Salary arbitration hearings begin Wednesday; Here’s what you need to know

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 …

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?