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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    Busy Blackhawks bring back Pokka, reportedly let Rasmussen walk

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    A busy off-season for the Chicago Blackhawks continued with some smaller moves that may still surprise some.

    The eyebrow-raiser, at least in some quarters, came when the Blackhawks decided not to hand Dennis Rasmussen a qualifying offer, thus allowing the 26-year-old forward to hit free agency. That news comes from The Athletic’s Scott Powers.

    Rasmussen played in 68 games last season (along with three playoff contests), receiving almost 12 minutes of ice time per night. Both were examples of him seeing more of a role in his second year with Chicago.

    Still, he didn’t put up big numbers at either the AHL or NHL level, so apparently the Blackhawks decided to spring him free. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports that the team might have soured on Rasmussen after he rejected an offer for a contract extension back in March.

    Powers also notes that Ville Pokka was signed to a one-year deal, opening the door for him to possibly make Chicago’s roster.

    These developments aren’t likely to add to what’s already been a frustrating off-season for Joel Quenneville in particular, but this still lines up with a pattern of changes. In the latest edition of “30 Thoughts,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman shares some details of Coach Q’s irritation:

    21. Joel Quenneville was at the draft Saturday after not appearing on Friday. He stormed out of a coach’s meeting — in full view of reporters — as news broke of the Chicago trades. It would have been very tough for him to lose Hjalmarsson, one of the NHL’s underappreciated great players.

    Quenneville’s cage was already rattled by the firing of assistant Mike Kitchen, so here’s hoping he at least signed off on these latest moves.

    Report: Red Wings grant Coyotes permission to interview Todd Nelson

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    There’s some activity as far as the Arizona Coyotes’ coaching situation goes, and soon there may be some answers.

    As noted during the weekend, the Coyotes were interested in speaking with Todd Nelson, who most recently coached the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate) to a Calder Cup victory. The Red Wings granted Arizona permission to interview Nelson, according to the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James.

    (Red Wings fans are greeting this news with despair.)

    It’s not the only noteworthy development, either, as the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan reports that the Coyotes parted ways with associate coach Jim Playfair today. (The Coyotes confirmed the news moments after this post went up.)

    This is a time of change for this organization, and some are bristling at the way they’re handling things. Still, there’s also an argument that the team is ultimately making wise choices, and Nelson could end up being a big part of that.

    Assuming they convince him to come on board, of course.

    Gryba sticks with Edmonton on two-year, $1.8 million deal

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    After spending the last two seasons with the Oilers, Eric Gryba has signed on for two more.

    Gryba, the veteran blueliner that was set to go unrestricted on Saturday, has signed a two-year, $1.8 million extension with Edmonton, per TSN. The deal comes after the 29-year-old appeared in 40 games for the Oilers last year, and three during the club’s playoff run.

    Gryba is the second UFA blueliner Edmonton has re-upped with, having previously inked Kris Russell to a four-year, $16 million pact. It’s the byproduct of available cap space GM Peter Chiarelli created by shipping out Jordan Eberle to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome.

    It’s likely Gryba will continue to play his existing role in Edmonton — a physical, hard-nosed depth defenseman that won’t play every night, but can jump into the lineup in case of injury or when the Oilers face a particular matchup.

    This move also gives the Oilers seven defensemen under contract for next season: Gryba, Russell, Andrej Sekera (who could miss extensive time with a torn ACL), Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Matthew Benning and Darnell Nurse.

    So, perhaps Chiarelli isn’t done signing blueliners.

     

     

    Report: Kings in contact with Joe Thornton

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    Yesterday, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported 12 teams were in contact with San Jose’s Joe Thorton who, on Saturday, will become an unrestricted free agent.

    Now, it’s been revealed that one of those teams is also one of San Jose’s biggest rivals — the Los Angeles Kings.

    Per LA Kings Insider, the Kings have “been in contact” with Thornton, who just wrapped the last of a three-year, $20.25 million deal with a $6.75M average annual cap hit.

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    On top of Thornton’s abilities are his relationships with key figures in Los Angeles’ front office. He played with Kings General Manager Rob Blake in San Jose, while Senior Advisor to the General Manager/Development Mike O’Connell was Thornton’s general manager when he played in Boston.

    On top of these relationships, Thornton also remains very close with Glen Murray, a figure in Los Angeles’ player development, and I’m told the two, who played together with the Bruins for three and a half seasons, regularly communicate.

    LeBrun reported that staying with the Sharks remains Thornton’s No. 1 option, but it’s pretty clear interest in him is sky-high — and coming from a number of different places.

    Los Angeles has been making moves to clear cap space, recently buying out the remainder of defenseman Matt Greene’s contract. The Kings also lost blueliner Brayden McNabb to Vegas at the expansion draft.

    What happens with Marian Gaborik‘s $4.875M cap hit remains to be seen. The veteran winger underwent an offseason procedure for a “chronic” knee issue and, depending on his recovery, could open the year on long-term injured reserve.

    Thornton would give L.A. a formidable one-two punch at center along with Anze Kopitar (and a truly formidable 1-2-3 punch with Kopitar and Jeff Carter, for that matter). It’s also worth noting that as he’s gotten longer in the tooth, Thornton has successfully platooned as a winger — most notably during San Jose’s Stanley Cup run in 2016.