Shootout host Kevin Sylvester is a veteran journalist in radio, television and print media. From time to time, Sylvester will be taking time out of his busy schedule to post entries in his blog or answer fans submitted questions.
It’s salary arbitration season in the NHL and this year it seems a bit benign compared to a few years back.
Clarke MacArthur was the only Sabres player to choose arbitration out of the few that were eligible. He was also elected for the first hearing, but negotiated a one-year deal with the team before the hearing (reportedly for something north of $1 million per season).
Given that MacArthur scored 17 goals in 71 games - with five on the power play - that’s probably a good deal, and good that both sides could come to agreement before it was placed in the unpredictable hand of an arbitrator.
Arbitration should leave a bitter taste in the mouths of Sabres fans. At the risk of picking a scab, remember the awards given to Daniel Briere and JP Dumont after the 2005-06 season?
Briere was selected to be the first hearing, as the NHLPA figured he would be awarded a large salary to “set the bar” for the rest of the players. Indeed he was, a $3 million dollar raise to $5 million.
The team attempted to negotiate a multi-year deal with Briere up to the beginning of the hearing, but to no avail. That big salary award also set the stage for JP Dumont’s $2.9 million award by the arbitrator, nearly doubling his salary.
The Sabres declined to accept, making Dumont a free agent.
I’m sure that last paragraph stung a little to read, but there are also a few things to remember.
Both players were restricted free agents and elected arbitration. Their rights were retained by a qualifying offer of 10 percent more than their previous year’s salary. Certainly reasonable in any business, and attractive enough that Patrick Kaleta recently accepted his qualifying offer.
The arbitration cases were also following the first season under the League's new CBA. The salary cap was also about $44 million (about $11 million less than it is now).
Huge increases to individual salaries were damaging to a team’s payroll. This leads me back to the phrase “unpredictable hand of an arbitrator” I wrote in the first paragraph. Think about the Briere case again - he was coming off a season in which he scored 25 goals and 33 assists, helped lead the team to the conference finals, but also missed 32 games due to a sports hernia.
A raise was in order, certainly more than 10 percent, but over 150 percent? It was an incredible sum at the time, one of the top salaries in the league and set the bar extremely high for future contracts. I wonder what the award would have been if he had played in all 82 regular season games that year?
Arbitration awards seemed to have cooled since then. Probably because teams and players know what the market is after it was set high three years ago, and electing arbitration has become unnecessary to most.
As I'm writing this, only 20 players have chosen arbitration this summer and five have reached agreements before their hearing - and I bet more will. And it’s not just about the money. What player wants to sit in a hearing and listen to their team tell an arbitrator all of their flaws and why they’re not worth the money.
That’s a great self-esteem builder.
As for MacArthur, he should send Briere and/or the arbitrator in that case a thank you note for setting a precedent for raises that exceed 100 percent. However, MacArthur may not be receiving any thank you notes since he chose to avoid the lead off position.
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