NHL Arbitration Rules; Blake Comeau's date is Aug. 4

Blake Comeau's arbitration hearing date is set for Aug. 4, the last day of arbitration hearings this summer.

How those dates are selected is, like most things NHL, outlined in strange, back-bending, somersaulting paragraphs within the NHL CBA that only a lawyer could write, much less love. (Sorry, lawyers; and sorry, brother*.) If you're interested in the painful details, scheduling is covered in 12.7 of the CBA -- and yes, there's even a coin flip -- while arbitration overall is covered by the whole tome that is Article 12.

*Disclosure: My brother, though actually a lawyer, does not actually read this site. So that was just a writer device to curry favor or forgiveness with the group the writer's just insulted. Kind of like, "But I have friends who are [insert oppressed subgroup you totally don't discriminate against here]."

Last year in anticipation of Matt Moulson's arbitration hearing -- which never arrived, like a good number never do -- we did a brief overview of what can happen in NHL arbitration. We also covered what is and isn't admissible in the hearing. The latter may sound like boring legalese to many, giving it aquick look will help you be more informed if you plan to debate Comeau's potential award/salary in comments over the coming weeks:

Evidence for NHL Arbitration Hearings

Some of what follows has been summarized or truncated so as to avoid giving you a headache:

Admissible Evidence

  • 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.
  • The salary cap and the state of the team's payroll.

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.

So to be sure, there is plenty of room for subjective arguments there ("overall contribution," "special qualities of leadership or public appeal," "tendency to COZO or not to COZO" etc.). And the biggest factor may be in identifying who Comeau's true "comparables" are, if they exist. (Who else can deliver a pure puck-carrying Comeau Offensive Zone Orbit other than Comeau himself?)

However: You cannot cite comparables who signed on the unrestricted market; players who signed with new teams on July 1 are irrelevant here. Further, you cannot cite media reports (including really handsome blogs) or the arena/financial state of the team as reasons to argue/project a lower or higher award.

 

Odds Are: None of This Will Matter

Finally, to reiterate, many arbitration cases never make it to their hearing, as the team and player (like Moulson last year) come to an agreement before their hearing. A lot of times that happens out of a fear of the unknown -- "I know what's on the table now, what if the arbitrator gives me less?" -- as well of a fear of what's submitted in the hearing leading to an awkward turtle entering the relationship between player and team.

So between now and Aug. 4, the options in relative* order of likelihood are:

  1. the Islanders and Comeau could come to an agreement and avoid a hearing
  2. they could go to a hearing and accept the arbitrator's award
  3. they could go to a hearing and walk away from the award, making Comeau a UFA
  4. they could see the pending hearing as an uncertain risk, and trade Comeau for strength in a different area (defense?)

*relative to the way these things typically go, not relative to any insider info on the Islanders' thinking. So chill.

We'll discuss this further later this month, but Comeau's an interesting case. He's 25, his stats have trended steadily upward, and he enters arbitration after the first 20-goal season of his career (24 goals actually, but our society values its base-10 milestones) and after playing more than 61 NHL games for the first time (77 actually). But he does have some weaknesses. He has many attributes every team needs plenty of ... at the right price.

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