IN THE MATTER OF A SALARY ARBITRATION CONDUCTED PURSUANT
TO ARTICLE 12 OF THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT BETWEEN:
GILBERT BRULE AS A MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE PLAYERS' ASSOCIATION
hereinafter referred to as the "Player" or "Brule"
THE EDMONTON OILERS HOCKEY CLUB, A MEMBER CLUB OF THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
hereinafter referred to as the "Club"
Before: Bruce McCurdy, Arbitrator
For the Player: Benjamin Massey
For the Club: Scott Reynolds
Hearing: Copper & Blue, June 2010
This is a matter of an arbitration involving Gilbert Brule and the Edmonton Oilers pursuant to Article 12 of the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA.
Brule signed a 1-year contract after the 2008-09 season during which the Club paid him a salary of $800,000. Under article 12, section 2 of the collective bargaining agreement the Player has exercised his right to salary arbitration. This ruling determines the Player's remuneration for the 2009-10 season. The Player is requesting a salary of $2,700,000; the Club is offering $1,125,000.
Brule was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 6thoverall in 2005. He signed an entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets in 2005 but did not play the requisite 11 games in the 2005-06 season so the ELC commenced in 2006-07. He had one year remaining on his entry-level deal when traded to Edmonton on July 1st, 2008; then signed a 1 year contract on August 12th, 2009. He played the entire 2009-2010 season in the NHL. Player is 23 years old, 5'10", 180 pounds. He plays forward (both right wing and centre) and in the platform year, 2009-10, he achieved career highs of 17-20-37.
The Club describes the player as an even-strength player who is useless on special teams. The Club acknowledges that he is a top six player at even strength, and that he is a physical player (top 3 on the team in hits) who risks life and limb on behalf of the member club.
The Player describes himself as a developing offensive player that delivers superior results at even strength play.
The club initially submitted a list of four comparables: Ryan Callahan, Tyler Kennedy, Daniel Paille, and Alexander Steen. Interestingly, the club submitted microstatistics from the platform seasons of the players in question (including Mr. Brule), but the offensive numbers submitted were done on a career-to-date basis, including Mr. Brule's underage years. We decided to use the same methodology to compare just the platform seasons of these players.
On a per-game basis, Mr. Brule outperformed all four comparables in point production, and (barely) trailed just Mr. Callahan in goal production. Mr. Brule's goal differential record was worse than the others, but he also played on by far the worst team of the group so we tend to discount this aspect as largely beyond the individual's control. So on a production basis, Mr. Brule more than holds his own with the comparison group.
Ultimately the club agreed that Robert Nilsson was also a good comparable other than the length of his contract, so we will look particularly closely at Mr. Callahan's and Mr. Nilsson's platform seasons.
On a per-60 basis, Mr. Brule's even-strength production ranked an impressive 34th in the NHL among forwards with 40+ GP in 2009-10. It far exceeds that of Mr. Callahan, and is the virtual equal of Mr. Nilsson. We do note the club's comments about the sustainability of on-ice shooting percentage, and note that Mr. Nilsson's platform season was considerably further from the median of 8.7%.
We note, however, that Mr. Callahan was a regular contributor to New York's penalty killing unit which raises his value beyond that of Mr. Brule during their respective platform seasons. Mr. Nilsson is a better comparable with his similar point production rates, his lack of contribution to the penalty killing and defensive aspects of the game, and his good fortune in "riding the percentages" during the platform season.
Finally, we will review the salaries awarded to all six players identified by both camps:
We note that all six players received new contracts in the 2-3 year range, with all but Mr. Steen receiving a graduated salary with increases built in after the first year. Since Mr. Brule's award will be for one season only, the comparative figures used for this award will be the comparison players' first-year salary, not their overall cap hit. Mr. Brule will have every opportunity to earn a further raise one year hence, an opportunity that the other players forewent in agreeing to multi-year pacts.
IV. Other considerations
Mr. Brule is a former high ranking draft pick who is starting to fulfill his promise as he plays through his RFA years. The member club will surely acknowledge his situation is similar to that of Denis Grebeshkov or Robert Nilsson in 2008 or Ladislav Smid in 2009, all promising former first-rounders who each signed post ELC's in the neighbourhood of $1.5 million dollars.
Mr. Brule is also a gentleman of high character, as seen by his recent donation of $10,000 to help a needy local child. This was extremely generous for a young player who has not yet achieved the one million dollar salary bracket. For this demonstration of good will we will take the extraordinary step of increasing Mr. Brule's award by that amount of $10,000. We will also award an additional $10,000 each for his representative's excellent use of the terms "Cogliano-esque", "simulacrum", "the remarkable Zack Stortini", and for his audacity in dismissing an entire branch of new statistics as "line noise", for a total arbitrator's bonus of $50,000. (Hey, it's not every day I get to play with somebody else's money!)
However, while the Player's own representative has made a strong emotional argument in favour of his client, we remain less than convinced that he compares favourably to the likes of Mr. Callahan, or that an outrageous contract such as that awarded Mr. Grabovski should be used as any sort of comparable. The Player's representative concludes that "Brule has plenty of room to grow into an expanded role and increase his value to the Oilers". We agree with this statement, and anticipate Mr. Brule's future remuneration will be commensurate with his future, increased value. This one-year contract under arbitration will bridge the period in which he establishes that future value, so we will not jump the gun here in anticipating the top end of that value. That will be up to Mr. Brule in 2010-11.
We find that the best comparable to Gilbert Brule is Robert Nilsson, who received $1.5 MM in the season following his platform season. For the reasons outlined in the previous paragraph, not to mention the fact that Mr. Brule delivers additional skills that are foreign to Mr. Nilsson's game in the areas of physical hockey and faceoffs:
We award Gilbert Brule a one-year contract in the amount of $1,550,000.
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Feel free to mock the arbitration in the comments section; just don't mock the arbitrator.