The walk-away option
I get a lot of great email, but one earlier this week on the implications of this summer's arbitration decisions deserves it's own post:
Hey James -I'll add to what Brian's saying here by pointing out that not only were Dumont and Tanabe let go as free agents, but Vishnevski and Calder were both dumped by their teams soon after their deals were inked. (Scott Gomez may yet be moved to fit the Devils under the salary cap.)
Any thoughts/interest on the two arbitration rejections this year? It seems to me that, with JP signing for an average of $2.25M over two years after Buffalo rejected the one year $2.9M award, and the Bruins rejection of $1.275M for Tanabe and him signing at $900K, arbitrators missed the actual market value of these players by 30% and 40% of what they signed for. Now I know the free agent landscape is a little different at this time of year, but that's a pretty decent miss by the arbitrators.
It seems to me that when you look at the cases that made it to hearings, there were more cases that left people scratching their head — Calder, York, Vishnevski (and to an extent Gomez and Briere) — than those that left the 'hockey world' feeling the decision was on target.
It's really an unfortunate situation, as arbitration is supposed to be — as Dumont made reference to when he signed with Nashville earlier this week — more of a no-headache option, one where the player has always been reasonably certain he's staying put at a reasonable salary.
Barring changes to the way arbitration decisions are meted out, a few things are going to happen. Players are certainly going to be more wary of going with an option that could leave them a free agent long after many teams have spent salary-cap dollars, and general managers will hope to negotiate contracts rather than go with an arbitration process that has become more of a roll-of-the-dice than ever before.
In the past, GMs would grumble and sign these 'unfair' arbitration awards, but now, where every $500,000 has to be allocated, that's not always an option.
The only solution is to find a way to get more on-target awards — something that will be easier said than done. After all, the current system calls for arbitrators to look at deals already signed by restricted free agents, many of whom teams are signing to larger-than-normal contracts in an effort to lock them up through the now-earlier unrestricted free agency age.
In other words, as young players continue to be given contracts that are meant to reward future performance (think Rick Nash, Patrice Bergeron, et al), arbitrators are still basing their decisions on those contracts in relation to point totals already posted by other, perhaps less-promising, players.
It's a system that's going to continue to have problems, but I'd be extremely surprised to see the league take a proactive approach to changing it.