Rejection is the Trend

The Atlanta Thrashers took a page from the NHL late Wednesday by choosing to reject an arbitrator’s ruling on a $2.4 million deal awarded to left winger Clarke MacArthur. MacArthur found his way to Atlanta in March of last season after the Buffalo Sabres sent him packing for a couple of draft picks. The $2.4 million awarded to MacArthur caught more than a few by surprise considering the third tier type production he’s managed over parts of four seasons.

MacArthur scored 16-goals last season between Buffalo and Atlanta, and his career high was the 17 he potted in 2008-09. That 17-goal season was in Buffalo,where just about anyone can score 15-to-20 goals – even Ales Kotalik. The Thrashers, or any team for that matter, have every right to reject an arbitrator’s ruling and allow MacArthur to become a free agent.

The fruitful arbitration ruling probably sent chills up the spine of several NHL general managers that are attempting to re-sign young mid-level talent. As Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal has pointed out, arbitrators work with statistics and comparables to come to their decision:

“The arbitrator usually goes on stats and comparables. When the Toronto Maple Leafs gave 23-year-old forward Nikolai Kulemin a two-year deal recently for an average salary of $2.35 million, that set the bar for the Brules and MacArthurs of the world. Kulemin had 36 points this past season.”

Matheson outlines the implications of the hefty $2.4 million MacArthur ruling as it relates to the Oilers’ desire to retain Gilbert Brule.  It should be interesting to see if his arbitration case is influenced at all by the Thrashers’ choice to walk away from MacArthur.  MacArthur’s 2009-10 output was 35-points, one shy of the ‘bar’ set by Kulemin.  The 25-year old MacArthur can still negotiate with the Thrashers as a free agent, although, it’s more likely he’ll look to take his talents elsewhere.  An NHL club electing to reject an arbitrator’s ruling isn’t completely out of the ordinary, but as our Score news team has stated… it’s rare:

“Boston was one of the first franchises to walk away from an arbitrator’s decision when it did so in 1999 for then-forward Dmitri Khristich. Most recently, Nikolai Zherdev wound up on the wrong end of the New York Rangers’ declining an arbitrator’s decision in 2009 and the Ukraine-born winger played last season in Russia.”

Clarke MacArthur is free to negotiate with any interested team, as a 25-year old unrestricted free agent.  It’s not a bad position to be in, but it’s one that may not be quite as financially rewarding as his arbitration hearing.