Red Wings management is breathing a little easier knowing their one aribitration-eligible restricted free agent won’t be getting a third party involved in their contract negotiations. The deadline for player-elected arbitration has come and pass at 5 p.m. today, and Danny Dekeyser was not one of the 20 players who chose to take their clubs to arbitration (As Ansar Khan from MLive told us all on Twitter). This lets all Wings fans exhale a huge sigh of relief, as the Red Wings’ off season has been disastrous so far. Puck Daddy ranked them with a D-, and I thought that was being pretty generous. DeKeyser filing for arbitration would have taken a seriously bad situation and made it a whole heck of a lot worse. Arbitration can be an absolutely brutal process for players and teams who disagree on what a salary should look like. I won’t pretend to know what Ken Holland’s demeanor is like during what basically boils down to an argument with a mediator in the room, but I can’t imagine it’s pleasant. Essentially the player has to make an argument as to why he’s wonderful and deserves X number of dollars. Meanwhile the only real thing the GM can do to counter this is talking about why the player is garbage and deserves significantly less than X number of dollars, and a neutral third-party makes a decision based on the arguments presents and both sides have to agree to abide by said arbitrator’s decision. Believe it or not, listening to your GM trash you in an arbitration hearing has a funny way of leaving a bad taste in your mouth. The arbitration process can damage relationships between players and teams, and a lot of the time that relationship never really heals. What follows is an excerpt from a piece by the guys over at Lighthouse Hockey, talking about Tommy Salo. Salo is considered to be the Islander’s best goalie of the 90s, and this is what arbitration did to him and General Manager Mike Milbury:
Milbury took that to an extreme though when he went to arbitration with Tommy Salo. With Salo sitting next to his agent, Milbury began ranting about how bad he was directly to his agent: Claiming that he was one of the poorest conditioned players in the league, that he wasn’t an NHL caliber goalie, and tearing into him in what is considered one of the most infamous arbitration rants of all time. According to reports, Salo left the room to use the bathroom, and when he returned it was clear that he had been crying.
Salo isn’t the only player to be spurned in such a process, but his case is easily the most famous. In more recent history, it was the arbitration process that sent goaltender Antti Niemi packing from Chicago only a couple months after helping them win the Stanley Cup in 2010. Essentially, Chicago was offering $2 million to Niemi, who felt like he was worth more than what was being offered (you know, after the whole Stanley Cup winning thing he did). Chicago wasn’t being rude or dumb or undervaluing him necessarily, but the salary cap put them in a tough spot. The arbitrator awarded a $2.75 million decision to Niemi, and rather than pay it, Chicago decided to part ways with Niemi altogether.
Arbitration isn’t all bad for players though. The Nashville Predators decided negotiations with their captain Shea Weber weren’t going so well, and decided to take him to arbitration in 2011. Weber had made $4.5 million the previous year and was reportedly wanted $8.5 million annually, while the Predators had offered a laughable $4.75 million. Their reasoning behind the arbitration move was to prevent him from signing an offer sheet, since any restricted free agents that file for arbitration are off-limits for other teams’ poaching ways. Whether this actually helped the Predators in the long run, however, is questionable at best. Shea Weber was awarded $7.5 million (!) for a one-year contract. That’s the highest salary ever awarded in a NHL arbitration, and it made Weber the highest-cap hit for defensemen in the NHL at the time. In the above linked USA-Today article, Weber claimed “I can’t think of any reason I wouldn’t want to be here.”, but it seems as though the arbitration process had really soured him on the organization (or he was just lying, there’s always that). Rather than wait one year to become an unrestricted free agent, after his arbitration contract had come to an end, Weber signed an absurd offer sheet with the Flyers for 14 years and $110 million. The Predators matched said offer sheet, and the relationship between the two has been contemptuous ever since. Another recent example was then New Jersey Devils star, and good American, Zach Parise. Although the Devils did file for arbitration with him in 2011 to buy more time to negotiate, they settled on a one-year $6 million deal before the case could ever be heard by an arbitrator. Parise thanked them in kind by bolting to Minnesota the next year with his buddy Ryan Suter. Filing for arbitration isn’t always a bad sign, especially when the team elects to do it rather than the player, but it often signals that things aren’t exactly coming along smoothly. Such a situation makes it especially interested that P.K. Subban has filed for arbitration two years after sitting out part of the season because a contract could not be negotiated. I wouldn’t be the least bit upset if Montreal does to Subban what Chicago did to Niemi and Detroit ends up offering him $9.5 million a year. Of course that makes the whole re-signing RFAs and fitting under the cap situation difficult for Detroit but that’s all in the details man! Of course, Montreal letting their best player walk away would be grounds to commit their entire front office to an asylum, and plenty of teams would be willing to offer a lot to Subban, so I’m not going to get my hopes up. In the end, let’s all be happy that DeKeyser isn’t going down this route. We can assume that negotiations are going amicably and a settlement will be reached soon that will keep DK in the D for a few more years. Then again we can all get nervous about the fact that he can sign an offer sheet to play elsewhere and consider how almost every team was trying to sign him as an undrafted UFA before he decided on Detroit (even though we have zero reason to think he’d even want to leave Detroit). Stay tuned.