Arbitration in the NHL used to be brutal bloodsport. Stories of hurt feelings and teams tearing down their players in front of an arbitrator were as legend as a player fighting a fan with a shoe.
Those days seem to be in the past, probably due to a mix of teams and players wanting better relationships and the salary cap putting a firmer regulator on things: Now you have the natural cycle of ELC, bridge deal, and then an arbitration decision point of how to extend a player into their unrestricted free agent years.
So players rarely reach an actual arbitration hearing these days. The player proposal and the team proposal are just mile markers on the path to middle ground.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, who’s been regularly reporting player/team proposals this arbitration season, has the figures for New York Islanders defenseman Calvin de Haan:
DeHaan (NYI): team offer -- $1.95M...Player ask: $5M. Still time to settle— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) July 31, 2017
That $3.05 million gap is a little wider than several of the proposals we’ve seen this summer. But it gives you a sense of things:
As a 26-year-old minute-consuming but not-quite-point-producing defenseman, de Haan is not really a $5 million player for his final RFA year (the year that this arbitration would be handling if it went to a hearing on Aug. 2).
But an offer of $1.95 million represents zero pay raise on de Haan’s expiring three-year, $5.9 million deal. And he’s coming off his best year, a five-goal, 25-point season in 2016-17.
So the solution is somewhere in the middle, er rather in between, with the answer surely coming much, much closer to the $5 million part of that in between.
The real question, and one we’ve seen absolutely zero leaks about, is how long both player and team want to go on a contract extension that would make arbitration moot and take de Haan into his UFA years.
You’d think the team would want to lock him up for a while -- hey, they even went four RFA years with bubble defenseman Adam Pelech. But at what price?
And just as important: does he want the same, or is he willing to exchange security for a chance to test the market elsewhere? Because Islanders, many will read the $3 million gap as a sign of discord or different desires, an impending one-year arbitration acceptance sealing his fate as a future ex-Islander.
But it could also just be what it usually is: two sides playing their cards in negotiation.
We’ll know by Wednesday.