Wednesday morning, with an arbitration hearing only two days away, the San Jose Sharks and restricted free agent Chris Tierney came to terms on a two-year deal worth just south of $3-million per season. That he and the Sharks came to terms on a contract, and one which will pay Tierney $5.875 million over the next two seasons, means you can strike another case off the list of upcoming arbitration hearings.
In fact, with Tierney’s pact all settled, the list of hearings has dwindled significantly. What started as 44 cases — nearly 50 percent more than last season’s 30 filings — has now shrunk to a mere 25 hearings with everyone from Winnipeg Jets star goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to Washington Capitals depth center Liam O’Brien inking deals ahead of their day in front of an arbitrator.
But not every team, and not every player, has been so lucky to come to terms on new contracts that render arbitration obsolete, and several big names remain on without deals as their hearings fast approach. Here are nine players who have filed for arbitration that are worth keeping an eye on with hearings set to begin Friday:
JACOB TROUBA, WINNIPEG JETS — July 20
Why not kick off the arbitration period with one of the biggest names on the list, right? As of Wednesday morning, Trouba, 24, and the Jets haven’t yet come to terms on a new deal. Not entirely surprising, of course, given the history between the team and player. Most will recall that Trouba held out as an RFA and missed a chunk of the 2016-17 regular season before inking a two-year bridge deal in November 2016. But following the campaign, Trouba said he wants to remain in Winnipeg and it’s clear the Jets want to keep him.
The issue, as it is often is with these things, is money. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Trouba is requesting $7-million annually in arbitration, while the Jets are looking for a $4-million cap hit. The disparity is standard operating procedure heading into arbitration — teams will want to save against the cap, the player’s ask will be higher — but it gives us an idea what Trouba could land. And depending on how the hearing goes, or if it even reaches that point, it seems very likely Trouba is going to land something in the $6-million range on his next deal.
MATT DUMBA, MINNESOTA WILD — July 23
Dumba’s slow and steady progression took its biggest step last season. After skating third-pairing minutes as a 21-year-old and second-pairing minutes as a 22-year-old, Dumba leapt up to top-three minutes as a 23-year-old and had himself a career year. Not only did his average ice time balloon to nearly 24 minutes per night, the blueliner went out and blasted home a career-best 14 goals and 50 points. He was the second-highest scorer defenseman in Minnesota, one point back of stalwart Ryan Suter, and the fifth-highest scoring player overall. Among NHL blueliners, he also finished tied for 10th in goals and sat alone in 19th in points.
This is going to be a tricky negotiation for the Wild. Dumba is due a significant raise on the $2.55-million AAV he carried across his previous two-year deal, but Minnesota can’t afford to go much higher than, say, $5-million per season if they want to make it through this summer without shedding salary in one way or another. Trouble is, Dumba might command more than that and he’s certainly well within his right to ask.
BRANDON MONTOUR, ANAHEIM DUCKS — July 24
There was no bridge deal and no in-between contract. Montour is heading to arbitration coming straight out of his entry-level deal. And unfortunately for the 24-year-old blueliner, that plays into the hands of the Ducks more than it does his own. Montour has only a small sample on which to base his asking price, having played only 107 games over the past two seasons. That said, Montour has contributed big time at both ends of the ice. He fired home nine goals and 32 points in 80 games last season while skating upwards of 20 minutes per night.
This is the type of situation that has either bridge deal or team-friendly contract written all over it. And while it maybe isn’t quite the same, it feels as though this could go the route that Colton Parayko and the St. Louis Blues went ahead of last season. Parayko earned a five-year, $27.5-million deal to avoid arbitration, and it’s already proving to be a remarkably cost-effective contract for the Blues.
JASON ZUCKER, MINNESOTA WILD — July 28
Remember that whole thing above about the Wild being unable to go much higher than about $5-million per season with Dumba? Well, Zucker is one of the major reasons why. The 26-year-old was dynamite for Minnesota last season, scoring a career-best 33 goals and 64 points and consistently cracking the top six. He finished second in goals on the Wild and third in points, and keeping him has to be a priority. The price, however, could be quite high.
Consider what other players with his type of production — 55 goals, 111 points in 161 games over the past two seasons — are set to earn. Logan Couture (59 goals, 113 points in 151 games) just inked an eight-year, $64-million extension. Max Pacioretty (52 goals, 104 points in 145 games) is looking in the same range. T.J. Oshie (51 goals, 103 points in 142 games) is playing on an eight-year, $46-million pact. And Cam Atkinson (59 goals, 108 points in 147 games) is signed to a seven-year, $41.125-million deal. Suffice to say, Zucker is going to cost a pretty penny.
BRADY SKJEI, NEW YORK RANGERS — July 31
Not to use Parayko as a comparable again, but it certainly feels like that could be a nice comparable for Skjei, as well. In the two seasons prior to filing for arbitration, Parayko had piled up 13 goals and 68 points in 160 games while averaging 20:18 per game. Skjei, meanwhile, has nine goals and 64 points in 162 games over the past two games with an average ice time of 19:16. Statistically, that’s fairly even and a shorter-term, bridge-type deal would likely work for both sides here.
However, the Rangers can go ahead and bet big on Skjei if they feel he’s worth the risk. New York has more than $19 million in cap space with which to work and few major cap concerns in the offing. If the Rangers go long-term, too, it might end up being a more favorable deal down the road.
CODY CECI, OTTAWA SENATORS — Aug. 1
The Senators made their love for Ceci clear when they allowed Marc Methot to walk in the expansion draft in favor of keeping the local boy and their 2012 first-round pick in town. Ceci, 24, has grown into his role as a top-pairing blueliner, and while the offensive breakout hasn’t quite been there, he has been steady in producing a handful of goals and roughly 20 points per season over the past four campaigns.
The concern, as always in Ottawa, is finding the right answer to the financial question. Ceci was earning $2.8-million annually on his last two-year deal and he’s going to be seeking a raise, though his numbers make it hard to fathom that he’ll land upwards of $4.5-million per season on a new contract. The Senators have plenty of cap space, sure, but Ceci is far from their biggest fish to fry this summer.
MARK STONE, OTTAWA SENATORS — Aug. 3
And the reason Ceci isn’t the biggest fish to fry is that Stone, 26, has filed for arbitration, too. With the Senators at risk of losing Erik Karlsson — and really, for all intents and purposes, it appears he’s already all but gone — Ottawa can in no way, shape or form afford to lose Stone or let the relationship between the two sides sour. With Mike Hoffman gone and Matt Duchene potentially heading towards an exit next summer as a free agent, Stone is the most important forward the Senators have in their possession and he is an extremely valuable asset. Not only is he a consistent scorer who has scored at a 26-goal, 70-point pace over the past four seasons, Stone is an excellent two-way winger who may have won a Selke Trophy by now if he was a pivot.
So, what does Stone earn on his new deal? It wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine his asking price sits in the $8-million range given his age, but the Senators will probably want the contract to come in closer to $6 million. They’ll have to find a middleground, but Stone is going to get paid.
BROCK NELSON, NEW YORK ISLANDERS — Aug. 3
There were some rumors as the trade deadline approached last season that Nelson was a potential candidate to be moved, but with John Tavares bolting to the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent, the Islanders should be holding onto any and all scoring options with both hands right now. Nelson has a tough go over the past couple seasons in New York, dipping from a career-best 26 goals in 2015-16 to 20 in 2016-17 and 19 last season, but he has one heck of a shot and could find a better fit under coach Barry Trotz than he did with Doug Weight at the helm.
That said, Nelson shouldn’t be expected to get a hefty raise. His $2.5-million cap hit over the past three seasons turned out to be a reasonable bridge deal, but chances are he’s not going to exceed it by all that much. When all is said and done, if the Islanders can get another short-term deal done with the 26-year-old at around $3.5 million to $4.5 million, that seems about right.
WILLIAM KARLSSON, VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS — Aug. 4
Trouba’s contract will be one of the biggest and kick off the arbitration proceedings, and Karlsson’s stands to be by far the most interesting hearing and the one that could close out the entire arbitration period. No player had a more shocking season in 2017-18, as Karlsson, largely an afterthought when acquired at the expansion draft by the Golden Knights, went off to the tune of 43 goals and 78 points, more than tripling his previous career-best marks in both categories. He’s going to get a hefty raise from the $1 million he earned last season.
But here’s the thing: a bridge deal now could result in Karlsson making the Golden Knights pay even more heavily down the road if he repeats his performance once or twice in the coming campaigns. However, a long-term deal could see Karlsson come back down to earth — he had 18 goals and 50 points in 183 games prior to the past season — with his contract becoming a bit of a head-shaker in a few years’ time. Vegas will have to carefully consider the next step when it comes to Karlsson, who will be one of the most interesting men in hockey until his new deal is settled.
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