It must be a very uncomfortable feeling for a player when a team walks away from an arbitration decision. My guess is that it would be a lot like the feeling someone would get if their date scrambled from a restaurant after seeing the bill for dinner.
This last summer, we saw the Chicago Blackhawks walk away from a one-year, $2.75 million award for Antti Niemi (for cap-related reasons) and the Atlanta Thrashers deny Clarke MacArthur a $2.4 million award (because they didn’t think he was worth the cash, and rightfully so, I’d say). These moments happen from time to time, so NHL.com listed the biggest salary arbitration rejections since the lockout ended. Here are the players who made the list aside from Niemi and MacArthur.
J.P. Dumont, 2006 — Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier made the difficult decision to walk away from Dumont despite the winger’s solid production in 2005-06. Dumont, then 28 years old, had 20 goals and 20 assists for the Sabres, who reached the Eastern Conference Finals that year. Dumont went 7-7-14 in 18 playoff games, but his $2.9 million award was simply too much for Buffalo, which was also up against the cap.
Dumont ended up with the Nashville Predators, where he’s had a fairly impressive career ever since then. The Sabres can be a cheap team in some ways, but it seems as if Regier makes the right choice more often than not. (So I guess Buffalo is the polar opposite of the NFL’s Washington Redskins.)
Nikolai Zherdev, 2009 — One would have thought the Russian winger would have been safe after appearing in all 82 games and tallying 23 goals and 35 assists for the New York Rangers in 2008-09, but GM Glen Sather declined to accept Zherdev’s $3.9 million award.
Considering the fact that he came back to the NHL – but for nearly half the price at $2 million – Sather’s assessment was probably correct. It’s weird to write “Sather” and “correct” without also adding “wildly in” between those two words … (at least while discussing anything that happened after 1990).
David Tanabe, 2006 — A first-round selection (No. 16) by the Carolina Hurricanes in 1999, Tanabe was awarded a $1.275 million salary after going 4-12-16 in 54 games for the Boston Bruins in 2005-06. But the Bruins felt the price was too steep for the 6-foot-1, 212-pound defenseman, and Tanabe became an unrestricted free agent.
Less than a month later, Tanabe signed on for a second stint with the Hurricanes. Unfortunately, a concussion suffered against Toronto in December 2007 ended his career at the age of 27.
So according to NHL.com, the biggest salary arbitration rejections involved Niemi, MacArthur, Zherdev, Tanabe and Dumont. With that in mind, I think it’s safe to say that the Niemi decision was the biggest arbitration rejection of the post-lockout years. It will be interesting to see if the Blackhawks made the correct decisions this summer, but at least they know they won’t be alone in taking their chances … by not taking their chances with arbitration awards.