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Assessing this year's arbitration decisions

Aug 1, 2010, 3:03 PM EDT

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A lot of our attention this summer has been spent on restricted free agents and arbitration. With over 30 players having filed for arbitration, there was potential for a lot of drama between teams and players. As is generally customary, arbitration is the last resort in contract negotiations and the majority of players settled into contracts before reaching a hearing. There were five players that did go all the way to court and make a snap judgment as to who came out on top.

Antti Niemi – Chicago Blackhawks

Last year, Niemi made $800,000 on the way to helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. He took the starting job away from incumbent starter Cristobal Huet and provided stability in goal for a team that needed that support. The Blackhawks wanted to sign him for $1.5 million, Niemi wanted $4 million, a difference that could cause consternation between the two sides down the road.

Decision: $2.75 million

The arbitrator split the difference between what each side was hoping for. Chicago is still in a salary cap bind and yet to decide what they’ll do with Niemi. Regardless of what they do, the Hawks had to figure they’d be in this position as it was highly unlikely that the arbitrator would side with them for the amount they were looking for. Whether they walk away from the award or keep him and adjust their roster after the fact remains to be seen.

Winner: Push

Ideally the salary works for the Blackhawks, but it’s still not small enough for them so they won’t have to tinker with the roster. Niemi gets a raise on what he was making before but didn’t get what he was looking for salary-wise. Plus there’s the possibility the Hawks walk away from the decision.

Blake Wheeler – Boston Bruins

Wheeler was making a base salary of $875,000 which then got boosted by nearly $2 million in bonuses to $2.825 million on the cap. Wheeler had a down season compared to his rookie campaign scoring fewer goals and points, all of which you would think would lead to a reduced reward in arbitration.

Decision: $2.2 million

Wheeler gets a raise on his base salary but less money overall. The Bruins are up against the salary cap themselves but get a bit of a break since Marco Sturm will likely start the year on LTIR thus knocking his salary off the books in the meantime. Given Wheeler’s age and what he’s done in two seasons it’s tough to get too grumpy about this if you’re the Bruins.

Winner: Boston

It’s tough to argue against this if you’re Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. You get to have a lower cap number for a guy who is (or at least should be) one of your top offensive contributors. The Bruins also get to test Wheeler to see if he can bring the scoring back up before they potentially go through this whole thing again next year.

Clarke MacArthur – Atlanta Thrashers

MacArthur made $1.4 million last season with Buffalo and Atlanta and scored 16 goals and 19 assists, good for 35 points. He logged good time averaging just over 15 minutes a game and making $1.4 million to do that isn’t such a bad way to make a living. Atlanta didn’t have much in the way of worry when it came to salary cap space so you’d think that with things going all the way through to an arbitration hearing there was a distinct difference in opinion over what he should make.

Decision: $2.4 million

A one million dollar raise for the nearly 25 year-old winger doesn’t seem entirely out of place, if he was making just six figures before. Seeing as how he was making $1.4 million already, however, makes this decision stand out in a baffling way. Suffice to say, the Thrashers walking away from MacArthur’s award was the least-surprising choice of the summer.

Winner: Atlanta

While the Thrashers are still looking to reach the salary floor, paying a potential third-line left wing $2.4 million to do it sets a dangerous bar for the the team when negotiating with other players. Clarke MacArthur will land a job elsewhere for sure, but it just won’t be for $2.4 million a year. By walking away, the Thrashers also eliminated MacArthur from being a comparable deal for other forwards who went to arbitration. Blake Wheeler won’t be sending Thrashers GM Rick Dudley a fruit basket this year.

Tim Kennedy – Buffalo Sabres

A 24 year-old winger who got his first real taste of the NHL this season. Kennedy spent most of the year on the third and fourth lines averaging just over 12 minutes a game. Kennedy scored 10 goals and had 16 assists. He had a base salary of $635,000 and made $850,000 after bonuses were factored in.

Decision: $1 million

You could almost hear Dr. Evil delivering that decision but truth be told, while it’s a raise on the base salary it’s not that big of a raise over all, going up just $150,000. About the only thing to worry about here for Tim Kennedy is potentially entering a brand new tax bracket.

Winner: Push

Sure, having his salary be officially a million dollars looks daunting but it’s not actually daunting in and of itself. I’m sure Kennedy appreciates the extra money.

Jannik Hansen – Vancouver Canucks

Hansen was a fourth line player for the Canucks last year playing in just 47 games last year and racking up nine goals and six assists while averaging just over 12 minutes of ice time per game. He made $550,000 last year putting him just above the league minimum salary of $500,000.

Decision: $825,000

A huge coup for Hansen to win this much. For a guy that wasn’t seeing a lot of playing time nor producing very much on the ice to get this much money in arbitration was a bit startling. It’ll also set the expectations a bit higher for him next season. Perhaps he might even play in all 82 games.

Winner: Jannik Hansen

Without a doubt Hansen is the runaway winner in this case. While it’s unclear how much he asked for and what the Canucks were looking to keep him at, there’s no doubt that Hansen getting a 50% raise is an immediate lightning rod for comparisons for players like him that might get their courage up to challenge their team for more money. The salary cap strained Canucks can’t be happy with even the comparatively slight raise to what amounts to a depth role player.

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