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Sam Gagner and the Oilers Look Like They're Heading to Arbitration


At this point it looks very likely that Sam Gagner's next contract will be determined not through negotiations with the Oilers but by an arbitrator. The Oilers and Gagner have been on this path since Gagner decided to file for arbitration two weeks ago. There is still time between now and tomorrow morning for the two sides to work out a deal, and as Lowetide pointed out this morning this is the norm for the Oilers, but there is absolutely zero chatter from the local media about an impending deal, or even negotiations between the two sides. Even the "Insiders" have gone silent after announcing a deal Monday night that shockingly didn't turn out to be true.

I've never been involved in an NHL arbitration hearing but I would have to assume that it's an ugly process. Having your employer criticize you all in the name of paying you as little as possible can't be an easy thing to go through. It's hardly a reach to assume that feelings get hurt during the arbitration process and I would guess that is a big part of the reason why the Oilers rarely make it to arbitration (the last was in 2002 with Jason Smith), in the grand scheme of things it's likely just not worth it from an organizational standpoint. But this is the route that Gagner chose so if a deal can't be reached in the next few hours arbitration is how this will all end.

After the jump I'll provide some basic information of the arbitration process and take a quick look at who the Oilers and Gagner might be thinking about using as comparable players.

Article 12 of the CBA covers salary arbitration. That section of the CBA is 14 pages long and covers everything right down to the coin toss that is required to start the scheduling process. If you want to read it in detail you can download the CBA from the NHLPA website (the NHL seems to have removed it from their website), for those who aren't crazy I'll cover a few of the key points.

What is probably the most important aspect of the arbitration process is what is and isn't allowed to be presented as evidence. The following are allowed:

  • The player's overall performance including statistics in all seasons.
  • Injuries, illnesses, and the number of games played.
  • The player's length of service with the team and in the league.
  • The player's overall contribution to the team's success or failure.
  • The player's special qualities of leadership or public appeal.
  • The performance and salary of any player alleged to be comparable.

And this is what is not admissible:

  • The salary and performance of a comparable player who signed a contract as an UFA.
  • Testimonials, video and media reports.
  • The financial state of the team.
  • The salary cap and the state of the team's payroll.

A couple of additional notes

  • Because Gagner elected to file for arbitration the Oilers had the option to request a two-year contract award. This would have been done as part of the arbitration brief the team would have submitted sometime yesterday. With Gagner two years away from free agency (at least under the current CBA) I doubt that this is something the Oilers are perusing.
  • A decision from the arbitrator is required within 48 hours of the hearing. So if this does make it to an arbitrator tomorrow you can expect some Oilers news over the weekend.

Previously Scott did some excellent work looking at arbitration comparables for Gagner and came to the conclusion that arbitration might not be the best option for him if he's looking for a big raise over the $2.275M he made last season. If the Oilers are paying attention they could certainly have started looking for comparable players by using that list. If they did they will probably try to sell Gagner as comparable to Dave Bolland or Stephen Weiss who had similar seasons to Gagner in their platform seasons. This would have the Oilers seeking a contract in the $3.25M range.

The single biggest arguement against those two comparisons will be games played over the course of their careers. Length of service is, as you'll recall, allowed to be presented as evidence and Gagner has played significantly more NHL games that both of them had when they signed their contracts. In fact he's almost played more than them combined. Gagner's side will likely counter with David Perron, who recently signed a four-year deal that comes with a cap hit of slightly more than $3.8M, and if they realy want to shoot for the moon, Brandon Dubinsky.

Perron is an easy comparable. He's been in the league for five seasons and has played almost 300 games to Gagner's 366. Looking at per game averages the two are very similar in both goals and assists and have nearly identical points per game numbers - 0.59 for Perron and 0.60 for Gagner. Like Perron, Dubinsky's numbers line up very well with Gagner. Before signing his a four-year $16.8M contract last summer Dubinsky had played 316 games and averaged 0.57 points per game. If the Oilers are asking for something in the range of $3.25M then I'd have to think Gagner will be asking for something around $4M.

In all honesty that doesn't seem like much of a gap and it hardly seems worth ripping apart a good player over. Time is running out to get a deal done but I'm still hopeful that one can be reached. Something similar to Perron's for four or five years sounds pretty good to me.