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Jay Feaster's Blog: Blackhawks brace for ugly salary arbitration

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks organization for winning the 2010 Stanley Cup! From personal experience I know what an exciting and emotional time it is for Hawks GM Stan Bowman.

From participating in a plethora of celebrations throughout the region, to meeting with Stanley Cup ring designers, the days and weeks following the Cup presentation are some of the most enjoyable a GM can experience.

You can also be sure that right now every member of the Hawks organization is talking about “team.” The players genuinely care about each other, they sacrificed for the good of the team and the “team concept” was paramount throughout the post-season. Team, team, team! I know because team was the theme following our Cup win in 2004.

Our coach, John Tortorella, sold “team concept” every day from the time he took over in 2001 and our players bought in. When we won the Cup there was no question that our “team” was greater than the individual superstars in our locker room.

That team spirit is something else Stan should enjoy while he can, for that too will change soon. In our case the change happened in August of 2004 when salary arbitration hearings took place. Suddenly we went from a group enamored with a team concept to a collection of individuals trying to convince a third party their own individual play was the only reason Tampa won the Cup.

Some of the best people you will ever meet in any walk of life, and some of the most unselfish players, sat there expressionless as their hired NHLPA lawyer and NHLPA representative tried to weave the incredible tale of how Player X single-handedly skated through an entire team to score a goal or how he managed to stop the onslaught of six rushing skaters in the last minute of play with nary a teammate of his own on the ice. The NHLPA rep would actually pull a miniature Stanley Cup replica out of his bag and sit it on the table to begin his presentation.

Stan will soon find out how quickly the team concept fades when it comes time for players to cash in on winning. Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, Jordan Henry, Andrew Ladd and Antti Niemi all need new contracts and each has the right to elect salary arbitration. Niklas Hjalmarsson is also a restricted free agent, however, he does not have arbitration rights yet. Nick Boynton, Adam Burish and John Madden are all UFAs as of July 1.

It will be difficult for Stan to keep this Cup-winning team together and he knew that was the case well before the Hawks became champions. His toughest task will be reconciling his goaltending situation. Cristobal Huet, the No. 1 goalie entering this season, has two years remaining on his deal at $5.625 million per. If that’s what the Hawks were willing to pay Huet to play backup throughout the post-season (he appeared in one game and played 19:56) imagine what Cup-winning goalie Niemi will think he should be paid going forward.

Get ready, Stan. Soon the lawyers and NHLPA reps will be advocating that Eager, Fraser, Henry, Ladd and Niemi (or at least whichever of them goes to salary arbitration) won the Cup all by themselves. That’s one of the least enjoyable experiences for a GM and the beginning of the end for the “team concept.”

Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on throughout the 2009-10 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.


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