Kevin Poulin added a bit of mid-summer theater to the New York Islanders' offseason: He was among 20 NHL players to file for salary arbitration.
The full list of those electing is mostly good players at interesting salary points in their career: For example, P.K. Subban can make a massive raise and carry himself closer to his UFA years, Lars Eller has had mostly upward trajectory tempered by a few slip-ups, James Reimer mostly has good stats but bizarre lack of support. Those guys have something to gain by pushing for outside evaluation
Poulin does not quite fit that description. In fact, the July lineup forecast is that he might not spend any time in the NHL next season.
What he does have going for him (using that term "for him" loosely), however, is a limited number of games played with which to crucify him. Arbitration is about identifying comparables, and ... Poulin's limited exposure in both leagues makes it hard to identify similar goalies who have signed RFA contracts.
In a way, it's a clever move by Poulin, whom the Islanders qualified in a "well, why not?" kind of way to retain his rights. The Q.O. just requires a minor raise if it's signed, so Poulin might as well shoot for more, or scare the Isles into giving a bit more before an arbitrator does. At his rate, an arbitrator isn't likely to give him a pay cut (though as noted below, the arbitrator cannot consider the Q.O. itself as evidence).
Of course, in most cases the player and team come to a settlement before the case goes to arbitration. But in contentious cases it can go past the deadline, all the way to a hearing.
What makes this case interesting is Poulin was once seen as the Islanders "goalie of the future," but recent years and performance have seen him drift further rather than closer to that goal. While Poulin's career at one time pointed toward competing for the starter's or at least backup job by this coming season, this offseason the Isles added three goaltenders, all of whom have better pro track records than Poulin.
However, the third goalie -- David Leggio, Poulin's presumed competitor for starts in Bridgeport in 2014-15 -- is statistically in the same ballpark as Poulin and is signed to an NHL salary of $700,000. Poulin's most recent NHL salary, $577,500 ($65,000 AHL salary per CapGeek), is lower than that even with a 10% raise via qualifying offer.
It's that AHL figure that could be the point of contention, however. Leggio's AHL rate, according to CapGeek, is $175,000. Poulin might want something closer to that, and simply accepting his qualifying offer wouldn't do the trick. Though Poulin couldn't actually use Leggio's deal as a comparable, since Leggio signed as a UFA. (More on that below in the evidence section.)
Nonetheless, according to the 2013 CBA, the arbitrator's award shall establish (emphasis mine):
(A) the term of the SPC, based upon the Player's or Club's election of a one or two year SPC, as set forth in its brief and as consistent with this Article; (B) the Paragraph 1 NHL Salary to be paid to the Player by the Club for the season(s) in respect to which the salary arbitration is conducted; (C) the inclusion or otherwise of a Minor League clause (or clauses) and the amount of Paragraph 1 Minor League Salary to be paid under each of the season(s) in respect to which the salary arbitration is requested; (D) a brief statement of the reasons for the decision, including identification of any comparable(s) relied on.
The Isles protected their rights by qualifying Poulin; Poulin protected his by filing for arbitration. They may settle before a hearing, but it's a safe bet Poulin wants to negotiate something better than his Q.O., especially considering his falling stock (and opportunity?) within the organization, and the trend under the new CBA to see higher AHL salaries on two-way deals.
That AHL salary could be key for Poulin, since he's looking at the prospect of even more time on the AHL books than he had last year, when he and Anders Nilsson each spent considerable time in both leagues.
Admissible Evidence in Salary Arbitration
For the record, Section 12 of the CBA outlines what is admissible as evidence in a salary arbitration hearing:
(ii) The parties may offer evidence of the following:
(A) the overall performance, including National Hockey League official statistics (both offensive and defensive), of the Player in the previous season or seasons;
(B) the number of games played by the Player, his injuries or illnesses during the preceding seasons;
(C) the length of service of the Player in the League and/or with the Club;
(D) the overall contribution of the Player to the competitive success or failure of his Club in the preceding season;
(E) any special qualities of leadership or public appeal not inconsistent with the fulfillment of his responsibilities as a playing member of his team;
(F) the overall performance in the previous season or seasons of any Player(s) who is alleged to be comparable to the party Player whose salary is in dispute; and
(G) The compensation of any Player(s) who is alleged to be comparable to the party Player, provided, however, that in applying this or any of the above subparagraphs, the Salary Arbitrator shall not consider a Player(s) to be comparable to the party Player unless a party to the salary arbitration has contended that the Player(s) is comparable; nor shall the Salary Arbitrator consider the compensation or performance of a Player(s) unless a party to the salary arbitration has contended that the Player(s) is comparable.
And here's what they can't include. Note there are several restrictions -- including not using Leggio's deal, since he just signed as a UFA:
(iii) The following categories of evidence are inadmissible and shall not be considered by the Salary Arbitrator:
(A) Any SPC the term of which began when the Player party to such SPC was not a Group 2 Player;
(B) Any SPC entered into by an Unrestricted Free Agent, including SPCs signed by Players after the Player's Club has exercised a walk-away right pursuant to Section 12.10;
(C) The SPC of any Player who is not being offered as a comparable Player to the party Player;
(D) Qualifying Offers made by the Club pursuant to Section 10.2(b);
(E) Any prior offers or history of negotiations between the Player and the Club;
(F) Testimonials, videotapes, newspaper columns, press game reports or similar materials;
(G) Any reference to actual or potential walk-away rights;
(H) Any award issued by a Salary Arbitrator as to which a Club exercised its walk-away rights pursuant to Section 12.10;
(I) The financial condition of the Club or the League;
(J) References to a Club's Upper or Lower Limit, or to the Players' Share;
(K) Any salary arbitration award issued in 2005-2006; or
(L) Any reference to any salary or other compensation information in any salary arbitration opinion that took place prior to July 22, 2005. If any salary arbitration opinion issued prior to July 22, 2005 is cited as precedent, all references to any Player's Player Paragraph 1 Salary or other compensation information will be redacted.
Again, without retrieving the two-way deals signed by goalies which Poulin's camp and the Isles might submit as comparables (there can't be many though, simply based on the limited volume of players in the goalie position), it's intuitive to think Poulin's camp can at least improve its position.
They probably can't make the case that Jake Allen is a comparable, but just taking his contract as a high-end RFA example: His two-year deal signed last summer included a $125,000 AHL salary in year one, and a one-way term ($850,000 in the AHL or NHL) for year two. Poulin won't get that, but it's probably worth his time to bark up a similar tree.