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Gentlemen, start your arbitrations

The NHL has announced the schedule for RFAs to make their case for cashing in

This fellow looks interested in what might happen.
Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)

As per a report first appearing at The Score, the arbitration hearings for this year’s restricted free agents have been scheduled. Our own Brock Nelson won’t pitch his case until August 3rd, the second-to-last day the hearings are scheduled.

That’s if he pitches at all, of course. Every season, a new crop of RFAs start off on the road to arbitration, either at their own request or (less often) their team’s, only for many of them to reach an agreement before the hearing... or even after the hearing but before the decision is announced.

Last season, it was stalwart (and now former) defender Calvin de Haan who went through 95% of the process, coming to a agreement practically at the doors of the arbitrator’s office. Sadly, the team got only 33 (good) games for their $3.3 million before losing de Haan to a shoulder injury, and eventually to the Carolina Hurricanes. But it doesn’t always end that way; Josh Bailey also filed for arbitration in the long-ago before signing a five-year, $16.5 million deal about a week later (and spawning one of the more epic comment threads in this site’s long history).

Even Josh was surprised at the number of comments

What does this mean for Nelson and the Isles? Cap Friendly gives a pretty good overview of how this process works - should the process actually happen. One of the wrinkles of the process is that a player who chooses to go this route is not eligible to receive an offer sheet from another team trying to poach them. This takes people like Matt Dumba and Jacob Trouba away from the greedy fingers of certain defense-starved, flush-with-cap-space organizations who may or may not have lost a top-four blueliner of their own to free agency...

It also keeps Nelson in the fold unless the Isles choose to walk away from the award, which they can do if the arbitrator gives Nelson more than $4,222,941 for the upcoming season. This doesn’t actually seem unlikely. Nelson has been a consistent goal scorer over the years despite not always getting heavy minutes, prime linemates, or first-unit PP time, and his actual salary this past season was $3.5 million (on a $2.5 million cap hit). A disinterested third party could see it his way.

Hey Dan, we finally get to use your creation!
Dan Saraceni (Lighthouse Hockey)

Until then, the Reverend is preaching that old-time hockey gospel about moving forward through suffering to the Promised Land. On their part, the Islanders and Lou Lamoriello have repeatedly said that they anticipate Nelson being on the roster next season, which seems only wise considering that the team is, shall we say, not as well-provisioned down the middle of the ice as they were last month.

Two concerns specific here: first, those younger guys will have to make their mark in a crowded field, as Lamoriello has been gathering culture-changers for the forward lines the way an idle schoolchild might gather flowers during recess. Granted that kids like Josh Ho-Sang don’t fill the same role as guys like Ross Johnston or Leo Komarov; also granted that it’s easier to send Johnston or Tom Kuhnhackl to Bridgeport to make room; but finally, granted that even with fewer competitors, the young guys haven’t always gotten the same kind of leash to grow through trial and error than has been offered to players who ought to know better by now.

Second - remember that we said that an RFA going through arbitration can’t be offer-sheeted? Well, one who isn’t going through arbitration, can, and that includes the Isles’ (co-)goal-scoring leader from last year’s defense, Ryan Pulock, whose explosive shot has become a fan favorite as well as a major weapon for the team.

The odds that another team decides to make an offer here are quite low, since the Isles can match anything... but they could be forced to match a deal that they would prefer not to, since they will need room next season for guys like Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, and Anthony Beauvillier. It just bears keeping in mind as an example of the risks and rewards that everyone has to weigh during the entire RFA process.