It's salary arbitration time again in the NHL and already one third of the 29 players that were originally slated for hearings have settled their cases. Expect more of that as the hearings approach, starting Monday with the first case, Brooks Laich and the Washington Capitals.
"Anytime you can negotiate a settlement, it's the preference," Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier told The Canadian Press on Thursday.
But the veteran GM also says the process has changed over the years. What was once a cut-throat experience with both sides destroying each other in front of the arbitrator has quieted down somewhat.
"I think the nastiness probably took place more in the early years," said Regier. "It's fairly formal today, it's largely statistically driven. There's very little room for personal comments . . . For the most part it's a presentation from the two sides to the arbitrator and a decision follows.
"Very seldom now does it get into a situation where it's personal."
Regier has one of the headliners in this year's arbitration class, forward Derek Roy, who is slated for a hearing on July 27 in Toronto.
The 24-year-old had a career-high 63 points (21-42) in 75 games in 2006-07, his third NHL season. He was also a whopping plus-37 - fifth-best among all NHL skaters. He's looking for a big raise over the US$627,000 he made last season.
Regier will continue to talk to Roy's agent Larry Kelly about doing a longer-term deal and hopefully avoid arbitration - a process that results in one-or two-year awards (contracts).
"I've talked to Larry and we're going to explore options other than just one-or two-year deals," said Regier. "Whether we look at three-, four-, five-or six, I think that's where the talks will go and we'll see if we can find something that fits for both sides."
Other notable arbitration cases still slated to be held include Ottawa Senators goalie Ray Emery next Tuesday, newly acquired Edmonton Oilers defenceman Joni Pitkanen the next day, Montreal Canadiens winger Michael Ryder and New York Rangers forward Sean Avery on July 30.
Los Angeles Kings leading scorer Mike Cammalleri on Aug. 2.
In all, 19 players have hearings scheduled.
The last cases are to be heard Aug. 3 with Steve Montador of the Florida Panthers and Ryan Craig of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The first cases were actually supposed to be heard Friday but all four got settled early - Eric Godard of the Calgary Flames, Kurtis Foster of the Minnesota Wild, Greg Zanon of the Nashville Predators and Mike Ribeiro of the Dallas Stars.
Ryder, 27, is coming off back-to-back 30-goal seasons after putting up 25 during his rookie year - an impressive 85 goals in his first three NHL seasons. On the flip side, he was also minus-25 last year - fourth-worst among NHL forwards. He earned $2.2 million last year and is eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.
"Michael's been their top goal scorer two years in a row now," said his agent Thane Campbell. "I think he should be in a range that we've asked for and hopefully an arbitrator sees it the same way."
Campbell said his talks with the Habs have been cordial although that didn't mean they would avoid arbitration.
"It's certainly hoped that it would be avoided but at this point in time both sides are preparing for it with the expectation that this year it could take place," said Campbell, who spoke with Julien Brisebois, Montreal's vice-president of hockey operations, on Tuesday.
"The gap is not a large gap by any means but at the same time we both have reasons why we haven't closed the gap."
Cammalleri, 25, had the quietist 80-point campaign in the NHL last season but the arbitrator will take notice of his career high 34 goals and 46 assists. He's in for a big raise over the $1.7 million he made last season.
Pitkanen, 23, had his second consecutive 40-point plus season while earning $2 million, putting up 43 points (4-39) in 77 games but a minus-25 rating - albeit on the NHL's last-place team in Philadelphia. The Flyers actually selected him for arbitration - a new twist in the new CBA - before trading him to the Oilers.
Emery, 24, went 33-16-6 last season with a 2.47 goals-against average and .918 save percentage while also leading the club to a Stanley Cup final appearance - all the while earning $925,000.
The Senators can point to $8-million, three-year deals signed by Buffalo's Ryan Miller and Carolina's Cam Ward but the Emery camp, led by agent J.P. Barry, can also point to the $4.25-million, one-year deal signed by New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Avery, 27, had a career high 48 points (18-30) last season with Los Angeles and the Rangers while providing his usual physical brand of game. He'll get a raise over the $1.1 million he made last season.