Assessing this year's arbitration decisions

A lot of our attention this summer has been spent on restricted free agents and arbitration. With over 30 players having filed for arbitration, there was potential for a lot of drama between teams and players. As is generally customary, arbitration is the last resort in contract negotiations and the majority of players settled into contracts before reaching a hearing. There were five players that did go all the way to court and make a snap judgment as to who came out on top.

Antti Niemi – Chicago Blackhawks

Last year, Niemi made $800,000 on the way to helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. He took the starting job away from incumbent starter Cristobal Huet and provided stability in goal for a team that needed that support. The Blackhawks wanted to sign him for $1.5 million, Niemi wanted $4 million, a difference that could cause consternation between the two sides down the road.

Decision: $2.75 million

The arbitrator split the difference between what each side was hoping for. Chicago is still in a salary cap bind and yet to decide what they’ll do with Niemi. Regardless of what they do, the Hawks had to figure they’d be in this position as it was highly unlikely that the arbitrator would side with them for the amount they were looking for. Whether they walk away from the award or keep him and adjust their roster after the fact remains to be seen.

Winner: Push

Ideally the salary works for the Blackhawks, but it’s still not small enough for them so they won’t have to tinker with the roster. Niemi gets a raise on what he was making before but didn’t get what he was looking for salary-wise. Plus there’s the possibility the Hawks walk away from the decision.

Blake Wheeler – Boston Bruins

Wheeler was making a base salary of $875,000 which then got boosted by nearly $2 million in bonuses to $2.825 million on the cap. Wheeler had a down season compared to his rookie campaign scoring fewer goals and points, all of which you would think would lead to a reduced reward in arbitration.

Decision: $2.2 million

Wheeler gets a raise on his base salary but less money overall. The Bruins are up against the salary cap themselves but get a bit of a break since Marco Sturm will likely start the year on LTIR thus knocking his salary off the books in the meantime. Given Wheeler’s age and what he’s done in two seasons it’s tough to get too grumpy about this if you’re the Bruins.

Winner: Boston

It’s tough to argue against this if you’re Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. You get to have a lower cap number for a guy who is (or at least should be) one of your top offensive contributors. The Bruins also get to test Wheeler to see if he can bring the scoring back up before they potentially go through this whole thing again next year.

Clarke MacArthur – Atlanta Thrashers

MacArthur made $1.4 million last season with Buffalo and Atlanta and scored 16 goals and 19 assists, good for 35 points. He logged good time averaging just over 15 minutes a game and making $1.4 million to do that isn’t such a bad way to make a living. Atlanta didn’t have much in the way of worry when it came to salary cap space so you’d think that with things going all the way through to an arbitration hearing there was a distinct difference in opinion over what he should make.

Decision: $2.4 million

A one million dollar raise for the nearly 25 year-old winger doesn’t seem entirely out of place, if he was making just six figures before. Seeing as how he was making $1.4 million already, however, makes this decision stand out in a baffling way. Suffice to say, the Thrashers walking away from MacArthur’s award was the least-surprising choice of the summer.

Winner: Atlanta

While the Thrashers are still looking to reach the salary floor, paying a potential third-line left wing $2.4 million to do it sets a dangerous bar for the the team when negotiating with other players. Clarke MacArthur will land a job elsewhere for sure, but it just won’t be for $2.4 million a year. By walking away, the Thrashers also eliminated MacArthur from being a comparable deal for other forwards who went to arbitration. Blake Wheeler won’t be sending Thrashers GM Rick Dudley a fruit basket this year.

Tim Kennedy – Buffalo Sabres

A 24 year-old winger who got his first real taste of the NHL this season. Kennedy spent most of the year on the third and fourth lines averaging just over 12 minutes a game. Kennedy scored 10 goals and had 16 assists. He had a base salary of $635,000 and made $850,000 after bonuses were factored in.

Decision: $1 million

You could almost hear Dr. Evil delivering that decision but truth be told, while it’s a raise on the base salary it’s not that big of a raise over all, going up just $150,000. About the only thing to worry about here for Tim Kennedy is potentially entering a brand new tax bracket.

Winner: Push

Sure, having his salary be officially a million dollars looks daunting but it’s not actually daunting in and of itself. I’m sure Kennedy appreciates the extra money.

Jannik Hansen – Vancouver Canucks

Hansen was a fourth line player for the Canucks last year playing in just 47 games last year and racking up nine goals and six assists while averaging just over 12 minutes of ice time per game. He made $550,000 last year putting him just above the league minimum salary of $500,000.

Decision: $825,000

A huge coup for Hansen to win this much. For a guy that wasn’t seeing a lot of playing time nor producing very much on the ice to get this much money in arbitration was a bit startling. It’ll also set the expectations a bit higher for him next season. Perhaps he might even play in all 82 games.

Winner: Jannik Hansen

Without a doubt Hansen is the runaway winner in this case. While it’s unclear how much he asked for and what the Canucks were looking to keep him at, there’s no doubt that Hansen getting a 50% raise is an immediate lightning rod for comparisons for players like him that might get their courage up to challenge their team for more money. The salary cap strained Canucks can’t be happy with even the comparatively slight raise to what amounts to a depth role player.

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    Who might be the next Artemi Panarin?

    LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks poses after winning the Calder Trophy named for the top rookie at the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Even in an information age where boundless information lies a few clicks away, talented players slip through the cracks.

    Jamie Benn won the Art Ross in 2014-15 and came in second place last season, yet 128 players were selected before him in 2007. No-brainer Vezina Trophy-winner Braden Holtby was selected in the fourth round.

    We haven’t even covered quality players who weren’t even drafted.

    Artemi Panarin stands as an especially mind-blowing example. He went from undrafted free agent to the 2016 Calder Trophy winner after developing – and eventually breaking through – overseas.

    As we learned from Vladimir Tarasenko‘s recommendations to the Blues, Panarin was readily available in the summer of 2015, making his 30-goal, 77-point season burn plenty of executives and scouts.

    While there are examples of players who fall through the cracks, Panarin feels pretty unusual. Still, NHL Tonight sets out to name a few international players who could make a Panarin-type impact … and, of course, one of those players could suit up for the Chicago Blackhawks:

    Interesting stuff.

    If you choose not to watch the video, two of the names highlighted were Michal Kempny of the Blackhawks and Nikita Zaitsev of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    As defensemen, both overseas signings aren’t likely to make a Panarin-type splash on the scoreboard, but they remain interesting names to watch.

    Not quite a Panarin parallel, but …

    Allow for a comparison that breaks the rules quite a bit: Alex Radulov stands as likely the biggest impact import of all.

    As the 15th pick of the 2004 NHL Draft and with a very high profile, he won’t slip in under the radar like Panarin did last summer.

    Still, this is a player who already has 102 points to his name at the NHL level (in 154 regular season games), and despite the playoff drama with Nashville, he also has 14 career playoff points in 18 NHL postseason games.

    Honestly, the Radulov signing might be the best move Montreal made during a turbulent off-season.

    If any other import can compare to Radulov or Panarin, that team should be very, very happy.

    Chances are, we won’t know who to expect, but feel free to name your own choices.

    Oilers sign defenseman Matthew Benning, nephew of Canucks GM Jim

    BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 23:  Matt Benning #5 of the Northeastern Huskies skates against the Boston University Terriers during the first period of the 2015 Beanpot Tournament Championship game at TD Garden on February 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    Even with Adam Larsson added to the mix, the Edmonton Oilers’ organization is short on right-handed defensemen.

    It remains to be seen how long it will take for Matthew Benning to make the NHL jump, but the Oilers took a step in the right (right-handed defenseman) direction by signing him to a two-year deal on Saturday.

    In case you have some jokes at the ready … yes, Benning is related to Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning. The occasionally lampooned executive is his uncle. His father Brian also enjoyed an NHL career.

    *Nervous laugh*

    The Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy views the move as the equivalent to landing a “free draft pick.” It might be a nice perk for Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli to land Benning being that he was a 2012 sixth-rounder of the Boston Bruins.

    McCurdy indicates that Benning, 22, could rank fairly high among the Oilers’ defensive prospects right off the bat, even if scarce options play a role along with whatever the blueliner brings to the table:

    This is the fourth free agent signing of an NCAA player by the Oilers this off-season, though the first involving a defenceman. Previously, highly-regarded forward Drake Caggiula had signed along with right winger Patrick Russell and netminder Nick Ellis. All four are in age 22-23 and well-positioned to make an impact on the pro ranks in the near future, even as their NHL potential is an open book. But collectively they add some meat on the bones of a franchise whose organizational depth has been questionable. 

    Interestingly, McCurdy notes that the Canucks were in the running for Benning’s services.

    (Waits for a few more Jim Benning jokes.)

    Seems like the Northeastern University product received a decent deal, relatively speaking:

    Flames management enjoys a rare luxury: a clean slate

    CALGARY, CANADA - FEBRUARY 27: General manager Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames address the media before the trade deadline prior to the team's NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at the Scotiabank Saddledome on February 27, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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    This is part of Calgary Flames day at PHT …

    During the waning days of the Jarome Iginla/Miikka Kiprusoff years, the Calgary Flames ranked as one of the worst things a sports team could be: both expensive and uninspiring.

    There were a lot of bloated contracts connected to those days, but when you look at sites like Cap Friendly or General Fanager, the slate looks a lot cleaner heading into 2016-17.

    OK, so maybe you could also argue that there are still a few troubling deals to get rid of.

    Dennis Wideman‘s $5.25 million salary cap hit, Ladislav Smid‘s $3.5 million mark and Deryk Engelland‘s bewildering $2.917 million cap hit all expire after next season. Chances are, you have an issue with one or maybe all of those deals, so the Flames must be giddy to close in on all that extra breathing room.

    And, yes, there are some deals that Flames GM Brad Treliving may regret. Just consider today’s earlier post about Troy Brouwer.

    Still, the point is clear: whatever mistakes or strokes of genius that come, at least those moves will be Treliving’s to make.

    Consider some of the important calls that await:

    • Such as, how will they sort out Johnny Gaudreau‘s lingering RFA situation this summer?

    The easiest path might be to try to convince him to take a deal that is identical to the one Sean Monahan received, but one or both sides likely want something different.

    • Despite bringing in both Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, the goaltending future beyond 2016-17 is murky for a simple enough reason: neither netminder is signed beyond that point.

    Elliott is receiving a bargain $2.5 million and is currently 31. Johnson, 30, barely comes in behind him at $1.7 million. It’s highly likely that Calgary will spend more money on its goalies in 2017-18, but who might be back?

    And how much will the Flames need to see from Elliott and/or Johnson before trying to hammer out extensions?

    The good news for Flames management is that they’re not saddled with a goaltending decision they might not have made. The scary part is that, if it doesn’t work out, it’s on them … and could cost someone a job.

    • The Flames ultimately have the power to determine who’s a marquee player and who is a part of the supporting cast.

    Gaudreau is key, but it’s unclear if he’ll sign a long deal like Monahan or opt for a “bridge” deal. In addition to Monahan, the Flames signed these players to fairly long deals: Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, Brouwer and Michael Frolik.

    Yes, you can quibble with Brouwer and maybe another name, but plenty of teams would be jealous of that list overall.

    ***

    Many general managers must navigate minefields of someone else’s mistakes. There are a lot of challenges to the job beyond that, but Treliving & Co. get to make their own.

    It’s a luxury that is unlikely to last, but the Flames stand as an interesting team for armchair (and real-life) executives to follow.

    Yahoo’s fantasy hockey position tweaks signal end of a very specific era

    WINNIPEG, MB - FEBRUARY 11: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets prepares for the faceoff in second period action in an NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the MTS Centre on February 11, 2016 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
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    Few things deepen your hockey geekery quite like playing fantasy hockey.

    For sports haters and the sports-oblivious, it’s probably bad enough to see grown adults wearing hockey sweaters out in public. What about when someone is obsessing (and sometimes muttering profanities) about a team that only exists to about 8-15 people?

    Still, this is the Internet, where niche obsessions can go really deep. Just fall down a rabbit hole about Star Wars extended universe if you want to get a taste.

    Us fantasy hockey nerdy dorks got some understandable but still sad news today: it appears to be an end of an era for Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Burns being considered eligible as both right wings and defensemen.

    NHL.com trotted out a list of changes to Yahoo’s popular format on Saturday, and the tweaks generally make total sense.

    It’s a bit of a bummer, though, as being eligible for a forward and defensive position provided another example of the unusual natures of both Byfuglien and Burns. Luckily, there are about 1,000 Exhibits for each, especially true oddball Burns.

    (The debate regarding where either player should line up has largely died out, though.)

    Another thing of interest in NHL.com’s list is the most prominent players who can be placed in all three forward spots. That could be a good thing to keep handy if you’re the last-minute preparation type:

    The six tri-eligible players among NHL.com’s top 200, Joe Pavelski of the Sharks, Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators, Ryan O'Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres, Tyler Toffoli of the Los Angeles Kings, Patrick Sharp of the Dallas Stars and Jussi Jokinen of the Florida Panthers, have had their eligibilities reduced. Forsberg and Jokinen, who are now only eligible at LW, took the biggest hits from that bunch.

    Forwards Robby Fabbri (now C/LW), of the St. Louis Blues, and Sam Reinhart, (now C/RW) of the Sabres, are the two players who have gone from single to dual eligibility in Yahoo leagues.

    Check out the full article here.