Arbitration is a time of year where fans hold their breath that one of their favourite, usually good, players doesn't demand too much and sign for more than he's worth.
If you want a relevant example of how arbitration affects the new NHL and its salary cap, see JP Dumont with the Buffalo Sabres at this exact same time last year.
The French-Canadian was awarded a one-year contract worth an estimated $2.9 million by a salary arbitrator after coming off a decent season while scoring 20 goals and adding the same number for assists in 54 games.
The number was grand, grand in many ways since a checking-line player is hardly worth anything over $2 million these days, so, the Sabres exercised their right to reject a contract and let Dumont walk to free-agency.
Dumont eventually signed for about 700K less with the Nashville Predators and scored 66 points with the last season, a career high.
That's only one and perhaps the best example of salaries awarded that affect a team's ability to keep him under the salary cap.
EMERY UPDATE: TSN reports that the Senators and Ray Emery have avoided salary arbitration with them agreeing to a 3-year contract worth $9.5 million (or almost $3.2 million per season)
(Hat tip to Sherry over at Scarlett Ice)
Now the question remains, what will they do with Martin Gerber?
This year promises to have some pretty big surprises on both sides, starting with the Senators' Ray Emery, coming off a career year all while carrying Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in the modern era.
Emery had 33 wins, a 2.47 GAA and a .918 SPCT after overtaking Martin Gerber as the team's number one heading into December.
He made $925,000 last season and is looking for a hefty raise, that will likely come easily.
Reports out of Ottawa suggest that the only way Murray will be able to effectively sign Emery and have room to re-sign Jason Spezza (RFA), Dany Heatley (UFA), Antoine Vermette (RFA), Patrick Eaves (RFA) and Wade Redden (UFA) next summer is if he moves backup goalie Martin Gerber and his $3.7 million salary, which will be a difficult task.
All in all, Emery should get between $2.5 and $4 million next season, as arbitrators have proven they're still in love with the old NHL way of doing these things.
His agent, J.P. Barry is rumoured to be negotiating a multi year contract for Emery, and should Murray not be able to dump Gerber, he could have no choice and let Emery walk to free-agency, deeming his potential hefty salary too high for a goalie of his current status.
The trading of Peter Schaefer last week to the Bruins cleared up significant cap space over the next few seasons for Ottawa, in order to attempt to keep Emery and the crop of 2008 free-agents mentioned above.
Gerber finished the season off well for Ottawa and put up the exact same GAA and SPCT% he had with Carolina 2 seasons ago, all while maintaining a total of 15 wins.
The Swiss-born keeper is capable of a lot more than a backup role, and many fans feel that way; as we saw last season, if Gerber is not confident, he is weak...VERY weak...so Sens fans better be hoping that if Emery is indeed let go (and come on, it's not the end of the world) that Gerber finds his confidence and uses it like he did with Canes 2 seasons ago, and like he did when he shut out Team Canada with an amazing 47-save performance at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino.
Among others, Buffalo's Derek Roy could command a Nathan Horton type salary, according to the Ghost, who has a great post handling the fact that Roy could indeed be an equal to the Panther forward.
Roy, an impressive +37 last season, is the team's projected no.1 centre next season, with Bufalo GM Darcy Regier losing both Chris Drury and Daniel Briere to the Rangers and Flyers respectively via free-agency.
The Sabres are expected to push hard to sign Roy and don't expect another JP Dumont-type situation to unfold this time around, as whatever the arbitrator awards Roy, Regier will pay with open arms.
He had a career-year as the team's 3rd line centre, scoring 21 goals and adding 42 assists for a total of 63 points in 75 contests.
On the other side of town, Sean Avery and Marcel Hossa's cases are still unresolved, with both wanting and deserving raises from the salaries they had last season.
Avery, being the most deserving, made $1.1 million last season and could command a salary upwards of $2.5 million in arbitration, while Marcel Hossa is second-rate and definitely not a priority in this case.
The Rangers may indeed sacrifice Hossa, should his contract be too expensive for their taste, and focus on signing the hard-hitting and well-hated Avery instead.
Avery, who came over in a deal from the Los Angeles Kings at mid-season, scored 18 goals and added 30 assists with LA and New York, 20 of those points coming in 29 contests after his trade to the Rangers, making his value as a checking-line player skyrocket.
Speaking of LA, the Kings will have a difficult case in Mike Cammalleri.
Coming off a career year, the 25-year old tallied 34 goals and added 46 assists to lead the Kings, his salary projects to be upwards of $4 million, and his best-case scenario would likely be a salary of $5 million, though, at this point of his career, the Kings better hope it's a multi-year deal for that kind of money.
The Islanders have scoring centre Trent Hunter heading into arbitration, and the veteran shouldn't be too expensive.
Coming off a 20-goal and 35 point campaign, Hunter is likely to get a deal within the likes of $1 and $1.8 million.
Michael Ryder, a potential 40, maybe even 50 goal scorer for the Canadiens, is scheduled for arbitration on July 30, same as Sean Avery.
Ryder had an up-and-down season in Montreal, potting 30 goals and adding 28 helpers for a respectable 58 points.
The downside? A horrendous -25 rating and a decrease in consistency could hurt Ryder's value when it comes time to talk turkey.
Still relatively young at age 27, Ryder still has the time to fully break out into the 40-goal scorer he was projected to become, although he may prove to be pricey when this is all said and done.
Ryder made $2.2 million last season and is expected to once again, get a raise from that.
Often criticized of being a one-dimensional player, Ryder actually evolved into a penalty-killing role last season despite putting up a +/- rating of -25.
He is a key component of Montreal's already borderline offence, a salary of $3 million sounds reasonable.
I have long suggested the Canadiens should do a kind of sign-and-trade of Ryder in order to acquire that star player the Canadiens have longed for, someone like Patrick Marleau.
Besides Ryder, there isn't anyone the Habs could realistically trade that has good value without jeopardizing the club's future (Carey Price, Chris Higgins, Andrei Kostitsyn, Guillaume Latendresse).
Lee Stempniak, the 24-year old scoring sensation out of Darthmouth University in New Hampshire, is the kind of player the Blues need to lock up for a long time.
Stempniak scored 27 goals and 52 points in only his second pro NHL season!
He will likely get a deal done that will pay him between $2 and $3.5 million
And that's all folks, hope you enjoyed BBeR's preview of this year's arbitration saga, which is shaping up to be an intriguing one in many ways!
This took me a long time to write, with only statistics and salary numbers being available to me, I have yet to find a decent list/preview of all this out there, so I decided to write one up myself!
-In goalite news, the Blues have acquired goalie Hannu Toivonen from the Boston Bruins in exchange for centre Carl Soderberg.
Toivonen had a terrible 2005-2006 campaign after a spectacular rookie season, a trade was expected with the B's acquisition of Manny Fernandez from the Wild.
-Some more goalie talk, Brian Boucher is heading back to where he started, signing a one-year minor-league deal with the Flyers' farm club, the Philadelphia Phantoms.