include those younger players? The vast majority of them sign long before their deals expire anyway, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to put another safeguard in there.
If arbitration were in place for all players, Calgary Flames fans wouldn’t be wondering why the summer continues to drag along without a deal in place for franchise cornerstones Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. Those deals will likely get done in due time, but wouldn’t you feel a little more secure as a Flames fan if you knew that a guaranteed deal was coming for your two best players?