Today was the deadline for NHL players to file for salary arbitration, and Adam Pelech of the New York Islanders chose to take this option. What does this mean for the Islanders?
First, let’s explain what salary arbitration actually is. Arbitration occurs when a restricted free agent cannot agree with his team on a new contract. An independent arbitrator listens to the player’s and team’s arguments, and chooses a fair contract.
Contracts awarded through arbitration can only be either one or two years. The team has the option to reject an arbitrated contract, which makes the player an unrestricted free agent, but this is very rare.
For more information about arbitration, check out CapFriendly’s Arbitration page.
What Adam Pelech’s arbitration request means for New York Islanders
It’s important to note that players who file for arbitration are still able to negotiate with the team. Nobody wants to go to arbitration – it involves the team bad-mouthing the player, to try to pay him less, and is a very difficult process.
In fact, last year, of the 26 players who filed for arbitration, 25 of them reached a deal with their team before actually having a hearing, including the Isles’ Ryan Pulock. So there’s a pretty good chance Pelech signs a longer-term deal with the Islanders before his arbitration hearing.
But that deal may be more expensive than I initially expected. Star defensemen including Seth Jones, Miro Heiskanen, and Zach Werenski have been getting paid handsomely this offseason, and Pelech – who doesn’t score much, but has absolutely top-notch advanced stats, and is one of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL – might think he’s worth more than whatever the Islanders offered.
Keep in mind, as a restricted free agent, Pelech received a qualifying offer from the Islanders – but that was only for $2.5 million, according to CapFriendly. (The Isles weren’t lowballing Pelech there – qualifying offers are always for a fixed and low amount of money, and players almost never accept them.)
I’ve been assuming Pelech would get about $5 million, or $6 million in a long-term deal, but now I really don’t know. Arbitration is unpredictable, or if the Islanders want to avoid arbitration, they might offer a relatively expensive deal.
Pulock did agree to a $5 million deal to avoid arbitration last year, so that’s still a possibility for Pelech. But I also wouldn’t be shocked to see him get $6 million or more. He’s undeniably a very good player.
But this isn’t a disaster by any means. Within the last few years, Brock Nelson and Ryan Pulock both filed for arbitration, and they’re both still Islanders (and on pretty reasonable contracts). Pelech isn’t going anywhere.
Some more good news: Anthony Beauvillier and Ilya Sorokin were both eligible for arbitration, but chose not to file. That probably means they’re close to a deal with the Islanders, or might even have a deal already.
So don’t panic – this is a normal NHL procedure, and it doesn’t mean Pelech is leaving, or even wants to leave. He just might be a little bit more expensive than we thought.
“Fresh” asks: “Do the Isles have to wait until a certain time to take advantage of the additional salary relief created by placing Boychuk on LTIR, or can they use that money now with essentially the promise of the LTIR relief becoming available at some point?”
That’s a very good question. LTIR (long-term injured reserve) allows badly injured players to remain part of a team without having their contracts count towards the salary cap, and the Islanders will be using it for Johnny Boychuk’s contract this year.
It’s a myth that LTIR can only be used during the regular season. The offseason salary cap is 10% higher than the regular season cap, but using LTIR, teams can exceed even that limit. They just need to prove that the player will stay injured for more than 10 games past the start of the next season.
LTIR is complicated, and I’ve simplified it a bit here. For more information, check out CapFriendly’s LTIR FAQ page. But the upshot is that the Islanders can use the LTIR granted by Boychuk’s contract right now.
If you have any Isles-related questions (about arbitration, the salary cap, or anything else Isles) you can ask me on Twitter or in the comments of this article.