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Shea Weber's arbitration: How the Process Works

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Since the pros at ESPN and The Sporting News can't seem to get the story right, I thought it might help to lay out the details of how salary arbitration works in the NHL. League-wide, there are over a dozen players on track for arbitration hearings, but only a few are likely to actually make it to that point. With Shea Weber being the biggest name on that list, his negotiations with the Nashville Predators have been thrown into the limelight.

So follow after the jump as we walk through the process, specifically with the Weber situation in mind...

Who requests arbitration?

The starting point here is to determine which party got things headed in this direction. In this case, the Predators asked for arbitration, which has two main implications:

  • The party on the receiving end of the arbitration filing (in this case the player) gets to choose whether the contract to be awarded will be for one year, or two. (Section 12.9 c of the CBA).
  • Unlike what ESPN and The Sporting News have reported, the team does not have the right to walk away from the arbiter's decision if the salary is too high for their liking, because they're the ones who requested this process (12.10 e).

Both sides make their case

48 hours before the hearing (scheduled for August 2nd), each side is to share with the other a written brief outlining their position. It has to be double-spaced, typed in Times New Roman font, and sealed with a kiss (only that last bit is untrue).

On the day of the hearing (which starts at 9:00 New York time), each side gets 90 minutes to present their case, which is split between their initial presentation, and a rebuttal period. If, in the eventuality that the side going second introduces new material during their rebuttal, then the first side may get an additional 10 minutes to respond to those matters.

As to how these cases can be built, the following are cited as appropriate pieces of evidence:

  • Official statistics describing the player's offensive and defensive performance. Yes, this even includes the RTSS stuff like hits, giveaways, and takeaways (ugh).
  • Games played, and the variety of injuries/illnesses which played into that.
  • Length of service in the NHL and with that particular team.
  • "Overall contribution of the Player to the competitive success or failure of his Club in the preceding season".
  • "special qualities of leadership or public appeal". Yup, The Beard itself has value.
  • The performance and salary of players who are specifically described as comparable by either party in the arbitration hearing. Only salaries from players who were also Group 2 (restricted) Free Agents at the time their contracts were signed are considered here. So ignore comparisons to Zdeno Chara, Christian Ehrhoff, Chris Pronger, Brian Campbell, and other guys who were unrestricted at the time of their deals. Duncan Keith (13 years, $72 million), Dion Phaneuf (6 years, $39 million) and Brent Seabrook (5 years, $29 million), however, are another matter.

As to what is off-limits as evidence?

  • The salary of players not described as comparables.
  • Previous qualifying offers made by the team, or any other offers that took place along the way to arbitration.
  • "Testimonials, videotapes, newspaper columns, press game reports or similar materials." Hmm... I'm guessing blog posts fall under that category.
  • "The financial condition of the Club or the League". Sorry, no small-market discount.
  • Arbitration awards from 2005-6, or other salary info from before the current CBA (not that this would likely be an issue anyway).

The list of Comparable Players is something that's actually drawn up well in advance of the hearing, dictated by the CBA to take place in early June (12.9 g v), and updated over the summer as other relevant contract signings take place. The two sides in the arbitration then select from that list the players and salaries which they deem to best represent their case. The arbiter can only consider the Comparable Players who are cited by either side during the hearing, they can't just choose another name off that list on their own.

Sequence of Events

Since Weber's is a case of team-elected arbitration, the team gets to state their case first, followed by the player's side. Then each gets a chance to rebut the other's case, and if new information gets brought into the discussion during the player's rebuttal, as noted above, it's possible that the team could get an additional 10 minutes to respond.

After the hearing completes, the arbiter has 48 hours to issue a decision. Up until that decision comes out, the two sides can still agree to a contract. The arbiter's ruling will dictate the salary for the duration of the contract (which doesn't have to be the figure requested by either side, it can be different), and include "a brief statement of the reasons for the decision, including identification of any comparable(s) relied on."

So that's the process in a nutshell. Now, let's just hope it never gets to that point, OK?