Mike Johnson, 2006. I wonder if they brought up the fact that he was still using a wood blade in arbitration to show he lacked sense? (Kidding, Mike, kidding.)

Mike Johnson, 2006. I wonder if they brought up the fact that he was still using a wood blade in arbitration to show he lacked sense? (Kidding, Mike, kidding.)

Salary arbitration in sports seems like a weird thing.

I am the ultimate layman when it comes to this topic (or any topic involving law), but my general understanding is that when a player (generally a restricted free agent) and team are due to sign a new contract, and they can’t agree on what the player deserves, they take the case to an independent arbiter who decides “Okay, based on stats and testimony Player A is a comparable to Players D, L and Y, so he should be compensated a similar amount.” 

The problem with this is that you put the team in a situation where they pay less if they prove the player is crap/equal to crap players, and the player in a situation where he says he’s kung-fu-level badass, and thus should be paid like other kung-fu-level badass players.

Because of this, yesterday I tweeted “How much do I have to give Rogers to get salary arbitration televised? “Here’s why the guy we’d like to sign is terrible.” I’d be enthralled.” (Rogers is my cable provider.) Something about the whole thing just intrigues me. As Richard Whitall, theScore’s soccer writer wondered, are they trying to make amends mid-process?

“Your honor, we’d like to point out that the player in question is a fat lump with no work ethic”

*behind back of hand* “No you’re not you’re in great shape sorry we have to say this”

“Even if his statistics show he’s comparable to B-level players I think it’s clear from looking at him he’s in the throes of life’s steep decline, hurtling rapidly towards his own grave”

*behind back of hand* “You look great you have plenty of years left buddy”

“Also, he does meth”

*behind back of hand* “It’s cool man we know you don’t sorry again.”


After my tweet I got the following response from Mike Johnson, now TSN-analyst who spent a dozen seasons in the NHL.

Er, ahem. Ignore the comment about how I do business here.

Some of the more interesting arbitration stories were written by Adrian Dater in Sports Illustrated last July, including the following tale about Brendan Morrison.

During the summer of 2002, Brendan Morrison of the Canucks was a man being compared to a mouse. During a salary arbitration hearing, an attorney arguing on behalf of the team tried to minimize Morrison’s contributions to Vancouver’s just-concluded season by likening linemates Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund to elephants.

“‘But for the elephant, [Morrison] never would have been able to get across the swaying bridge,’ I still remember the lawyer, in a French accent, telling the arbiter,” says Morrison’s agent, Denver-based Kurt Overhardt. “‘Monsieur arbiter, can we agree that the linemates are the elephant, and player X is the mouse?’ It was hilarious. By then, my client was laughing so hard he was turning beet red. Even the guys from the league who were monitoring the whole thing were laughing.”

Patrick Burke (who would’ve been well-informed on this) elaborated:

Ahhh, that’s just fantastic.

This year 21 free agents have filed for arbitration. That list of restricted free agents, from TSN.ca, is:

Detroit Red Wings - Brendan Smith
Edmonton Oilers - Sam Gagner
Los Angeles Kings - Trevor Lewis, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Jordan Nolan
Montreal Canadiens - Ryan White
Nashville Predators - Nick Spaling
New York Islanders - Josh Bailey
New York Rangers - Mats Zuccarello
Ottawa Senators – Eric Condra
Pittsburgh Penguins - Robert Bortuzzo
St. Louis Blues - Chris Stewart
Toronto Maple Leafs - Mark Fraser, Carl Gunnarsson
Vancouver Canucks - Dale Weise
Winnipeg Jets - Zach Bogosian, Bryan Little, Paul Postma, Eric Tangradi, Blake Wheeler

A large number of them won’t ever actually make it to arbitration, with a big reason being what can happen to relationships between players and their organizations.

Dater’s post outlined a few of the more horrific arbitration tales.

Horror stories from old arbitration cases remain cautionary tales for both teams and players, such as the time in 1997 when former New York Islanders GM Mike Milbury reportedly reduced Tommy Salo to tears with reasons why the goalie didn’t deserve his asking price. In 2000, former Philadelphia Flyers GM Bob Clarke was said to have angered John LeClair so much during an “arbo” hearing — badmouthing the winger even though LeClair had scored 40 or more goals in each of the previous five seasons — that their working relationship was irreparably damaged. (LeClair walked away from that bruisefest with a then-record $7 million award.) Former Colorado Avalanche GM Pierre Lacroix had a well-documented history of getting rid of players not long after they filed for arbitration.

Players and teams who want to file for arbitration have until 5 PM EST today to do so, and their cases will be heard between July 22nd and August 6th in Toronto. There’s zero chance all 21 players on that list have their cases get heard. Nobody really seems to want the whole experience to take place (outside of Mike Johnson, apparently), because they’ve seen just who terribly it can go.


As an addendum, I also enjoyed this exchange with Patrick Burke (son of Brian – I hate including that, as it’s been the case with me for my whole life and my own father, but  I think it’s relevant here):

On why teams should stick it to players who file:

Salary arbitration, man. What a great time.