For the most part, free agency can be a beautiful thing for hockey players. It’s a time in which teams spend stupid amounts of money on players who rarely justify those salaries, all in the name of splashy headlines and the dream of improvement. (Sometimes it even works out, too.)
That being said, it’s not always peaches and cream for these athletes. One of the least sought after experiences is salary arbitration. While it can be a necessary evil for teams and restricted free agents who cannot come to an agreement on an individual’s value, that evil often requires that player’s own front office to point out his weaknesses. That’s not exactly the greatest pep talk coming from a team that you’re expected to play your heart out for.
Wednesday, July 20 will mark the first day of this year’s arbitration hearings, although it’s important to note that the hearings aren’t guaranteed to happen. The two sides are allowed to come to terms on a new deal just minutes before a hearing is supposed to take place. Teddy Purcell could very well sign a deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning before his 9 a.m. hearing tomorrow, for instance. (That wouldn’t be too shocking, either, since the Lightning don’t have to worry about signing Steven Stamkos anymore.)
That being said, you might want an idea of which players are slated for hearings at this moment in time. Here are the 11 players who are still scheduled for the hearings.
July 20: Teddy Purcell (Tampa Bay Lightning); Lauri Korpikoski (Phoenix Coyotes)
July 21: Brandon Dubinsky (New York Rangers)
July 28: Josh Gorges (Montreal Canadiens); Ryan Callahan (Rangers)
July 29: Jannik Hansen (Vancouver Canucks)
August 2: Shea Weber (Nashville Predators)
August 3: Chris Campoli (Chicago Blackhawks); Zach Parise (New Jersey Devils)
August 4: Mark Fraser (Devils); Blake Comeau (New York Islanders)
Before we get into what the two sides can and cannot discuss in the arbitration hearings themselves, here are a few interesting notes. Campoli is the one player who is all but guaranteed to find a new home; the Blackhawks already admitted that they couldn’t come to terms with the mistake-prone offensive defenseman. The two biggest names on this list – Weber and Parise – are also the only two players whose teams nominated them for arbitration. (It’s much more common for players to file themselves.)
Now that you know the schedule for the hearings, you might want to know how the two sides might lay out their arguments. Chris Johnston did a great job of describing the general process in his story about Blake Wheeler avoiding arbitration.
Each of the arbitration hearings is held in Toronto and follows a specific protocol laid out in the CBA. The sides each get the floor for 90 minutes and are limited in what evidence they can use to support their case.
The presentations are allowed to focus on a player’s statistics, his contribution to team success and identifying others around the league with similar numbers that draw a salary in the desired range. However, they must not include references to a team’s salary cap situation, any history of negotiations between the player and the team or make a comparison to a deal signed by an unrestricted free agent.
Following the hearing, the arbitrator has 48 hours to make a decision and will provide a brief explanation of why he settled on a specific salary.
If the award is for more than $1,633,131 on a one-year deal, the team has the right to walk away from the ruling and let the player become an unrestricted free agent. That happened a year ago with the Chicago Blackhawks and goaltender Antti Niemi.
Otherwise, the sides go forward with the contract dictated by the arbitrator.
Obviously, we’ll keep a close eye on those 11 players. Who knows, the PHT staff might even debate the merits of certain players in our own “mock arbitration” sessions if you all behave nicely …