Five Jets File for Arbitration: Thoughts on Contract Comparables


Evidence that Byran Little has a signature. Photo by Timmy F.

Our own Travis Hrubeniuk was candid in his review of the RFA situation developing in Winnipeg this week. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has a growing mess on his hands, after bowing out of the Free Agent Frenzy (apologies to future bench warmer Adam Pardy), losing Burmistrov to the KHL, and now having three critical, cornerstone RFA signings turn into a power struggle with a deadline. Oh, and Tangradi and Postma also filed for arbitration. 

The pressing questions, then, are: 1) how far apart are the team and the players in negotiations?; and 2) what are the big three worth in terms of money?

All Is Not Well That Ends Well

There will be many people to remind us that Arbitration is just a formality with an uncertain end. Indeed, any agent would advise to file when negotiations are pending precisely because it’s a lost opportunity otherwise. In many cases, arbitration is avoided. Those people, those voices of calm are factually correct – it is a formality and we can’t know how it will end at this stage. Nevertheless, we can pass judgement on the process without regard for the eventual product.

All five players could sign value contracts tomorrow. Today, however, we can state with certainty that Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Jets management team have made a mistake. They have put the franchise at risk of losing three of their seven best players (in the long term, that is), spoiling relationships, and making Winnipeg a less desireable place to play NHL hockey. They have left signing their Big 3 until the last possible minute, while doing little else to improve the team. 

In what was to be a defining summer for the Jets, it seems GM Kevin Cheveldayoff entered without a plan and is reacting to the circumstances. 

What are they worth?

Filing for arbitration is a no-lose scenario for Eric Tangradi and Paul Postma. They have essentially signed themselves to contracts at this point, knowing they will get a raise on their $726K and league minimum $550K contracts respectively. Under the new CBA, teams can only ‘walk away’ from awarded contracts in excess of $3.5M – a threshold neither player is at risk of cresting. The team, on the other hand, is in a no-win scenario that they can exit gracefully with signed contracts or not so gracefully in front of an arbiter. Either way, the players will get fair deals and the Jets legal fees will continue to climb at the same rate as their reputation worsens.

The Big 3 are a more interesting but ultimately more frightening situation. 

Of course, we all know the horror stories of arbitration. The Thrashers walk away from Clarke MacArthur’s 2010 award of $2.4M only to have him score 62 points for the Leafs while earning half that. The cash-strapped Predators enter arbitration asking for $4.75 for Shea Weber who ends up earning the highest award in the history of arbitration at $7.5, which then leaves them vulnerable to an offer sheet the next season. The Jets face a similar problem with Bogosian – they can’t possibly walk away regardless of the dollar value and both sides know it. 

So we return to the principle question – what are these players worth? 

Illegal Curve did an excellent series of contract comparables back in May. Of course, the recent Free Agent period skewed those a bit, so below we’ll have a quick look to see if they’re still valid.

Zach Bogosian

Photo by BridgetDS

Bogosian might be the most important RFA of the group, despite his lack of scoring. His age and shut down ability make him a critical piece of the Jets for the next decade. Still, defecemen who excel at defence are always hard to pin down in contracts. 

Illegal Curve used a series of comparables – Doughty (drafted one spot before Bogosian), Brent Burns, Edler, Coburn, and Vlasic. I think these are all excellent comparables for various reasons. Further, IC considers his contract value to be $33M/6, or $5.5M per season. With the cap set to go ever-higher and Bogosian’s best years theoretically in front of him, $33M/6 would be an excellent contract for both sides. 

That said, it’s unsettling that such a contract hasn’t been signed already. Likely the team wants the deal at $5M (below Kane’s so as to avoid the appearance of annual inflation on contracts), while the agent is pushing for $6 (look at Bouwmeester! And our guy hits!). Let’s hope this gets settled quickly and before July 22nd when the hearings begin.

Blake Wheeler

Photo by BridgetDS

Photo by BridgetDS

As Illegal Curve astutely observes, the Jets can’t afford to go to Arbitration with Wheeler, who is just one season away from UFA status. Wheeler has a strong case and will earn his money through that route, and will be yet another lost asset for this management group – this time an irreplaceable one. 

Still, I disagree with Wheeler’s comparables presented by Illegal Curve. They offer Voracek, Parenteau, Purcell, and Wayne Simmonds for consideration. Their scoring totals may hold up, but Purcell was undrafted, Parenteau taken in the 9th round, and Simmonds late in the 2nd. Only Voracek has the pedigree Wheeler does, and is 4 years younger with 2 years less NHL experience. Their conclusion of $19M/4 ($4.75M Avg) is a full million per season short of what the player and agent are likely asking.

Keep in mind that Wheeler was the 30th highest scoring forward in the league this year – putting up similar totals to stars Anze Kopitar, Matt Duchene, Daniel Sedin, and Joe Thornton. The latter two are long time veterans on lengthy contracts, and of course three of them are centres. Still, Blake Wheeler’s case as a 1st line forward, 1st line powerplay forward, and team-leading scorer are indisputable and no doubt his agent can drum up a host of $6M+ players who look the same or worse on paper. The team can counter with ‘yeah, but he doesn’t hit!’ before they cut the massive cheque. 

The hope that he sees himself as PA Parenteau or Michael Ryder and signs a value contract are slim. I bet this one only gets settled if the team is willing to go over $5M. 

Bryan Little

Photo by clydeorama

Man, the team took a bath on Little’s deal when Free Agency delivered $25M deals to both Stephen Weiss and Valteri Flippula. If I was Kevin Cheveldayoff’s mom or boss, I’d tell him ‘this is why you do your homework early!’ 

Illegal Curve’s comps for Little are interesting, but don’t suit his role on the team. They used David Desharnais, Alex Steen, Mike Fisher, and Fran Nielsen. No doubt, Little is a little Steen and a little Nielsen mixed together. Still, none of those players play top line minutes in all three disciplines like Little. Little is the only player among that group to have played an average of more than 20minutes a game in any of the past three seasons. Only Fisher broke the 19 minute mark last season and he scored a full third fewer points than Little (21 to Little’s 32).

With 1B centres getting $5M a season in free agency this year, the suggested salary for Little of $15M/4 ($3.75M) becomes wishful thinking. As with the other two, arbitration gives Little a tremendous amount of leverage. Unlike the other two, he likely can’t find a similarly high paying job elsewhere in the league (who else has such shallow centre depth!). I suspect the Jets could sign him on a value deal in the $4.25M-$4.5M range, similar to the deal Andrew Ladd is on at $4.4M

The Bottom Line

The Jets currently have $19M in cap space, and are $13M short of last year’s salary total of $58M. Together, I expect the Big 3 cost the Jets close to $15M, plus Tangradi and Postma at a combined ~$1.5M to round out the roster. Pending Halischuk’s recent agreement, it seems the Jets are done this off-season, and are stuck spending to the cap. 

Arbitration offers meaningful leverage for players, and the closer it gets the more leverage they actually have. As people, they obviously want to avoid it. No one likes confrontation with their boss. But if the Jets are trying to low-ball, this summer could become a disaster, the full consequences of which aren’t felt until these players move on to other clubs in subsequent seasons. 

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff should have taken more care to have these contracts wrapped up before reaching July 10th. It was a shortened season for all involved, but it’s been a full six months without even one of these players signed. Now we are in the final weeks that will, in all likelihood, define Cheveldayoff’s legacy and the direction of the team for years to come.

  • Kevin McCartney

    Sadly, best online floodway discussion is Flames blog: 2.5 more is construction o/u. Don’t mind the Jets picks and Halischuk, but the 1st rounder doesn’t have great stats; Zadorov does. Oddly the Wpg Sun described Halischuk as Defensive D and went off on a Kovalchuk rant about Russia’s lower tax rate than the untaxed USA: arenas are subsidized and Russia is corrupt. NJ’s model franchise status since 1992 is over after letting Parise walk and singing Kovalchuk to Wang-ish contract. Burmistrov seemed good; many would still be in minors. Without buying out Jokinen I hope they risk sending him to minors; was a minus 18 while Burmistrov wasn’t a minus despite being only 20. CJOB said Bogosian should be signed to 7-8 yr $50M contract…Toews comes up clutch yet again: will be a top 10 all-time player, maybe top 5.
    The overager the Jets took looks as good as LA’s first rd pick in 2012 and is as old as condemned Burmistrov. I like the Jets 4 RFA defence but with Hainsey and a play for Neal the team would be cup-worthy. Clearly Robinson was beside the receiver on the cancelled pick; the receiver took a soccer-ish dive: was a SK fix. Is the problem with CFL, NFL, NBA, MLB, soccer: officiating looks rigged. NHL rarely. Good Setoguchi trade and Frolik.

  • Kevin McCartney

    Me all giving up on a CFL game just b4 the block…the CFL game summary, at 3:10 you can see Robinson is shoulder-to-shoulder with the receiver. Maybe back shoulder. INteresting challenge if it happened. Haven’t checked out the finals on CBC yet: glad they are there. The Jets RFA D have good brief stats. I don’t think Burmistrov got any PP time. Isn’t a sniper but good passer. I like that the Jets drafted goal scorers. Even the Finnish D with 18 pts in the oHL looks good. Like the Wings and Jets trades for extra picks. CJOB said build like the Bruins but we were almost as physical as them first yr back. I like the Mtl model as is exciting in the playoffs and satisfying to be beaten up and still win against a winded team. But the solid deep D is good. Gotta pay attention to CFL RBs. Like the Sabres Russian pick again. I know a bit of a Russian penalty but I figured 4th overall on talent.

  • Kevin McCartney

    One prime advantage that WPG has with Little & Wheeler is that you cannot use a UFA contract as a comparable in arbitration; Weiss, Flippula, & Parenteau are inadmissible (BTW, so is Jokinen, fortunately for everyone). For Wheeler, valid comparables peg him at around $4.5. Fortunately for Winnipeg, Bozak’s contract also isn’t admissible, either; but if Little doesn’t land in that $4.2 range, he will likely walk next year.

    Bogosian, Wheeler, and Little are the remaining members of Winnipeg’s core group; if they can all be signed for under $15-16 mill then Winnipeg will be in pretty good shape moving forward, particularly once Jokinen is off the books.

  • Kevin McCartney

    Good point, Neil B. I was a bit loose with the idea of admissible comps in the actual arbitration process by just listing names as I did. My point was more simple than I made it, I suppose!

    Despite Wheeler and Little not being Crosby and Malkin, they are top line players in the NHL, are being used as such and having success as such, and so any idea that we can sign them on the cheap should be banished from our brains and blogosphere. More importantly, the fact that the management group painted itself into this corner should be considered a bad sign.

    I agree that if we can get them for $15-16M, it’s very fair and the team should be satisfied with that. It’s always possible the players/agents are being unreasonable in this process, but I worry that instead, Cheveldayoff is looking at the admissible comps with an eye toward trying to save $1-2M while risking the loss of those players in the longer term.

    Interesting bit on twitter yesterday over Bourne’s article on arbitration – Mike Johnson tweeted that the brief filed in his arbitration case called him the worst forward in the league. The kind of hyperbolic abuse required for the arbitration process is just not something the Jets should go through with three key players.

  • Kevin McCartney

    Good article. While see your point, that we are at the point of arbitration doesn’t concern me so much. Rarely do cases get to arbitration, most settle prior. One thought I have about this year is that perhaps Chevy was waiting to see who was in cap-hell and needed to deal players before locking up these guys long term. I still think there might be a trade in the works. Really too bad about Burmi and I can’t figure out what is going on with grabovski – why has no one signed him. I really wish we could sign him to a one year deal. Would be a really shrewd move.

  • Kevin McCartney

    Burmistrov is still a Jets asset so not that big of a deal. I look at Weber and Keith with 16 even strength pts and I just can’t see Subban as the Norris winner. Maybe the problem is the NHL awards garbage Conn-Smythe trophies (Roloson was better than Ward) and Defenceman don’t get the other trophies. In the playoffs those PP attendance-revenue-friendly pts disappear.
    Kitchson looks like a steal; Morrissey will be lucky to have his pts total, but leadership and heart have upside for NHL; picking a good player on bad team worked with Scheifele and is what Flames did this draft. Kostalek would’ve been top 30 for D pts; another steal.
    Can’t believe bloggers have Jokinen on top 2 lines instead of waived or bought out. Without Hainsey it will be up to Jets kids. Good deal on Montoya; has Legace-like numbers.
    Chi good on Sharp deal and Bickell. Crawford, Smith, Rask and Howard signings make Pavelec look like a bargain: owners must be rich.
    Toronto and Wings have nice original 6 uniform look on TV and T.O. finally adding FWs. Boy I thought Denmark, Poobah and Edwards were bad…Eli era NYG taught me you can never have too many receivers: is why the 14-4 Bombers didn’t win Grey Cup: sad to see Bruce III and Simon still going. Bombers crashed when Reinbold cut Wilcox. Pierce now #10 QB is league healthy, was #5. Y am I worried, a Wings Blackhawks final isn’t out of the question. Cup final was a morality tale: Bruins can’t defeat the Indian.

  • Kevin McCartney

    …have my 1993 Wings-T.O. DVD with game commentary listing all the Leafs Yzerman has injured during the series…I like rundowns because it makes it more of a team game. If the field were larger you could do the cricket thing and run around the bases again double or nothing with elaborate fielding relays. Game is fun enough to play but NBA and MLB need some tweaks to get better art. Strike zone and offside challenges obviously. The cold inspires bravery and the ice, sticks, board rebounds inspires fan intelligence.

  • MC Hockey

    Hey all! As you can see by my icon, I am a joint Jets and Flames fan. I sadly have to wonder if the reasons I personally left Winnipeg (followed by the Jets) back in 1996 are still haunting the city and its hockey bosses. Back then it was “oh, just trade our stars like Tkachuk or Selanne” if we cannot (or more accurately do not want) to afford them (both happened of course). How about realize the value of what you got in these great fans and players and properly INVEST in your team?

    If the billionaire (who is part of Canada richest family) who owns most of TNSE tells Cheveldayoff to get “discount contracts” for these great players, this will begin a slow and painful downturn for the Jets.

    Maybe since Thomsen plays nice with the NHL bosses he will have first right of refusal to move the Jets to Markham to be the second (and no doubt very profitable) team in the Greater Toronto Area in about 5 years! The Thomsens don’t live in Winnipeg like the Aspers did and given their wealthy and sometimes unscrupulous business ways (I competed with a company of theirs for 11 years) they don’t like to lose money! I am sorry to start controversy but something smells bad and right now the oil baron ownership in Calgary seems a lot more friendly to me than the Jets owners. Why does everyone from my hometown expect to buy everything at a discount…even the absentee owner Mr. Thomsen? Hockey contracts are not clothes or automobiles you go get from Steinbach! Geez already!!

  • Kevin McCartney

    I get that perhaps the Jets might be looking for some value contracts, but I think this is prudent. I don’t hear the players here complaining about the city and I just don’t think it will be that big a deal to get these guys signed. It is really interesting to me that there are still some pretty good hockey players who are unsigned. A lot of teams don’t have much money left to spend on players. I bet Wellwood wishes he took the two year deal last year.

    On a different note, while I agree with the comparables I wonder if any team would make an offer $5M for either Wheeler or Little if they came onto the market today. Perhaps, but it is bluff I would consider at the very least. It would hurt to lose one of these guys for nothing, but with teams struggling to sign their own RFAs, do you think there would be a line up of GMs trying to sign Wheeler for $5.5-6M/year with term. At the moment, that seems VERY high, even for the 30th scoring player in the game. And don’t get me wrong, I love Wheeler’s game, but until the new economics of this cap figure themselves out, I just think the numbers are too high.