NYR Avoiding Arbitration: Not Always So Easy


Derick Brassard and Chris Kreider: Two of the Three RFA’s who have recently signed new contracts with the New York Rangers (Zimbio.com)

What seemed like a near impossible task just a few weeks ago, Rangers GM Glen Sather has found a way to avoid salary arbitration with 3 of his top Restricted Free Agents. As of 7/27, forwards Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, and Derick Brassard all had agreed to new contracts with the Rangers.

While the situation is far from ideal for New York, as Brassard was the only one of the three to sign a longer-term deal, it is certainly better than what could’ve transpired had arbitration hearings become necessary.

Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we?

The year was 2009, and Rangers right winger Nikolai Zherdev was coming off his third 20 goal season in 4 years; 2 with his former team the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the 3rd in the ’08-’09 season with the Rangers.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Abo8hnXz8I4]

In his first (and only) season with New York, Zherdev shared the team lead in points with 58, and was second on the team in goals with 23, just one shy of Markus Naslund’s 24. All in all, it was a pretty good first season for Zherdev under the bright lights of Broadway.

Unfortunately for Zherdev though, following a very strong first half of the ’08-’09 campaign in which he was on target to reach career highs both in goals and in points, he began to fizzle late in the season. In the final 16 regular-season games, Zherdev was held to just 4 goals and 4 assists, and in the ensuing 7 playoff games against the Capitals, Zherdev laid a giant goose egg.

And so began the speculation of whether or not Zherdev would return to New York for the following season. And with that speculation came the rebirth of the question marks surrounding Zherdev’s attitude and work ethic.

Did he really have the fire to win? Or was he just skating to get paid?

As the ’08-’09 season wore on, question marks began to surround Zherdev regarding his work ethic. (thehockeywriters.com)

Zherdev headed into the 2009 offseason as a Restricted Free Agent, and feeling that his performance warranted a big-time contract. He had big demands, demands that Glen Sather and the Rangers would not agree to.

So when “judgment day” finally came, and no deal was reached between the Rangers and Zherdev, the two sides headed to salary arbitration.

Nikolai Zherdev set his asking price at $4.5 million, while the Rangers were willing to shell out $3.25 million. With all the numbers submitted to the “neutral” arbitrator, Zherdev and the Rangers both made their respective cases; Zherdev on why he deserved more money, and the Rangers on why Zherdev didn’t deserve as much as he was asking.

When the hearing was complete, the arbitrator took all of the information from the hearing from both sides to come up with a solution, and when all was set and done, the arbitrator offered up a 1 year, $3.9 million deal for Zherdev.

Long story short: Sather wouldn’t budge, and the Rangers walked away, allowing the then 24 year old forward to become an Unrestricted Free Agent.

Glen Sather had this to say regarding the decision to let Zherdev walk:

“With the additions we’ve been able to make this summer, we feel we’ve been able to add scoring and offense from the wing position. Following the arbitration process and subsequent award given, we feel it is in our best interest to walk away and continue to explore all available options to improve our roster.”

As we all know now, the Rangers concerns that Zherdev was simply “skating for a pay check,” and that he didn’t possess the work ethic of a true winner were indeed valid, but it doesn’t change this fact about arbitration.

While the arbitration process can in certain instances be a useful, necessary bargaining tool for the players, it can also be a very messy, ugly process that can be detrimental to the relationships between players and their team’s management. Having a player and management dual it out in an arbitration hearing can strain even the most professional of relationships, and does not always end with each side satisfied and smiling.

Just ask Nikolai Zherdev.

And so, here we are back in 2014, and Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, and Mats Zuccarello, have all signed new contracts (Brassard 5 years, $25 million, Kreider 2 years, 2.475 million, and Zuccarello 1 year, $3.5 million). No arbitration hearings were necessary, all three will be back on Broadway for the 2014-2015 season, and all relationships between these three players and the Rangers management have remained intact.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_pKL4dmT-k]

Just remember, that while the situation is far from perfect, especially regarding Zuccarello and his 1 year deal, it certainly could’ve been worse. The Rangers could’ve been looking at another Zherdev scenario.

Make no mistake, avoiding arbitration this offseason was a huge positive for all sides involved. As Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin once said, this is a “win, win, WIN.”

At least for the time being…

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBO1_XBrbzQ]

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