While many fantasy hockey general managers are still focused on where available unrestricted free agents might still sign and for how much, there could still be some battles left to follow.
Forty players have filed for arbitration (although Cedric Paquette agreed to terms with the Lightning after filing, so there are 39 names left) this year, and while many of the cases don’t make it to an arbitrator, a few do. Last year, for example, four of 44 players had their contracts settled by an arbitrator. Those four players were Jacob Trouba, Cody Ceci, Brett Kulak and Gemel Smith (coincidentally, those four players are no longer with the team that they brought to arbitration).
Many players try to avoid arbitration hearings, as it can really do a number on one’s psyche. The whole point of the team’s argument is that a player is worth a lot less than a player is asking for, and the only way to prove that is to rip that player to shreds during the hearing.
Of course, fantasy general managers who are in cap leagues have a vested interest in how this all plays out. A bigger contract might make the squeeze on a fantasy team’s cap a lot more interesting.
Here are the top 10 arbitration cases if it gets to the hearing.
10. Joel Armia
Armia was one of the few players who filed for arbitration who also spent significant time on the power play. From Nov. 1 to Feb. 10, in the 20 games that Armia played, he was on the ice for 51.6 per cent of the Habs power-play minutes. He had just two power-play points in that span and he was knocked off the top unit for the rest of the season. The Habs finished with the second-worst power play and Armia had a total of six power-play points.
9. Alex Iafallo
Kind of lost in the mess of the season for the Kings was the strong start for Iafallo. He had seven points in his first eight games and later posted 10 points in 9 games. If he could convince the arbitrator just to look at these 17 games, he’d be a very rich man. Unfortunately for him, he had only 15 points in his other 65 games. That’s a little disappointing considering his top three most frequent linemates were Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty.
8. Sam Bennett
It’s fair to say that since a promising rookie season in 2015-16, Bennet has been a consistent, but disappointing, fantasy option. In the last three years, he’s had 13, 11 and 13 goals to go along with 26, 26 and 27 points. One good thing for fantasy owners is that he does contribute in the PIM and hits department, but he’s never been able to take that next step for overall production.
7. Will Butcher
On June 21, Butcher probably could have commanded a lot more money as he was the Devils’ top power-play quarterback. In fact, his 37 power-play points in the last two years are 16th highest among all defensemen, and ahead of players such as Seth Jones, Mark Giordano and Zach Werenski. Not bad for someone who has only been in the league for two years. It’s also one spot higher than P.K. Subban, whom the Devils traded for on June 22. Now Butcher will be relegated to second power-play duties, which will impact his next contract.
Buchnevich has been the subject of many trade rumours lately, so it is tough to say whether an arbitration hearing would be with the Rangers or another squad. Buchnevich has been good for stretches (he had 11 points in 16 games to start last season and 20 in his last 26), but has also battled inconsistency and healthy scratches, plus the injury bug. The problem is that if he doesn’t produce points, he’s pretty useless in fantasy hockey as he’s not a great contributor in other categories.
5. J.T. Compher
I’ll have to admit, I was one of the people who rushed to the waiver wire in December to scoop up Compher once he started getting prime power-play minutes. Although he didn’t do as great as I and many other fantasy general managers were hoping, he did improve on his goal and point production from the previous season, and did score at a 40-point pace. Unfortunately, he had only nine points with the man advantage, which won’t be impressive to an arbitrator. Now, however, the Avs have possibly revamped their entire second line, bringing in Nazem Kadri, Joonas Donskoi and Andre Burakovsky. Either of those three could easily take Compher’s spot on the top power-play unit.
So, what does a starting NHL netminder go for these days? It’s going to be tough to gauge. On one hand, Rittich’s numbers are very similar to Tuukka Rask, who makes $7 million a year. They are also not far off from Jacob Markstrom, who makes $3.67 million. However, they’ve both been in the league for years, whereas Rittich has just 67 career games. The Calgary netminder won’t have much competition for the top job in Calgary, but he also hasn’t proven that he can carry a full workload.
This time last summer, things were looking great for Heinen. He had an amazing rookie season with 47 points and was averaging two minutes with the man advantage. He took a big step back this year with 34 points and just 1:22 per game of power-play time. Heinen’s people will have to convince the arbitrator that his rookie season is more indicative of his play than his sophomore campaign. He could also try to argue that after a slow start, he had 21 points in his last 28 games (a 62-point pace).
Out of all 39 potential arbitration cases, this is the one I’d be most interested in listening in on. After all, what could the Blues argue against? “Sure judge, he did save our season by posting a 25-5-1 record and he was runner-up for Conn Smythe trophy after we won the Stanley Cup, but his glove hand needs work.”
1. Jacob Trouba
He’s easily the most interesting case, and he would be the most surprising to reach the arbitration hearing. The Rangers just traded for Trouba, the last thing they would want is to do to have a hearing and highlight Trouba’s deficiencies (although Trouba went through the whole process last year with the Jets). For fantasy purposes, Trouba is a must-own. He’s one of the few defensemen capable of posting 50 points, 150 shots, 100 hits, 150 blocked shots and 50 PIM.