- Frank Provenzano, ESPN Insider
It is an irony of the NHL economic cycle that free agency is followed by salary arbitration, when teams go from competing with each other in a million-dollar dart toss to poking their restricted free agents in the eye over $25,000.
NHL salary arbitrations have a bruising history, with front-line players trying to crowbar as much money as they could out of reluctant teams. Here are some notable NHL arbitration awards and their aftermaths:
1998: Mark Recchi is awarded a then-NHL-record $4.5 million. He is traded by Montreal to Philadelphia the following season. He then goes on to play 12 more years and win two more Stanley Cups. Pierre Turgeon beats Recchi's mark a few days later, as the St Louis Blues have to shell out $4.65 million for his services. He remains on the Blues for two more years.
2000: John LeClair is awarded $7 million following his 40-goal 1999-2000 season, which was $2 million lower than what he wanted the Flyers to pay him. He never scores more than 25 goals again.
2001: Bill Guerin is awarded $5.1 million. He leaves Boston the following summer via free agency.
2004: Scott Niedermayer is the second player to ring the $7 million bell. He never plays another game for New Jersey, as he signs with Anaheim after the lockout-canceled 2004-05 season. Joe Thornton joins a long line of Bruins players in the arbitration lottery, as he is awarded $6.75 million. He is traded to San Jose 23 games into his first season back in Boston post-lockout.
2011: Shea Weber is awarded a record $7.5 million in arbitration, which is $3 million higher than the amount the Predators proposed as reasonable and fair for a defenseman who finished second in Norris Trophy voting. The following summer, Nashville matches a predatory offer sheet from the Flyers, but it ends up costing them 14 years and $110 million to keep their marquee defensive asset.
Due to its design (each side submits a dollar figure and an arbitrator determines the actual salary somewhere in the middle), the NHL's system of solving money disputes is contentious, antagonistic and often leads to an irreparable rupture in the relationship between employer and employee. It is also seems to be disappearing.
As the NHL calendar enters arbitration season, Frank Provenzano points out an emerging trend that cases only rarely get to a hearing these days. So is arbitration going away? Not in all cases.