In the second installment of Should I Stay or Should I Go?, restricted free agents who are eligible for arbitration are examined. To help analyze the situation, it is important to understand just what rules govern arbitration.
Salary arbitration is the only bargaining tool available for some restricted free agents. The player and team each propose a salary for the coming season and argue their cases at a hearing. A third party decides between the two sides' proposals.
Most players must have four years of NHL experience before they are eligible for salary arbitration (the term is reduced for those who signed their first NHL contract after the age of 20). Requests must be made by July 5th, and cases are heard in late July or early August; negotiations often continue after a filing for arbitration in hopes of reaching a compromise.
Teams can also ask for salary arbitration, but only once per player in his career. The offer must also be at least 85 percent of his previous year's salary.
There are no restrictions on players' arbitration requests for number or salary offered, as teams have the option of simply letting a player go into free agency either before or after the arbitration ruling.
Evidence that can be used in arbitration cases:
• The player's "overall performance" including statistics in all previous seasons.
• Injuries, illnesses and the number of games played.
• The player's length of service with the team and in the NHL.
• The player's "overall contribution" to the team's success or failure.
• The player's "special qualities of leadership or public appeal."
• The performance and salary of any player alleged to be "comparable" to the player in the dispute.
Evidence that is not admissible:
• The salary and performance of a "comparable" player who signed a contract as an unrestricted free agent.
• Testimonials, video and media reports.
• The financial state of the team.
• The salary cap and the state of the team's payroll.
There is only one Sharks restricted free agent eligible for arbitration who did not play at all at the NHL level in 2008-09: defender Mike Morris. Morris is a 6'1", 180 lb. 24-year-old Princeton graduate.
He played in 43 games at Worcester, finishing with 3 G, 7 A, 88 PIM, and led the team with a plus-10 rating. He made $575,000 in 2008-09, so there is no way the Sharks will pay the amount necessary to get a compensatory pick if he is signed away (over $800,000).
That is too much of a raise for a player who was not able to make it through a full season at the minors, much less break into the NHL. However, as a former first-round pick, he has potential.
Expected tender: $575,000, and they will let him go if anyone beats it. Morris is unlikely to do better in free agency or through arbitration...Morris stays.
There is one other player who played just two games in the NHL: Riley Armstrong.
He finished third on Worcester in points (42) and goals (25). In his two previous seasons there, he played 137 games, scoring 34 goals and 36 assists with a plus-five rating and 199 PIM. Thus, he has been productive and reliable enough at the minor league level to at least attempt to re-sign; he made $475,000 in 2008-09.
Expected tender: $500,000; like Morris, he is unlikely to field any better offers or get anywhere in arbitration. But if he does, he will be allowed to leave for greener pastures...Armstrong stays.
The third installment next week will examine the four players who are eligible for arbitration and did have an impact at the NHL level this past season.