The last time the Bruins and one of their players proceeded to an arbitration hearing, Ryan Spooner had belonged to the organization for one month. Don Sweeney was a seat away from the general manager’s chair. Blake Wheeler, the player who participated in the hearing and landed a one-year, $2.2 million award, was entering his third season as a Bruin, one he would not complete with the organization.
So with July 27, 2010, being the last date the Bruins went to arbitration, it stands to reason that a hearing is an unusual occasion for the franchise. Spooner’s case, fittingly, is unusual — one in which the numbers tell one story while the eyes read something else.
Spooner was one of 30 NHL players who filed for arbitration. Hearings were scheduled to commence on Thursday with Colton Parayko and St. Louis.
Parayko’s case was never heard. The defenseman signed a five-year, $27.5 million extension. It was the preferred outcome for both parties.
The Blues were pushing for a two-year deal worth $3.5 million annually, according to Sportsnet. The 24-year-old wanted a one-year, $4.85 million extension. Parayko’s new $5.5 million average annual value comes in higher than his asking price. The Blues, meanwhile, lock in one of the better right-side defensemen at a good price while purchasing two years of unrestricted free agency.
It’s difficult to project such an outcome taking place with Spooner. As of Thursday, based on the temperature of negotiations with Murray Kuntz, Spooner’s agent, Sweeney estimated that Wednesday’s hearing in Toronto will take place. It indicates the difference of opinion is too wide to bridge without neutral support.
Spooner likely considers himself to qualify for a raise by being some of the following descriptions:
■ A critical piece of the power play. Spooner recorded 15 man-up assists in 2016-17, second-most on the team after Torey Krug (19).
■ An all-around producer. The left-shot center scored at a rate of 2.18 points per 60 minutes of all-situations play, higher than David Krejci (2.16) and Patrice Bergeron (2.07).
■ A disciplined player. Spooner spent only 14 of his 1,099 on-ice minutes in the penalty box. Among regulars, only Riley Nash and David Pastrnak played cleaner shifts per 60 minutes of play.
The Bruins, meanwhile, see a player with less dependability than one with five pro seasons on his résumé should dictate. Ex-coach Claude Julien did not hesitate to make his gripes with Spooner known. After only three games, Julien made Spooner a healthy scratch on Oct. 20 against New Jersey. This took place after Spooner, a natural center, started the year at left wing on the second line because of Frank Vatrano’s preseason foot injury.
Spooner scored three goals and four assists in the 11 games following Julien’s dismissal. But Spooner missed three games in March because of a concussion. Spooner then went quiet in the playoffs. His final appearance was in Game 4 of the playoff series against the Senators, when he suffered a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Bruce Cassidy classified Spooner as healthy enough to play in Game 5, but replaced him with Sean Kuraly. Spooner remained out in Game 6 when Krejci was unavailable.
The thing about arbitration, though, is that scouting reports and coaches’ comments do not matter. To an arbitrator, it is irrelevant that Spooner was neither strong on the puck nor prompt to attack the net. The arbitrator’s criteria are numbers, both of the player and his comparables. It is Kuntz’s responsibility to present Spooner’s statistics in ways that favor his client. Given his role as a playmaker and power-play man, Spooner has data in his corner that a fourth-liner does not.
For example, former teammate and fellow top-six forward Reilly Smith totaled 91 points in two seasons in Boston. That’s three more points than Spooner has recorded in the last two years. The Bruins signed Smith to a two-year, $6.85 million extension before the end of 2014-15. Based on that lone comparable, Spooner could comfortably ask for a $3 million annual payout.
Despite his shortcomings, Spooner represented value for the Bruins during his previous two-year, $1.9 million contract. He scored 49 and 39 points in seasons where he carried a $950,000 average annual value. No such bargain is due on his next contract. Player-elected arbitration is exactly that — a collectively bargained bet on himself to score a payday he could not secure otherwise.
Conversely, the Bruins would prefer a pre-hearing deal. Sweeney has remained in contact with Kuntz in hopes of a standard negotiation. It’s likely the Bruins sent out feelers on the trade market in search of return assets. Nothing materialized to the team’s liking.
“You’d like to be able to find common ground that’s best for the player and team,” Sweeney said. “When you can’t and you have a difference of opinion on his value, thankfully you have a process you can go through where someone decides for you.”
The amount of the disagreement will not be known until Monday, 48 hours before the scheduled hearing. The sides will exchange briefs that disclose preferred salary and term. The Bruins have the choice of a one- or two-year contract.
So far, Tomas Tatar is the only player to have proceeded to a hearing. Other cases, like Parayko’s, were settled, such as those of Jesper Fast, Alex Galchenyuk, Tyler Johnson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Ondrej Palat.
Some players do not prefer the hearing setting. Teams argue, sometimes without restraint, against their employees’ merits at their requested prices. Spooner has heard just about all of his bosses’ critiques on the bench, in off-ice chats, and during exit interviews. With a generous raise within reach, Spooner may be able to suffer further unfriendly analysis.
The outcomes can vary. Although unlikely, Spooner and the Bruins could conclude a pre-hearing extension. It could go to a hearing, where the arbitrator usually determines a value between the player’s and team’s asking prices. Even after the hearing, the sides could arrive at a separate agreement, such as the one P.K. Subban and the Canadiens shook hands on in 2014. They could accept the arbitrator’s ruling and proceed. If the Bruins consider the ruling too rich, they could walk away from the award, leaving Spooner unrestricted.
For two straight seasons, Spooner has gone south at inopportune times. It’s possible that, in his third full NHL season, Spooner finds greater smoothness in his production curve. Whether the Bruins continue his employment at an elevated price remains to be seen. As of now, it may be in an arbitrator’s hands.
Carlo’s summer spent in Boston
Most 20-year-olds go home for the summer after experiencing life in Boston as freshmen. Brandon Carlo is an exception.
The Bruins defenseman has been spending a good amount of the offseason in Boston instead of returning full time to Colorado Springs. It marks Carlo’s continuing transition from hockey student, so to speak, to a pro.
Had he chosen college hockey, Carlo could be preparing for his sophomore season. But Carlo, having spent all of his rookie year in the NHL, is a step ahead of where his employer originally projected him to be. In retrospect, it was a very good one (82 games, 6-10—16, 20:48 of average ice time), as Carlo made his mark as Zdeno Chara’s first-pairing partner.
“For myself, an opportunity opened up at the beginning of the year,” Carlo said. “It was great for me to take advantage of that. I exceeded my own expectations of where I was going to be this year. I’m more confident and ready. We have good youth and good leadership. It should be a really good year.”
Perhaps the lone blemish was the season-ending concussion Carlo suffered in Game No. 82, courtesy of Alex Ovechkin. The Bruins missed their first-year pro against Ottawa, when they had to reach deep into their reserves to dress healthy defensemen.
Post-concussion syndrome flattened Carlo to the point where an appearance against Ottawa was out of the question. A second-round return was not guaranteed. So it has been with an extra sense of satisfaction that Carlo has been skating at Warrior Ice Arena several times per week. Carlo felt more like himself approximately a week after the season’s conclusion and has sailed through offseason workouts without any issues.
Carlo’s summer prep and first-year experience could give him more confidence to go on the attack. He’s been trained as a shutdown man. But the Bruins believe Carlo’s feet could put him in places up the ice where he was hesitant to tread as a rookie.
Kevan Miller, for example, has progressed to where he’s comfortable slamming down the walls in the offensive zone, where his roughneck approach and power skating make him a threat. Carlo has yet to express his hands, stick, and vision offensively. The wheels are already there.
“I’ve spoken with him about it — to have poise at the offensive blue line,” Sweeney said. “Not just to hurry it down off the boards, but to take the puck and have more confidence when certain things are in motion. Bruce [Cassidy] and his group will encourage that. It’s up to him to have that confidence. But the way he skates, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be more involved.”
Campbell ahead of his time on D
The effortless wheels of Brian Campbell have been parked for good following the smooth-skating defenseman’s retirement announcement last Monday. Campbell’s clock stops with 87 goals and 417 assists in 1,082 games for Buffalo, San Jose, Chicago (twice), and Florida. The left-shot defenseman scored five goals and 12 assists in 80 games last season for the Blackhawks while averaging 18:25 of ice time.
The 38-year-old had the legs for one more tour but has opted to join the Blackhawks organization in the business department. Campbell was ahead of his time as a puck-moving defenseman who applied smarts, stick skills, and skating toward his craft. As such, one of his contracts set trends too: the eight-year, $57,143,000 blockbuster he signed as a free agent with Chicago on July 1, 2008. Nine years later, Kevin Shattenkirk topped out at four years and $26.6 million with the Rangers.
The comparison underscores several points. Shattenkirk probably could have done better, but the native of New Rochelle, N.Y., signed with his hometown team. Defensemen of Campbell’s all-around quality (eight goals and 54 assists between Buffalo and San Jose, 25:06 average ice time per game in 2007-08) rarely make it to unrestricted free agency anymore. Shattenkirk is best deployed as a third-pairing right-sider at even strength and as a power-play quarterback. In his prime, Campbell was a slam-dunk top-tandem defenseman. The climb of the salary cap ($75 million in 2017-18, up from $73 million in 2016-17) has slowed from earlier rates ($56.7 million in 2008-09, climbing from $50.3 million the previous season).
But what makes Campbell’s contract interesting is its place in history. His average annual value in 2008-09 comprised 12.6 percent of Chicago’s cap ceiling. It put Campbell’s contract in line with the likes of Zdeno Chara ($7.5 million annually) at the peak of the league’s salary scale.
In retrospect, Campbell was worth the dough. He touched the game in all areas. Two years into his deal, Campbell helped the Blackhawks win the first of their three Stanley Cups.
But Campbell’s contract became one of what would become the franchise’s annual cap-compliance dilemmas. By then, the entry-level contracts of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane had expired. They already had been signed to their identical five-year, $31.5 million extensions. Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, John Madden, Antti Niemi, and Kris Versteeg had barely lifted the Cup before they were sent out the door because of cap issues. Campbell’s age and contract put him at risk to follow.
Campbell scored five goals and 22 assists in 2010-11 before Chicago identified the defenseman as the next cap casualty. Ex-GM Dale Tallon, who had resurfaced in Florida, was happy to take Campbell off his previous employer’s hands for Rostislav Olesz. It was the definition of a salary dump.
Others have since followed. GM Stan Bowman has let go of Bryan Bickell, Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, Scott Darling, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Nick Leddy, Johnny Oduya, Artemi Panarin, Antti Raanta, Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Andrew Shaw, and Teuvo Teravainen. Moving Campbell gave Bowman plenty of practice for what was to come.
Weal ready for the next step
The Flyers saw Jordan Weal (8-4—12) fit to dress for 23 games last season. It was a decision that helped to accelerate Weal’s progress toward unrestricted free agency. The 25-year-old was classified as a Group 6 free agent because of his portfolio: three or more pro seasons (three in Los Angeles’s organization, plus another two between the Kings and Flyers) and less than 80 games of NHL experience (37). After acquiring Weal and a 2016 third-rounder for Luke Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier, the Flyers were not eager to see the right-shot center walk for nothing. Weal, under contract for two years and $1.75 million annually, should finally get a full-time NHL opportunity in 2017-18. Philadelphia is deep down the middle with Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, and Jori Lehtera, so Weal might have to play the wing.
Attendance issues in Carolina
On the ice, the Hurricanes are improving. They acquired prospective ace goalie Scott Darling from Chicago as an upgrade over Cam Ward. GM Ron Francis traded for Marcus Kruger and Trevor van Riemsdyk from the Golden Knights and signed Justin Williams. Promising defenseman Jaccob Slavin agreed to a seven-year, $37.1 million extension out of his entry-level contract. Carolina could be in position to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Off the ice, however, the Hurricanes’ eight-year postseason drought has not been kind. According to the Wall Street Journal, attendance at PNC Arena has dropped by 32.3 percent over the last 10 years. It is the second-biggest 10-year plunge among the four primary North American sports after the Chicago White Sox (40.2 percent). Last season, the Hurricanes averaged 11,776 fans per game, filling the rink to 63 percent capacity. It’s a shame, considering Raleigh served as Nashville’s predecessor as a boisterous non-traditional market. Fans used to tailgating for college football games did the same before Hurricanes’ games. Perhaps the Hurricanes’ expected improvement will bring the audience back.
Tim Schaller has been commuting this summer to Brighton from his home in Merrimack, N.H. But after signing the first one-way contract of his career (one year, $775,000), Schaller is comfortable enough to search for Boston housing. Schaller should be the fourth-line left wing with fellow Providence College linemate Noel Acciari possibly serving as his center . . . Arlington native and ex-Northeastern boss Greg Cronin was promoted to associate coach by the Islanders Wednesday. Cronin has been responsible for overseeing the penalty kill. He will welcome new colleagues Kelly Buchberger, Scott Gomez, and Luke Richardson to the staff in 2017-18 . . . The Bruins are considering inviting several veterans to training camp. Peter Mueller and Christian Ehrhoff were camp invites last year . . . I suppose the standard supermarket demographic would have no trouble identifying the bride on People’s latest cover, but would have to read the caption to determine the name of the groom. It is the opposite for those us familiar with Brooks Laich but clueless about Julianne Hough.
The Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2017 features four NHL legends in Teemu Selanne, Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, and Paul Kariya, as well as just the fifth women’s player to gain enshrinement, Team Canada stalwart Danielle Goyette. It’s an overdue honor for Goyette, who represented Canada in three Olympics and nine IIHF World Championships and was a key member of teams that won a combined 10 gold medals in those events.