Gregor: Gagner, Oilers likely to agree to a new deal before arbitration hearing
All 18 players who filed last year, and already three of this year’s 21 players, settled before their scheduled hearing
St. Louis Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak and defenceman Roman Polak try to take away all of Edmonton Oilers forward Sam Gagner’s options during an NHL game in St. Louis on March 1, 2013.
Photograph by: Dilip Vishwanat, Getty Images
EDMONTON - For the second consecutive summer, Sam Gagner has filed for salary arbitration.
Last year, the Edmonton Oilers and Gagner settled on a one-year, $3.2-million deal only hours before their scheduled arbitration hearing.
Recent history suggests Gagner and the Oilers will agree to a new deal before their arbitration date. In 2012, 18 players filed for arbitration, but all of them signed new extensions before their scheduled hearing.
Some players, who are similar to Gagner, signed long-term deals. T.J Oshie got a five-year, $20.875-million deal ($4.175 million/year) with the St. Louis Blues, Kris Versteeg and the Florida Panthers agreed to $4.4 million/year for four years, and the newest Oiler, David Perron, agreed to $3.8 million/year for four years in St. Louis.
Twenty-one players filed for arbitration this year. Gagner has the highest salary, $3.2 million, of those who filed. Chris Stewart, Zach Bogosian and Bryan Little made $3 million each while Blake Wheeler earned $2.6 million.
That doesn’t guarantee Gagner will get the most money this summer, but he’s likely going to get a new deal in the $4.4-$5 million range.
This past season, Wheeler scored 19 goals and 41 points, Gagner had 14 and 38, Stewart produced 18 and 36 and Little scored seven goals and 32 points.
Arbitration, like the NHL, seems to have gotten softer over the past decade. Gone are the days when New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury ripped Tommy Salo for being the most out-of-shape player in the league and saying he wasn’t an NHL-caliber goalie.
Nowadays, it seems like players and teams use arbitration as a means to an end.
“It takes the decision-making out of the teams, the agents and the player’s hands and I don’t think anyone is overly comfortable with that. It does force a settlement and that is what we are ultimately trying to do,” said NHL player agent Gerry Johannson from the Sports Corporation.
“Generally, it is a negative process,” continued Johannson. “It is not a fun thing for the team or the player and it is something that we’d rather not do. However, saying that, it is a tool that brings the parties closer together. It creates a deadline, you have an arbitration date, and that usually helps get things done.”
Eric Condra, Jake Muzzin and Ryan White were among the 21 players who filed for arbitration on Wednesday, yet Muzzin and Condra signed deals on Friday and White signed with the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
Electing to file for arbitration seems like the easiest way to ensure a player gets a new contract.
“I wouldn’t say it is easy; you have to be very careful what you decide,” Johannson said. “A lot of work goes into the arbitration process. The NHLPA puts an extensive amount of effort and resources into the process. ... We talk about it for hours and hours before we decide whether to file or not.
“It is a moving target. Every deal that is signed might affect your arbitration case, so it is something we stay on top of and you don’t take it lightly.
“There are strict rules. You can’t use a unrestricted free agent (UFA) as a comparable. There is a box that you are slotted in, whether you like it or not, whether it makes sense or not, guys are in that box. It is a little different than a normal negotiation where you have comparables, regardless of their situation, to some degree. They are similar players, similar positions or similar production, but in arbitration, it is a much more stringent threshold to get players into the comparable list.
“If a comparable player signs a long-term deal, only the salary in the first year of that deal is relevant. If you sign for an average of $5 million, but the first year is only $3.3 million, that is the only number you could use as a comparable in arbitration,” said Johannson.
If a player actually makes it to an arbitrator, there are rules both sides must adhere to. Anything pertaining to the salary cap is inadmissible, you can’t argue that Player X made $3.2 million when the salary cap was $50 million, so Player Y is now worth more because the cap is $64 million.
The financial state of a team, as well as testimonials and video and media reports, are also not allowed.
The party that doesn’t elect arbitration gets to select the term, but the term can’t encroach on an UFA year. If a player files for arbitration two years before becoming an UFA, the team could choose a two-year term. For example, Gagner filed for arbitration, so the Oilers get to choose the term, but since he is one year away from being unrestricted, they can only select a one-year term.
The arbitration dates will be set this week and, if needed, hearings will be held between July 22 and Aug. 6.
Gagner wants to stay in Edmonton. For the past two months, GM Craig MacTavish has extolled Gagner’s leadership, gamesmanship and character. Neither side wants an arbitrator to decide the price on a one-year term, so expect them to reach a deal prior to the hearing.
I’d agree with Johannson that an arbitration hearing is a negative process, but filing for arbitration has become an extremely positive form of initiating serious negotiations.
You can listen to Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the TEAM 1260 and read him at oilersnation.com.
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