Clarke MacArthur's arbitration decision still raising questions about arbitration system

clarkemacarthur3.jpgIt’s been over a week since now former Thrashers forward Clarke MacArthur had his seemingly bizarre and oddly inflated arbitration award for $2.4 million walked away from by Atlanta making him an unrestricted free agent. We say bizarre because a player scoring 16 goals getting a $1 million raise seems rather out of place against what the market dictates.  As it turns out, there was more at work behind the scenes than you’d imagine as James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail shares.

When it came time to meet with an arbitrator, the Thrashers simply asked for the award to be presented immediately, based on the player’s demands, so they could then walk away from the contract.

That’s how a third-line forward who had 35 points landed a $2.4-million (all currency U.S.) award, one the hockey world has been puzzling over ever since.

“We said, you know what, maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing if he gets this silly award,” Thrashers general manager Rick Dudley said. “We kind of encouraged it.”

Well that’s certainly a fun way to handle things from a management standpoint, opting to “fall on the grenade” and let the player “win” the case because they’re just going to walk away anyhow. With that sort of reaction from a team’s general manager some might start to question the validity of the arbitration system on the whole. After all, what Rick Dudley essentially did there was to throw the case and while MacArthur was going to win, the minimum walkaway number for teams was around $1.6 million.

Looking back at this year’s arbitration cases, we saw that eventually three players were sent packing either by their teams walking away from their awards (MacArthur and Antti Niemi) or via buyout (Tim Kennedy). Does this mean things are changing and the system is breaking down? Mirtle finds out from some general managers that this is just business as usual.

“I’ve always argued that if you go to a hearing, it’s actually the breakdown of the process,” said Ian Pulver, an agent who used to handle arbitration cases when he worked for the NHL Players’ Association. “The fear or the risk of having another person determine a player’s value, on either side, is what brings a settlement.”

Pulver said it was a positive sign that 26 of the 31 players who filed for arbitration this summer signed before their hearing. “That’s indicative of a process that’s working,” he said.

Arbitration, as it is, is made out to be the absolute last straw in negotiations between a restricted free agent and his team. After all, if neither side can come to an agreement how happy is either side going to be once things are hashed out in court? Someone is going to end up feeling bitter about things somehow. Even in Antti Niemi’s case where the arbitrator split the difference between what Niemi and the Blackhawks each wanted, the Blackhawks still got their way by cutting Niemi loose and signing Marty Turco for less money. With all that said, with what the Thrashers did concerning MacArthur and the Sabres with Kennedy have done is introduced a new kind of weapon to utilize when it comes to arbitration: the pink slip. It is just a business after all.

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    Star struck: Sens chase Niemi after three goals on nine shots (Update: And now he’s back)

    Milan Michalek, Antti Niemi
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    Bet Antti Niemi misses playing Buffalo.

    Niemi, who stopped 46 of 47 shots in back-to-back wins over the Sabres last week, was hooked during Tuesday’s game against the Senators after allowing three goals on nine shots.

    In Niemi’s defense, tonight’s goals weren’t exactly his fault.

    John Klingberg coughed up the puck badly on Bobby Ryan‘s opening tally…

    And on Ottawa’s second goal, Jyrki Jokipakka lost a board battle moments before Milan Michalek snapped one home:

    The Sens’ third marker also came on a turnover.

    Update: Well, this is quite the night for Dallas netminders. Kari Lehtonen replaced Niemi, allowed a goal, then got hurt in this collision with Klingberg, which forced him from the game and Niemi back into action.

    Foley aware of Seattle reports, but says Vegas is ‘proceeding as if we will play in 2017’

    Gary Bettman, Bill Foley
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    Bill Foley, the man behind Las Vegas’ prospective NHL expansion team, says he knows about reports claiming the league is keeping an eye on a proposed Seattle arena.

    He also says he isn’t going to worry about things out of his control.

    “I’m aware of what’s going on (in Seattle) but in my communication with the league, our situation isn’t dependent on third parties,” Foley said Tuesday, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We believe we’re in good shape and we’re proceeding as if we will play in 2017.”

    Over the weekend, a Seattle Times piece suggested the NHL had yet to award Vegas or Quebec City an expansion franchise because the league is “avoiding any expansion decision until after an upcoming Seattle City Council vote likely to decide the fate of Chris Han­sen’s proposed Sodo District arena.”

    The piece also suggested Seattle could be granted an expansion club for the 2018-19 campaign.


    That vote, on granting Hansen part of Occidental Avenue South for his arena, is expected by January. No one knows how it will go, only that the lead-up should be politically charged and fiercely contested.

    But passing it — future legal appeals notwithstanding — paves the way for Hansen to obtain his Master Use Permit and have his arena “shovel ready” should he choose to build.

    And that means, once a vote passes, it’s entirely possible the NHL could conditionally award Seattle an expansion team.

    To his credit, Foley remains solely focused on his Vegas bid — not what potential rival bids could bring to the table. And while he confirmed he has yet to be invited to the Dec. 7 NHL Board of Governor’s meeting in Pebble Beach, he re-iterated his only objective is to strengthen Sin City’s case for a hockey team.

    “I’m focused on trying to find a place to build our practice facility,” he said. “I’m focused on the new arena and our fans who’ve put down deposits on season tickets.”

    Report: Sabres’ Lehner (ankle) suffered minor setback in recovery

    Robin Lehner
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    Sabres fans hoping Robin Lehner would return early from his high ankle sprain received some tough news on Tuesday — per ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Lehner suffered a “little setback” in his recovery.

    Lehner was hurt in Buffalo’s opening game of the year and, originally, slated to miss 6-10 weeks. Six weeks have now passed, but optimism he’d be able to return in the earlier part of the timeframe has been dashed — LeBrun says Lehner’s projected return is now for mid-to-late December.

    (So, closer to the 10-week estimate.)

    While it’s not great news for the Sabres, it’s a positive development for the club’s other Swedish netminder, Linus Ullmark.

    Recalled from AHL Rochester shortly after Lehner got hurt, Ullmark is on a really nice run in November — just check his last five games played:


    The last Lehner update from the Sabres came in early November, when head coach Dan Bylsma told the News his goalie was “doing really well,” but “not close yet to getting back on the ice.”

    Welcome Ryan Johansen to the trade rumor mill

    Ryan Johansen

    Well, this kind of seemed inevitable — there are now trade rumblings involving Columbus center Ryan Johansen.

    This evening, TSN’s Darren Dreger revealed that teams have been calling Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen about the talented pivot, adding that one team classified Johansen as being “softly” in play.

    More (transcribed from video):

    “That doesn’t mean [Kekalainen] is calling teams, saying ‘what are you going to give me?’ However, when teams call, he’s not dismissing the interest. He is saying ‘well, what’s your offer?’

    “What that tells you is there’s at least some interest in considering the trade of Ryan Johansen and, as we saw on the weekend, his minutes dropped, he was demoted to the fourth line — so if the right deal comes along, they’ll consider it.”

    The incident Dreger referred to occurred during Sunday’s 5-3 loss to San Jose, in which head coach John Tortorealla limited Johansen to just 13:52 TOI — his lowest total of the season.

    It’s the latest incident from what’s already been a tumultuous year; not long after getting hired, Tortorella told the reigning All-Star MVP he was out of shape.

    Johnansen was then away from the team for a pair of games dealing with an undisclosed illness. During that absence, the Dispatch reported Johansen had been hospitalized this summer because of an accelerated heart rate.

    All this, of course, came one year after an ugly contract dispute at the start of last season, during which the Jackets and Johansen’s representation engaged in a public spat before agreeing to a three-year, $12M deal.