With the awarding of the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins, the clock began to tick on the first arbitration period for teams. But there appears to be some confusion as to the timing of arbitration, how many windows there are for clubs to elect it and when can a player elect, so I want to try to clarify it now (caveat here and anywhere else I talk about the CBA, this is definitely NOT a legal opinion, so feel free to come to your own conclusions).
It’s Article 12 of the 2005 CBA that is controlling. Under Article 12.1, it states that only players who are restricted free agents who have not signed offer sheets are eligible. Players who are 18 thru 20 on September 15th of the calendar year in which the player signs his first ELC are eligible for arbitration after 4 years of “professional experience.” If the player was 21 when he signed his first contract, its 3 years of “professional experience” required prior to arbitration eligibility; at 22-23, 2 years of experience, and at 24 years old and above, one year of experience.
Therefore, to clear this up, the Rangers have 16 RFAs in their system, but not all are eligible for arbitration. Of the RFAs on the NHL team roster at season’s end, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle, Matt Gilroy and Chad Johnson are eligible. I believe that neither Artem Anisimov nor Mike Sauer are eligible, even though they are RFAs.
Here is why. The part of Article 12.1 that states who is eligible for arbitration contains a provision as to what is considered “professional experience.” I know your eyes may start to glaze over here, but stick with this, because if you want to understand how this works, you need to know this. For players that sign their first professional contract at age 18 or 19, those players earn a year of “professional experience” by playing 10 or more NHL games. A player 20 or older when he signs his first NHL contract, earns a year of “professional experience” for these purposes by playing in any professional games under his contract.
Therefore, Anisimov, who signed his ELC at age 19, only can count years in which he played 10 or more games in the NHL toward his eligibility for arbitration. His first two years under his ELC, in which Anisimov played in Hartford, thus don’t count toward “professional experience” for arbitration purposes. He only has the seasons 2009-10 and 2010-11 that count, and he would need four to be eligible.
Despite folks mentioning otherwise, under these calculations, Mike Sauer, who signed his first contract on August 8, 2006 (one day after his 19th birthday), also is not eligible for arbitration. This original age of signing his first contract does not “slide”, so I believe that the fact that he played another year of junior hockey is irrelevant to the calculation of his eligibility. Therefore, Sauer would need four years of professional experience to be eligible and he only has one (the 2010-11 season he played with the Rangers).
Beyond arbitration, all of this makes the timing of signing of draftees extremely important. This is much more Cam Hope’s area of expertise than it is mine, but I will try to explain by using an example. A team that signs a top pick in the year that he is 19 is in a much better position long run than if they sign him at age 20. For example, let’s say that Dylan McIlrath is destined to be a star in the NHL (I am not saying that he is or isn’t, but its a very useful example). McIlrath is born on April 20, 1992. If the Rangers waited to sign him until next Spring just before they had to or at any time after December 31, 2011, he will be age 20 at the time of the signing for the purposes of arbitration. Therefore, all the years of his professional play would count towards arbitration, even if that play it is not in the NHL. With a player like McIlrath, who the Rangers believe has a good chance of becoming a top NHLer but may take awhile to develop, it behooved them to sign him before the end of this calendar year. And so they signed him in March 2011. It is not important to do this with players who are not expected to be top players, as the team wants to watch and see if they develop as expected, but for players who could wind up being elite, especially if they are expected to spend some time in the AHL, signing the player before he is 20 is an imperative.
As to the timing of when a club or a player can file for arbitration, its Article 12.2 for player-elected and Article 12.4 for club-elected arbitration that is controlling.
If its an eligible player who wants to elect arbitration, he has to notify the NHL, the NHLPA, and his team by 5:00 pm (local NY time) on July 5th. Very simple. There is no beginning date, there is just a final date for this.
For a team, there are two periods to take a player to arbitration, depending on the category of player. The first one is for players that make more than $1.5 million in salary and bonuses in the year just past. The deadline for seeking arbitration in lieu of making a qualifying offer to these players is the later of 5 pm (again NY time) on June 15th or “48 hours after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup finals.” Since the Stanley Cup finals ended on Wednesday evening June 15th, the teams had basically about 42 hours within which to file. It appears that the Rangers did not seek this against any of the players in this category, and even if Sauer was otherwise eligible for arbitration, he did not make more than $1.5 million this past year, so the Rangers could not have filed for arbitration him this past week.
There is a second window that applies when any RFA with the necessary “professional experience” has been given a qualifying offer and not accepted it, and that player has not filed for arbitration himself by the players’ deadline (i.e., July 5th at 5 pm NY time). At that point, the team has 24 hours to file for arbitration. That means that the team has to file by July 6th at 5 pm NY time for all eligible players, including both those making more than the $1.5 million that were within the first window and those making less than that amount that were not.
There are two additional points to this that you should know. First, a club can take a player to arbitration only once in his career. Second a team can only seek arbitration with two players in any one season.
So that’s the CBA lesson for today. Hopefully, this clears up some of the misinformation out on the net and in the papers and explains why the timing of signing players to ELCs is so critical.