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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    Pre-game reading: NHLers sound off on poor ice conditions

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    — Up top, Danny Briere recalls that famous line brawl between the Flyers and Penguins in the 2012 playoffs. The two Pennsylvania rivals meet again Saturday, outdoors at Heinz Field.

    — It has not been a good year for NHL ice, and a number of players are starting to get fed up. For example, Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk, who said, “It’s been awful. I don’t know what it is. Even in our building this year. I thought it was really good [when we came] back for World Cup and right after that for the first little bit. But the last little bit, it’s been so bad. The puck’s all over the place.” Guess we know how he’ll be filling out his survey. (ESPN)

    — The days leading up to the trade deadline can be pretty stressful for players who may get moved. And if they do get moved, the days after can be pretty tough, too. “I saw my daughters four days out of three months when I went to Pittsburgh,” said Hurricanes forward Lee Stempniak, who’s been dealt three straight years at the deadline. “When I was traded to Winnipeg, I didn’t see my daughters for the two months or more I was there because of the schedule.” (The News & Observer)

    — On the 2017 NHL draft, which may not have the star power of the last two drafts, but will still have some pretty good players available. Especially centers. (USA Today)

    — San Jose’s Brent Burns is trying to become only the second defenseman in NHL history to win a scoring title. With 64 points, Burns is only three points back of Connor McDavid for the league lead, with Sidney Crosby in the mix as well. Bobby Orr won the Art Ross Trophy twice, the last time in 1974-75 when he piled up 135 points in 80 games for the Boston Bruins.  (Canadian Press)

    — Another Shark, Joe Thornton, is just two assists from 1,000 in the NHL. Only 12 players have accomplished that, with Wayne Gretzky’s 1,963 helpers leading the way. Joe Sakic’s 1,016 are the closest to Thornton’s 998. (The Mercury News)

    Enjoy the games!

    Bolts rule out Callahan indefinitely following second hip surgery

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    Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan, who’s only played 18 games this year while recovering from offseason hip surgery, has undergone a follow-up procedure and will be sidelined indefinitely.

    The Bolts made the announcement on Wednesday, just hours after a big 4-1 win over Edmonton. Callahan wasn’t in the lineup to face the Oilers — he hasn’t played since early January, when he skated just under 15 minutes in a loss to Philly.

    The nature of this ailment has to be concerning.

    Callahan, who turns 32 next month, is in the third of a six-year, $34.8 million deal with a $5.8M average annual cap hit. And this lingering hip problem comes on the heels of a disappointing ’15-16 campaign, in which Callahan scored just 10 goals and 28 points — the lowest marks since his rookie campaign.

    As such, Tampa Bay is now bracing for an immediate future without a huge part of its leadership group. Captain Steve Stamkos has resumed skating, but there’s no set date for his return from major knee surgery.

    Callahan, who’s been an alternate captain in each of the last three seasons, won’t be playing anytime soon either.

     

    Kadri ‘not worried’ after Chiarot predicts revenge for big hit (Video)

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    Toronto forward Nazem Kadri drew the ire of Jets d-man Ben Chiarot on Tuesday night for a big — albeit questionable — hit in the Leafs’ OT win.

    Chiarot was visibly displeased following the game and alluded to getting even.

    “It’s not the right time or place to chase him down, but there will be a time down the line,” he said, per Sportsnet. “Might not be this year, might not be next year.

    “But there will be a time where the shoe will be on the other foot.”

    Today, Kadri responded.

    “I’m not worried at all,” Kadri said, per TSN. “I’ll be here for hopefully a few years. But like I said, if that was one of my teammates getting hit like that, I probably wouldn’t be too happy, so I expect that kind of reaction.”

    Kadri’s hit, which went unpenalized, drew the ire of Chiarot’s head coach as well. Jets bench boss Paul Maurice was also visibly displeased following the game.

    “He’s six inches in the air when he makes contact,” Maurice said, per Sportsnet. “In my mind, from the rear view, the first thing that moves on Benny is the helmet. Didn’t like it.”

    Kadri’s been involved in a few high-profile collisions this season. He pasted Sabres captain Brian Gionta in a game earlier this month, and avoided suspension for a controversial hit on Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin back in November.

    Have the Blackhawks finally found their first-line LW?

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    A three-point night for Nick Schmaltz, which included a nifty pass to Jonathan Toews for the game-winner, must have Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wondering how to approach the trade deadline.

    The way the 20-year-old rookie has been playing, does Bowman really need to add a first-line left winger before next Wednesday?

    It’s a valid question. Only a month ago, Bowman was reportedly sniffing around the likes of Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist.

    But Schmaltz has since caught fire, with two goals and five assists in his last six games. The rookie from Wisconsin had one goal and two assists in Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over Minnesota.

    “He’s been really good,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Tuesday] was the most we’ve ever seen him with the puck. I don’t know how many times he evaded coverage, and all of a sudden he loses the guy on him and a play develops. That play against the grain to [Toews] was spectacular.”

    Toews, of course, has been through a whole host of linemates this season, and only in the last month has the captain really started to produce offensively. Richard Panik and Marian Hossa are two veteran options to skate on his right side, but the left side has been a running audition.

    Schmaltz, a first-round draft pick in 2014, only got called back up to the NHL in mid-January.

    One month later, Toews is liking the chemistry that’s developed between himself, Schmaltz and Panik.

    “We’ve been given the chance to spend a few games together, get some consistency, get some feel and some confidence,” said Toews. “The biggest thing for the three of us is if we go through a game without scoring, we’re given a chance to go out in the next game and try and redeem ourselves and contribute offensively.

    “It’s a lot of fun, because I think we’re feeling it. [Schmaltz and Panik] are playing so well at both ends of the rink. They’re playing with a ton of confidence with the puck.”

    The ‘Hawks have two games left before the March 1 deadline. They host Arizona tomorrow and St. Louis Sunday.