Don’t be misled by Braden Holtby seeking the biggest arbitration award in NHL history. While he may have filed a request for $8 million, there’s very little chance he will walk away from Thursday’s hearing as the second highest-paid goaltender in the league, behind Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million average salary).
It is also highly unlikely the independent arbitrator will rule in favor of the Capitals, who reportedly submitted a one-year request for $5.1 million.
If history repeats itself, an NHL arbitrator will find common ground somewhere in the middle, which in the case of Holtby, would be a one-year settlement in the $6.5 million range. A ruling must be made within 48 hours of the hearing, but the two sides can come to an agreement on a new contract any time before the ruling is handed down.
As a point of reference, let’s look back to the 2011 arbitration between defenseman Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators. Weber was seeking $8.5 from the arbitrator, while the Predators submitted a figure of $4.75 million. The arbitrator in that case awarded Weber $7.5 million, the most lucrative award in NHL history.
John LeClair of the Philadelphia Flyers had set the previous record of $7 million back in 2000. LeClair was seeking $9 million; the Flyers’ submission was $4.6 million.
When Holtby’s agent, David Kaye, presents his case on Thursday he likely will use Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky as Exhibit A. Heading into last season, Bobrovsky was the same age as Holtby is now (25) and had put up almost identical career stats (179 games, 95-54-21 record, 2.49 GAA, .917 save percentage) as Holtby has now (178 games, 101-54-18 record, 2.44 GAA, .921 save percentage).
With Bobrovsky headed toward restricted free agency, the Columbus Blue Jackets signed him in January to a four-year, $29.7 million deal that averages $7.425 million, making him the second highest-paid goalie, behind Lundqvist. But Bobrovsky has a Vezina Trophy under his belt and of the nine goalies making $6 million or more, seven of them have won a Vezina Trophy and/or a Stanley Cup, something Holtby cannot claim.
If Holtby’s award falls in the range between Carey Price ($6.5 million) and Tuukka Rask ($7 million), the Caps would have roughly $3.7 million in cap space to sign left wing Marcus Johansson, who is scheduled for an arbitration hearing on July 29. The Caps can gain more cap space before the start of the season by sending goaltender Justin Peters ($950,000) to AHL Hershey, but it’s becoming clear they will be very close to the ceiling when the summer comes to an end.
At the hearing, each side has 90 minutes to present its case, followed by rebuttals from both sides. During the process, both sides can provide evidence to support their contract demands/offers, such as:
- The number of games played and a player's injury history
- “Overall performance” [This includes NHL official statistics, including hits and giveaways; however, metrics such as Corsi ratings, zone starts, etc. are not admissible]
- Length of service of the player to the club or in the NHL
- "The overall contribution of the Player to the competitive success or failure of his club in the preceding season"
- "Any special qualities of leadership or public appeal"
- The overall performance and compensation of comparable players
- "Testimonials, videotapes, newspaper columns, press game reports
or similar materials” (Like Caps coach Barry Trotz saying Holtby is part of the team’s “DNA.”)
Binding decision: At the conclusion of the hearing the arbitrator must issue a decision to both parties within 48 hours, and it will include the term, salary, and a brief summary of the reasoning behind the decision.
Walk-aways: Although the decision of the arbitrator is binding, teams have the right to walk away from an award that exceeds $3.799 million.
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