10 NHL Players Most Likely to Benefit from Arbitration

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistJuly 11, 2014

10 NHL Players Most Likely to Benefit from Arbitration

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    Arbitration is a nasty, adversarial process, but it isn't without upside.

    For young players with little leverage, it often represents their best chance at getting fair value for their services. For NHL teams, it helps ensure that a critical young player isn't a holdout when his team needs him the most.

    The following slideshow looks at 10 players slated to benefit from arbitration. In each case, we briefly detail their perspective, as well as the perspective of the team on the other side of the table.

    Just for fun, we also consider a hypothetical comparable—in some cases, a good match for the player, but in others, just a big (or small) name that a particularly ballsy player or team might make comparison to.

    Read on for a brief look at the most interesting restricted free agents currently headed to the arbitrator. 

10. Dwight King, Los Angeles Kings

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    Player Perspective: Not many players with only two full seasons under their belts can claim to have two Stanley Cup rings, but King is one of them and presumably wants to stay with the Kings for years to come. Arbitration ensures that he'll get a contract, but his best interest might be served by signing a deal with some terms at a modest cap hit. 


    Team Perspective: King is the only restricted free agent on L.A.'s roster and the final piece of next year's puzzle for the Kings. With a little over $2 million in cap space remaining, the only priority here is making sure that his deal doesn't put the Kings over the top—and a long-term contract before the hearing might be the best way to keep his cap hit down. 


    Fun Comparable: Here's a nice one for the Kings: Tyler Bozak. Like King, Bozak scored 15 goals and 0.39 points per game at the age of 24; he settled for a two-year deal at a cap hit of $1.5 million. Los Angeles would doubtless be thrilled to get that price point or something close to it on King. 

9. Lars Eller, Montreal Canadiens

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    Player Perspective: Eller had a breakthrough 2012-13 campaign, scoring at a better than 50-point pace during the lockout-shortened year. He was also excellent during the Habs' deep run this spring, posting 13 points in 17 playoff games. 


    Team Perspective: Montreal's "other" RFA, Eller has shown flashes of greatness, but he's also been terribly disappointing at times. For instance, in 2013-14, he posted just 26 points in 77 games (down from 30 during the 2012-13 lockout season) and went minus-15. There's lots of room to hammer his low value here. 


    Fun Comparable: We'll give a few. At age 23, Eller scored 0.65 points per game; others in that range at the same age include Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, David Krejci and Mikko Koivu. At age 24, Eller scored 0.34 points per game; others recently in that range at the same age include Joel Perrault, Jiri Novotny and Oleg Saprykin. In other words, there's a wide range of possible players who might get considered. 

8. Jason Demers, San Jose Sharks

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    Player Perspective: Demers' 34 points in 75 games in 2013-14 represents a career high, and with arbitration coming up, it didn't happen a moment too soon. He's coming off a one-year, $1.5 million deal, and with the Sharks becoming a "tomorrow" team (and one with plenty of cap space), it's a pretty good time to get paid. 


    Team Perspective: Averaging just 19:29 per game in terms of time on ice, Demers was the Sharks' No. 4 defenceman last season—and if Brad Stuart hadn't battled injuries, he might have been No. 5. This really isn't a player to break the bank on.  


    Fun Comparable: These are ridiculous names, but the coincidence was just too good to pass up. Since the 2004-05 NHL lockout, three defencemen have played at least 40 games at age 25 and scored exactly 0.45 points per game. Demers is one; the other two are Dion Phaneuf and Ryan Suter, both of whom would hit a $7 million per-season cap hit on their next contracts. 

7. Chris Kreider, New York Rangers

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    Player Perspective: Kreider is a 6'3", 226-pound power forward who not only had a great (technically rookie) campaign in 2013-14, but who was also the best playoff scorer in terms of points per game on a team that went to the Stanley Cup Final. 


    Team Perspective: The Rangers can make it clear to Kreider that if he goes through arbitration, he's getting a short-term bridge deal, and his career scoring numbers—he had only three points in 23 games in 2012-13—make arbitration a big risk. That's good leverage for a long-term deal at reasonable dollars, which would be in New York's interest and possibly the player's, too. 


    Fun Comparable: Carl Hagelin, but more for the team than the player. Hagelin scored very similarly to Kreider at about the same level of experience in 2012-13, and he ended up settling for a two-year deal with a $2.25 million cap hit. That would be a pretty decent bridge contract for New York. 

6. Derick Brassard, New York Rangers

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    Player Perspective: Brassard is coming out of a long-term deal in which he made $3.2 million per season and $3.7 million in his most recent campaign. He is coming off a productive season and would doubtless like a raise in his next contract. 


    Team Perspective: Brassard hasn't exactly developed in the way the Blue Jackets hoped when they signed him to that deal, and with the Rangers, he's found what looks like a good home. 


    Fun Comparable: Philadelphia's Matt Read was coming off a nearly identical season in terms of goals and assists per game—albeit over just 42 games during the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season—when he re-signed with the Flyers in the fall of 2013. His four-year deal at a $3.625 million cap hit suggests Brassard may not be in line for a raise. 

5. Cody Franson, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Player Perspective: If he were 50 days older, Franson would have been an unrestricted free agent this year, and there's pretty much always a market for 6'5", right-shooting rearguards who can put up points. Per TSN's Bob McKenzie, Toronto has already tried to deal him once, given that he's likely just hoping for a big pile of money. 


    Team Perspective: The Leafs are in a tight spot, as they have two notable restricted free agents heading to arbitration and a few others who will need to be signed but won't be going before an arbitrator. They also have precious little cap space. Franson is a luxury they just may not have cap room for. 


    Fun Comparable: Alex Goligoski, because his numbers are such a perfect fit. Like Franson, in the summer of 2012, Goligoski was a 26-year-old restricted free agent who had just posted 0.42 points per game over 70-plus games for a non-playoff team. He got a four-year contract with a $4.6 million cap hit. 

4. James Reimer, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Player Perspective: Reimer's stuck on a Maple Leafs team where he's been supplanted as starter, despite the fact that his own numbers indicate a guy who could very well be a No. 1. He'll be 27 and eligible for free agency next summer, so this is just a bridge to that. 


    Team Perspective: As we've noted previously, the Leafs are in a tight spot with two notable restricted free agents heading to arbitration and a few others who will need to be signed but won't be going before an arbitrator, along with having precious little cap space. Reimer is trade bait, and the smaller his salary, the better the chance that Toronto can shed him. 


    Fun Comparable: Carey Price. When Price signed his current six-year, $39 million deal, he was about to turn 25 and was coming off seasons of 0.923 and 0.916 save percentages. Reimer just turned 26 and is coming off campaigns of 0.924 and 0.911 save percentages. 

3. Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers

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    Player Perspective: Zuccarello had the best season of his career in 2013-14, recording 59 points and proving himself as a capable offensive weapon at the NHL level despite being undersized (just 5'7", 179 pounds). He might be in a position to land major dollars as a result. 


    Team Perspective: Zuccarello has shown offensive ability, but that 59-point campaign could very well represent a high-water mark given his age and history. He's also so small that if the points stop coming, he'll be in serious trouble. This is a situation where caution is warranted. 


    Fun Comparable: Jason Pominville's 2008-09 campaign is awfully close to what Zuccarello did in 2013-14, and like the diminutive Norwegian, he was 26 years old and had way more assists than goals. Pominville signed a five-year deal with an annual cap hit of $5.3 million and got a no-move clause and a modified no-trade clause to boot. 

2. Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado Avalanche

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    Player Perspective: Since the Avalanche elected for arbitration, O'Reilly is in the position of choosing whether he wants a one- or two-year deal. With five accrued seasons under his belt, a two-season deal would take him all the way to unrestricted free agency. That's great for him, because the CBA dictates that he can't be paid less than 85 percent of his $6.5 million 2014-15 salary. 


    Team Perspective: Colorado had little choice here, but the situation stinks. The team's only other option was to hand over a massive qualifying offer, thanks to the inflated salary O'Reilly got in the Flames' offer sheet that formed his last contract. The Avs will get him under contract and then face the choice of dealing him or seeing him walk to unrestricted free agency. 


    Fun Comparable: It's O'Reilly himself, who got a perfectly crafted offer sheet from Calgary the last time around. After holding out for the start of the already short 2012-13 campaign, he got a $2.5 million signing bonus (and a prorated $1 million salary) in year one and then an inflated $6.5 million figure in his second year, which is why Colorado is in such bad shape now. 

1. P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens

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    Player Perspective: Subban has plenty of ammunition at his disposal, including the 2013 Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenceman and a record of playing better than 27 minutes per game in the postseason on a team that went to the Eastern Conference Final. Add in that he was in the top five in scoring among defencemen last season, and he's set for a big payday.   


    Team Perspective: The Habs have been reluctant to break the back with Subban, but they may have no choice now. It's clearly in the best interest of the team to get him signed to a long-term deal before the hearing, in no small part because Subban is only two years away from unrestricted free agency. 


    Fun Comparable: Shea Weber. Weber was a finalist for the 2012 Norris Trophy, and like Subban, he was Nashville's top defenceman. TSN notes that the Predators went in hoping for a $4.75 million contract, while Weber countered at $8.5 million. The end result was a one-year, $7.5 million decision that set him up for another year of restricted free agency and a mega offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers.