Arbitration Ain’t About Summer Love

In Tuesday’s Globe and Mail, James Mirtle uncovers the unpleasant side of the NHL’s arbitration system, in which clubs make the case that their player ain’t all that while the NHLPA suggests that the club pretty much can’t live without him. “When cases go to a hearing, they can often get ugly, as players, agents and teams fight for dollars under the salary cap,” Mirtle writes this morning. In Shaone Morrisonn’s case, ugly is the operative word.
Morrisonn was awarded $1.975 million in his arbitration case this past Saturday, but according to Mirtle, “the Capitals offered several less than flattering assessments of Morrisonn, a stay-at-home defenceman who was fourth on the team in ice time last season.” As in:

“Calling him “one-dimensional,” Washington argued that Morrisonn received substantial playing time in 2005-06 and 2006-07 on a weak team as a result of being “at the right place at the right time.”
“Morrisonn’s agent, Mark Stowe, said negotiations before the hearing were extremely contentious.”

Mirtle goes on to suggest that such acrimony is a principal reason why so many cases ultimately never make it to the actual arbitration hearing, citing most recently Jay Bouwmeester’s coming to terms with Florida for one year and $5 million. With hundreds of thousands — indeed millions — of dollars at stake, and under a cap-constrained environment, it’s understandable that the two sides would make the best possible cases for their respective positions. But that means some tough language on one side and all sweetness and light on the other.
More from Mirtle on the inside of this messy moment:

“In the Morrisonn case, the Capitals were seeking a salary of $1.1-million in arbitration and used six other young defencemen as comparables: Milan Jurcina, Josh Gorges, Lukas Krajicek, Mark Stuart, Garnet Exelby and Mike Komisarek.
“On behalf of the player, the National Hockey League Players’ Association asked for $2.8-million and used Trevor Daley, Tim Gleason, Fedor Tyutin, Henrik Tallinder, Anton Volchenkov and Komisarek as comparisons.
“In response to the club’s filing, the NHLPA argued that Morrisonn played a key role in the team’s Southeast Division championship under new coach Bruce Boudreau. Even though Morrisonn has had only five goals and 37 points over 234 games the past three seasons, the union said his contributions in his own zone and killing penalties justified a salary of nearly $3-million.
“Unlike in major league baseball, where arbitrators choose between the salary proposed by either the player or his team, NHL arbitrators can use any salary they deem appropriate.
“Ultimately, arbitrator Terry Bethel sided slightly with the union position in the Morrisonn case, awarding a contract that was almost directly between the figures sought by the sides. Bethel indicated the NHLPA’s comparison players were more appropriate, given Morrisonn’s experience and role with the Capitals, singling out Daley and Gleason as suitable matches.”

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10 Responses to Arbitration Ain’t About Summer Love

  1. Forklift says:

    You would think that teams wouldn’t particularly want to go through this process either, because once a team describes a player in terms like “one dimensional”, good luck trying to trade said player.

  2. J.P. says:

    For my money, Mo is closer to the $1.1m player that the team claimed he is than the $2.8m player he thinks he is. There’s a reasonably good chance, in my opinion, that he’ll be the fifth-best D on the team by season’s end (behind Green, Poti, Schultz and Alzner).
    Don’t get me wrong – he’s a nice player. But I think he’s a little over-rated by the fan base due to looking at him relative to the other defense-first blueliners that have been here during his tenure, and I’d have probably given him $1.4m.

  3. TG says:

    I can’t believe that it’s a surprise to anyone that it’s a contentious process. The team will do whatever it can to keep the salary low, the player/agent will do whatever he can to raise the salary. Otherwise, they would have come to some type of agreement prior to arbitration. Does the team really think he’s a one-dimensional player on par with Jurcina? Probably not. Does Morrisonn really believe he’s on par with Tallinder and Volchenkov? Probably not. But you do what you can to make your case and hope the arbitrator agrees with you.
    And I gotta say, the arbitrator splitting essentially right down the middle is a bit of poetic justice, don’t you think?

  4. chanuck says:

    I was thinking that the price for Morrisonn was a bit high and since it is only a one year I don’t expect him back the following year. Imagine what he is going to want next time.

  5. MulletMan says:

    I don’t think he will be getting any 2 mil offers per season next year. I could see maybe 1.4 or 1.5 but he’s definately overpaid now.

  6. J.P., fifth-best sounds a bit harsh to me, but I also think that it’s eminently reasonable to forecast Mo’s standing in the top pairing being short-lived. Green and Alzner seem to be the top pairing of the durable future, however, there is a role that chemistry plays in pairings. I also don’t think that Mo gets the credit he deserves for shepherding Green last season, who for all intents and purposes was a rookie. If Mo’s in the Caps’ second pairing in the years ahead (imagine him paired with a well developed Carlson), the Caps ought to be in good stead in the postseason.
    TG, that adversarial arguments are made in arbitration indeed isn’t news, but when you’re trying to make a marriage, or at least a year-long co-habitation, you generally don’t constructively criticize with “You look really fat naked.”

  7. TJ says:

    If Mo wants to try to dispute that hes not one dimensional he can go ahead and try.
    But that is a fact and that is his role. I like Mo, but he is replaceable.

  8. JR says:

    Unless this guy becomes a mega-stud this season he’s getting traded before his next contract (or we’re taking his compensation as an RFA). In this day and age this is exactly the type of player that you have to let go. You cannot afford to overpay here and you can imagine what he’ll want $/per if the Caps, sorry, WHEN the Caps have a successful season.

  9. Anyone else see the parallels to Brendan Witt? Morrisonn isn’t whining like Witt about wanting out (at least not yet), but they’re both solid stay-at-home types with inflated senses of self-worth. Morrisonn, unlike Witt, is on a high-payroll team on the upswing; one would hope that carries some weight when it comes to his future contract decisions, but we shall see.
    A one-year deal like this carries equal risk for Morrisonn as it does for the Caps though — if he gets hurt, or has a sub-par season, good luck getting more than $1-ish million next year.
    That aside, I hope he plays his @ss off for the Caps this season and earns those paychecks. Perhaps a full-season audition for next year’s contract will see Morrisonn embrace and deserve the #2 spot.

  10. Doug says:

    I think all of the above remarks are reasonably well analyzed. There is a bit more emotion and hysteria on the Capitals web blog. Morrisonn’s indeed a very serviceable player, but nowhere near worth $3M a year in salary. Now, if he plays his head and heart out next year, and has an unpredicted breakout year, then we may be talking $3M a year. As it stands, let’s hope a few of our younger draft choices are looking good in Hershey and can make the jump. I’m very optimistic about Carlson — he could end up being that mean spirited D-Man you’ve all been frothing at the mouth for!!! (well at least some of you).

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