While few cases actually get to the arbitration stage, it is an important part of the signing season. The Rangers will have to open up the bank vault for Derek Stepan, but other big names might be challenged.
The NHL arbitration process is really no fun for anyone involved, since it brings negotiation into a formal setting and forces teams and their players to square off. Teams have to pretend that their own players aren’t really that good and hurt feelings can have long-standing consequences.
Which is why most arbitration cases get settled before the actual hearing. In fact, the Washington Capitals and goaltender Braden Holtby are already saying all the right things and trying to get something done beforehand. So there might not actually be much arbitration to hear about this summer, but there are some interesting scenarios nonetheless. Here’s a look at five high-profile cases:
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit – Coming off a two-year deal that paid him less than $1 million per season, Nyquist is definitely getting a bump. But if the Red Wings are canny, they’ll point out that his season was a bit of a step back from his insane 2013-14 campaign.
Stats matter a lot in arbitration and Nyquist’s were down this year. His relative Shot Attempts (aka Corsi) ranked 15th on the squad at -0.6, down from third the year prior (4.3). The sly Swede’s points per game also dropped and while the success he had in 2013-14 may have been unsustainable, it sure would have resulted in a bigger contract had it occurred this season instead of last.
Adam Larsson, New Jersey – Sort of the opposite of Nyquist, Larsson actually established himself as an NHLer this year after splitting time between New Jersey and the AHL in 2013-14. Larsson was on a one-year, $900,000 pact this season and he earned himself a raise by playing some of the toughest minutes on the Devils defense (only veteran Andy Greene had a harder dance card) and eeking out a positive relative Shot Attempts rate on a team that otherwise fared poorly in advanced stats.
On top of that, his 24 points in 64 games led all New Jersey blueliners. Not bad for a guy who was scratched at the start of the campaign.
Mike Hoffman, Ottawa – Part of the youth squad that helped the Sens charge into the playoffs, Hoffman was a slow-burn prospect that finally hit the next gear in 2014-15. His reps can point out that the talented left winger finished sixth in Calder voting – but the Sens can counter that no Ottawa player received easier zone starts than Hoffman (60 percent in the offensive end).
Fellow breakout Sen Mark Stone got $3.5 million per year recently, so what does Hoffman deserve with lesser offensive numbers, maybe $2.75 million?
Marcus Johansson, Washington – Points-wise, Johansson was pretty much the same player year over year, but the big difference during this session was defense and possession, which got a lot better.
Coming off a two-year pact that paid him an average salary of $2 million, Johansson can certainly argue for a modest raise. The Caps can counter that he played easier minutes this season versus in 2013-14, but I can’t see there being too much argument over the value of this player.
Derek Stepan, New York Rangers – It would be easy for Stepan’s agent to start arbitration proceedings by simply stating, “Game 7, OT against Washington” and doing a mic drop, but unfortunately that’s not how the system works. Instead, Stepan’s reps can simply point to the stats, which indicate that the gifted center played some of the hardest minutes on the squad, placed near the top of New York scorers and was one of the most dangerous penalty-killers in the NHL with five shorthanded points, just one off the lead.
Unfortunately, they cannot point to Ryan O’Reilly’s new contract in Buffalo and say “this,” because in the eyes of arbitration, their status is different.
Of all the players listed here, Stepan’s situation may be the most contentious, since New York has limited cap space and Stepan could easily win $7 million in front of an arbitrator.
Updated to correct that Stepan cannot cite O’Reilly’s new contract in arbitration because they are in different free agent groupings as per the collective bargaining agreement.