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Should more NHL players go to Arbitration?

Jacob Trouba and the Winnipeg Jets couldn’t reach an agreement prior to their arbitration hearing this past Friday. They actually went through the arbitration process and the arbitrator decided on a one-year, $5.5 million contract for Trouba. In the past five years (2013-2017), we have seen 122 arbitration possibilities, but only five went to arbitration. This summer, 38 players filed. Sixteen cases have already been settled and so far only Trouba went the distance. Brett Kulak is going through it today.

When I look at how arbitrators have ruled, I’m curious why more players don’t go through it.

This is an outstanding contract for Trouba, but I do wonder how much longer he will be in Winnipeg. This is the second time he and the Jets had a “tough” negotiation. Two years ago, Trouba had no arbitration rights and he actually sat out two months before signing a two-year extension. This summer his camp and the Jets couldn’t reach a deal, so they used an arbitrator and Trouba should be ecstatic with the results.

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It is only a one-year deal, but he is now a $5.5 million player and two years away from unrestricted free agency. He could go through this again next year, get another one year deal and then be a UFA.

Elliott Friedman reported that, heading into arbitration, the Jets presented a $4 million, one-year deal, while Trouba’s camp was asking for $7 million. On our radio show, Jason Strudwick and I said we expected the arbitrator to meet somewhere in the middle. We can look at that and say that is a fair negotiation, but when you crunch Trouba’s numbers, I believe this ruling favoured him.

His best offensive season was 33 points. This past season he was tied for 75th in points among defenders with 24. He was tied for 61st in EV points. He only played 55 games and I’m sure his camp used pts/60, where he ranked 16th among D-men with more than 750 EV minutes. He did have the highest D-zone to O-zone starts among Jets defenders, and his underlying numbers were very good. He was put in more of a defensive role, and without question playing defence matters a lot, but a one-year deal at $5.5 million is a great deal for Trouba.

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Over the past three seasons, he is 57th among D-men with 78 points and is 44th with 63 EV points. Nick Holden ($2.2 mill) is 43rd with 64 and Justin Braun ($3.8mill) is 42nd with 66 EV points.

Trouba has less offence than those two because he’s played 196 games while Holden has played 235 and Braun has skated in 242 games. I’m sure Trouba’s camp used P/60 or points-per-game in their argument. Smart move, but the reality is P/60 or PPG can be misleading if a player is always missing large sums of playing time.

Braun only missed four games the past three seasons, Holden missed 11, while Trouba has missed 50 games. Trouba has played in 79.6% of the Jets games the past three seasons, and in his five-year career he has dressed in 79.5% of the games. He did miss 15 games at the start of the 2016/2017 season holding out for a new contract, but he has still missed a lot of time due to injuries in his career.

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It is difficult to predict injuries, and I understand why some prefer not to look at that in contract negotiations, but when a player is constantly missing games I do believe it plays a part. For me, actual points have more value than P/60 or points-per-game. It is impossible to impact the game from the press box, and I do see value in P/60, but when you are missing 20% of the games that means 20% of the time you have zero impact on the team.

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Make no mistake I believe Trouba is a better defender than those two. I love his nastiness, but he got a pretty big bump in pay and compared to others who produce points and play tough minutes he got it earlier than most of them.

BIG MONEY EARLIER…

By going to arbitration, Trouba, 24 years of age, got big money earlier than expected based on his production thus far. Trouba now has the 27th highest salary among NHL defenders, but the only D-men younger than him who make more are Aaron Ekblad and Matt Dumba.

Ekblad (22 and $7.5m) has yet to top the 40-point mark, but he does have seasons of 36, 38 and 39 points. He is entering the second year of an eight-year deal.

Dumba (turns 24 on Wednesday) just signed a five-year deal worth $6 million/year on the weekend. In the past three seasons he has 110 EV points (31st among D) and 137 points (29th overall) and his coming off a 50-point season.

The other D-men 27 years old and younger making $5.5 million are Viktor Hedman (27 and $7.85m), Cam Fowler (26 and $6.5m), Dougie Hamilton (25 and $5.75m) and Colton Parayko (25 and $5.5m).

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Trouba’s new deal puts him in a very small group. It is a great deal for him and I wonder if other young players will be willing to sit through arbitration to get a better deal. Trouba has to be qualified at $5.5 million next year, so even though this is a one-year deal it virtually guarantees him the same contract next year before possibly becoming a UFA in the summer of 2020.

Trouba’s $5.5 million contract was the third highest all-time among defenders trailing only Shea Weber’s $7.5 million in 2011 and Scott Niedermayer’s $7 million in 2004.

ARBITRATION COMPARISONS…

Arbitration fascinates me. I’m always interested to see who the team and player use as comparisons when presenting to the arbitrator. I haven’t been able to get Trouba’s comparables yet, but I was able to get a source to provide me with Nate Schmidt’s arbitration case from last summer.

Schmidt played two full seasons (2016 and 2017) with the Washington Capitals after splitting the previous two years between the Capitals and the AHL. Vegas picked him in the expansion draft and he filed for arbitration.

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His camp asked for a two-year deal with a $2.85 million AAV ($2.75 in year one and $2.95m in year two). Vegas countered with $950,000 in year one and $1 million in year two for a $975,000 AAV.

Vegas used Ben Chiarot ($1.4m AAV) and Martin Marincin ($1.25m AAV) as comparables, while Schmidt’s agents countered with Mark Pysyk (three years, $2.733m), Nathan Beaulieu ( two years, $2.4m) and Alex Petrovic (one year, $1.85m).

The arbitrator awarded Schmidt $2.15 mill in year one and $2.3 million in year two for an AAV of $2.225 million. Schmidt had produced 16 and 17 points seasons in Washington, albeit in a third pairing role. Last year with Vegas he scored 36 points and played the most minutes. It turned out to be a great value deal for Vegas as well, but by Schmidt betting on himself, and his agent’s presentation, he earned more than Vegas was offering prior to arbitration.

DON’T ALWAYS WIN…

Oct 4, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Ottawa Senators forward Mike Hoffman (68) celebrates a second period goal against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Players don’t always win, of course. In the summer of 2015, Mike Hoffman and the Ottawa Senators went to arbitration. Hoffman had just finished his first NHL season where he produced 27-21-48 in 79 games. He’d played 29 NHL games over the previous three seasons, but this was his first full season in the Show.

They went into arbitration asking for a one-year, $3.4 million deal and the Senators countered with $1.75 million.

The Senators used two comparisons. Anders Lee (25-16-41) who had just signed a four-year, $3.75m AAV extension, but they used the first three years ($3.33m AAV) as an accurate comparison and did not include the fourth because it was a UFA years. The other was Chris Kreider (21-25-46) who had just finished the first year of his two-year $2.475 AAV.

Hoffman’s camp used five. The above two as well as Tyler Johnson (29-43-72), who finished first year of a three-year $3.33m AAV, Alex Killhorn (15-23-38), who finished first year of his two-year $2.55m AAV and Evgeny Kuznetsov (11-26-37) who had just signed a two-year, $3 million AAV extension for the next season. I think it was a big error to use Johnson. He had just scored 72 points.

It is interesting to note the arbitrator did include playoff production, which I found interesting considering it is such a small sample, and that didn’t help Hoffman. He produced less in the playoffs than Kreider, who his camp had used as a comparison. The arbitrator also dug into when Hoffman scored and concluded that he scored most of his goals earlier in the season, and late in the year when the Senators went on that ridiculous run to make the postseason, he didn’t produce as much down the stretch. He scored four goals in the final 22 games. But if you split up his season he produced 15-8-23 in the first 40 games and 12-23-25 in the final 39. Yes, he didn’t score as many goals, but he had more points. Fascinating to read the arbitrator said he saw no reason to pay him more than Lee.

That is fair, but much less that was have surprised the Hoffman camp. I can see why some players don’t want to go through arbitration.

The arbitrator awarded Hoffman a one-year, $2 million contract.

WRAP UP

I’ve been told arbitration can be difficult for players to go through, more so Hoffman than Trouba and Schmidt I’d guess, and maybe the risk isn’t worth it for players, but if I was a young defenceman. If I was a forward I might not.

Marcus Johansson went through it in 2015 asking for $4.75 million on a one-year deal, while the Capitals countered with $3 million. The Arbitrator ruled at $3.75 million. Also in 2015 Alex Chiasson asked for $2.475, while the Senators countered with $1 million. Arbitrator decided on $1.2 million.

These five rulings are the most recent five, and the trend has shown D-men get better results in arbitration than forwards. Will it lead to more players going through the process? We’ll see.

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  • ed from edmonton

    My understanding of the baseball arbitration process is that the arbitrator must chose either the team or the player’s submission. I think this is a much better process and it really forces both side to present something that is reasonable and not just a number. Also a lot more motivation for both sides to settle rather than chancing an all nothing decision.

  • ed from edmonton

    This result is certainly good news for Trouba. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jets trade him within the next 12 months.

    This also makes Klefbom’s salary look like a great deal for the Oil, if Klefbom can stay healthy and play like he did in 16/17.

    I wonder if this result will have some impact of what Nurse (and Morrisey) might get. I know Nurse doesn’t have arbitration rights yet but the results may still impact the market. May also make Nurse even more keen to do a short term deal expecting a big payoff in a couple of years.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Arbitration is a good tool to ensure you get paid fair market value from the organization that owns your rights.
    In almost all cases the arbitrators ruling is more than the organization is offering. And you still retain your RFA/UFA rights. Organizations sometimes choose to lowball players for a variety of reasons (cap space, other signings, etc).

    • Jason Gregor

      Keep in mind what the organization offers in arbitration isn’t what they offered the player prior, just like Trouba’s camp asking for $7 mill in arbitration was a number they knew they wouldn’t receive. They would have settled for less in negotiations. I think the fact the Jets and Trouba have now had two drawn out negotiations suggest to me he won’t be there longterm.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        To further your point Jason. Those two drawn out negotiations would also mire most teams considering him in the future. Why would I even consider signing someone that seems to always be an issue at contract time? It’s not like he’s Drew Doughty. I think going to arbitration just puts a player on a “buyer beware” list, no matter how good he is.
        Only a small handful of players are worth paying whatever they want (within reason). Maybe 2 is that small handful?

        • Jason Gregor

          I don’t think other teams will shy away from a player. Keep in mind, when Trouba becomes UFA, assuming he doesn’t sign multi-year deal with Jets, or gets traded, the new team or UFA team chasing him will sign him to a long-term deal and there won’t be contract issues in future. I agree only small group get big money, but I applaud Trouba for going through it. Why settle for less, when arbitrator has history, recent anyways, of giving Dmen more money. It is business, not personal.

  • Ryan Jones Is Still My Hero

    My biggest takeaway from this article is that after comparing the picture of Walter White and Gregor’s avatar, I am thoroughly convinced that Gregor is the Canadian Heisenberg. No wonder BM is always so willing to bet Gregor’s money on everything!

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Seems like teams are in a lose-lose-possibly win scenario with arbitration. In the first 2 cases the arbitrator sides with the player costing said team more money if they choose to sign him to what the arbitrator awarded he player or said team walks away from the player, player becomes a UFA and can sign with any team and the team doesn’t get anything back in return. Seems like there’s more risk for the team than the player in arbitration.

    I wonder if teams would want something in the next CBA that says if a team chooses to walk away from a player after arbitration, before a player can sign with another team his original team can try to work out a trade of some kind.

  • OriginalPouzar

    One key point regarding arbitration, if a player is scheduled for arbitration (player or team elected), they cannot sign an offer sheet (not that that happens very often but the possibility is always there).

  • OriginalSixMachine

    I won’t play armchair gm or anything here,most of you guys have that covered…however I will say this, Troubs & Nurse would be a sick second pairing behind KlefBOMB and Larsson that would be a BEAUTY of a top 4 ?

  • Vanoil

    Looks like nurse will be able to holdout for a little more than the $3M per the OIL are willing to part with. And to think Nurse played more and against tougher comp.

  • TKB2677

    Montour just signed a 2 yr deal for a cap hit of 3.875 mill. He’s played less games than Nurse but he has 38 pts in 107 games compared to 47 pts in 197 games for Nurse. You always pay for points. I don’t see how Nurse’s agent thinks he’s getting more than that. Defensive dmen don’t get paid more than offensive guys. That’s reality. I’m a big Nurse fan but if someone made me put money down, I would bet that Montour scores more than Nurse over the next 2 seasons.

  • TKB2677

    I can understand why players want to avoid it. As a person, who wants to go into a process where you sit there and tell everyone how great you are only mentioning your strengths, then the other person sits there and tells everyone you only your faults as a player and human? Most people don’t mind bragging about themselves but no one love hearing their faults.

    • ed from edmonton

      I would expect a player to be well prepared by the agent. The process is a business deal and can’t be taken personally.

      I recall the story about Tommy Salo crying during his arbitration hearing when he was with the Isles.

      • TKB2677

        I am sure the agents do prepare them clients. They wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t. Still doesn’t change the fact that these guys are humans and even if you are prepared, it would still sting a bit to have your team tear you down so they can get you cheaper.

  • Gravis82

    Points is a summary of past performance. Points and PPG are also a predictor of possible future performance if all games are played. Points are a poor predictor of future performance if many games are missed, and PPG become more accurate. Yes the argument about injuries and always missing time is important, but do we really know how well prior injuries predict future games missed? Does missing prior time predict missing future time more confidently than does prior PPG in injured seasson predict future total points?

    • Johnny Utah

      I would say yes, for the most part. If a guy is consistently missing time then you would expect that to continue – higher risk for players with concussions, nagging injuries, lower pain tolerance, etc