Calgary Flames

2021 NHL arbitrations had a rare result not seen in years

The 2021 NHL offseason has been one like no other. With a shortened timeline due to scheduling and the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, there has been no shortage of chaos—at least until free agent frenzy settled down. At this point in the summer though, teams are slower in their actions as they prepare for the next season. One aspect that affects most teams revolve around arbitration filings and hearings. This offseason saw a unique outcome that hasn’t happened since 2013.

2021 NHL arbitrations outcomes

In 2021, 20 different arbitrations were filed—17 player-elected, and 3 team-elected. Below are the arbitration filings as per, sorted by arbitration hearing dates.

PlayerElected ByTeamHearing DateSigning DateContract
Brandon CarloTeamBOSJul 146 x $4,100,000
Michael McNivenPlayerMTLAug 11Aug 61 x $750,000
Adam PelechPlayerNYIAug 11Aug 68 x $5,750,000
Jakub VranaPlayerDETAug 11Aug 103 x $5,250,000
Victor MetePlayerOTTAug 12Aug 41 x $1,200,000
Neal PionkPlayerWPGAug 13Aug 114 x $5,875,000
Vince DunnPlayerSEAAug 14Aug 62 x $4,000,000
Zach SanfordPlayerSTLAug 14Aug 41 x $2,000,000
Ross ColtonPlayerTBLAug 16Aug 92 x $1,125,000
Adin HillPlayerSJSAug 16Aug 42 x $2,175,000
Kevin FialaTeamMINAug 17Aug 161 x $5,100,000
Juuse SarosPlayerNSHAug 18Aug 164 x $5,000,000
Jason DickinsonPlayerVANAug 20Aug 143 x $2,650,000
Dante FabbroPlayerNSHAug 20Aug 52 x $2,400,000
Adam ErnePlayerDETAug 21Aug 152 x $2,100,000
Dennis GilbertPlayerCOLAug 21Aug 161 x $750,000
Zach Aston-ReesePlayerPITAug 23Aug 51 x $1,725,000
Andrew CoppPlayerWPGAug 26Aug 121 x $3,640,000
Travis SanheimTeamPHIAug 26Aug 212 x $4,675,000
Nikita ZadorovPlayerCGYAug 26Aug 201 x $3,750,000

As seen, every single player and team came to an agreement prior to the scheduled hearings. Brandon Carlo and the Boston Bruins even came to an agreement before hearing dates were announced.

Arbitration dust settled early

For all filed arbitrations to completely settle even before a single hearing occurred is a huge rarity in the NHL. Often, at least one or two hearings would be held even if clubs and players end up settling before the verdict, or the parties would let the verdict end up dictating the terms too.

The current scenario in the NHL with the flat salary cap set at $81.5M pushed the desire for mutual agreements before arbitration rulings, as a ruling going the wrong way could have severely hindered a team’s salary cap situation. Seeing all teams involved in arbitrations finding a way to settle reflects an urgency with respect to cap management that hasn’t been seen in a long time.

No arbitration hearings required

The last time that a full slate of arbitration hearings settled before a single hearing was all the way back in 2013, the first offseason after the 2012–13 lockout where the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement was renegotiated between the league and the NHLPA. That year, 21 player-elected arbitrations were filed, 10 of which were resolved before hearings were scheduled.

It took eight seasons before such a result occurred again. Back in 2013, the outcomes were likely driven by the lockout season having different effects on cap management. Most were settled with short-term contracts, with only four contracts being five years or longer: Josh Bailey agreed to a five-year, $3.3M average annual value (AAV) contract; Bryan Little at five years, $5.7M AAV; Blake Wheeler at six years, $5.6M AAV, and Zach Bogosian at seven years, $5,142,857 AAV. The Winnipeg Jets were clearly committing to their core with the latter three (and also settled with Paul Postma and Eric Tangradi).

Heading back to the present, there were only two contracts that were at least five years long. Carlo at six years and Adam Pelech at eight years. Most settlements in 2021 were also short-term, but a handful saw contract lengths of four years as well. Regardless of term, seeing 20 filings resolve with no hearings was a bit unexpected.

That being said, during the 2020 offseason, there were 26 player-elected arbitration filings. It came close to not needing hearings as well, as all but one case were settled prior to scheduled hearings. Tyler Bertuzzi and the Detroit Red Wings went through the full process and the Red Wings upheld the verdict that awarded Bertuzzi a one-year contract worth $3.5 M. The flat cap and pandemic definitely shifted contract negotiations over the past two years.

More arbitration rarities

This year’s slate of arbitration outcomes was unique enough with the complete absence of hearings, but another rare occurrence lined up: Three teams elected to file for arbitration. The thing is, team-elected arbitrations don’t happen often. Here’s the list of all team-elected filings between 2013 (for a similar timeframe as above) and 2021.

OffseasonTeam-Elected Arbitrations
2014WPG – Michael Frolik
COL – Ryan O’Reilly
STL – Vladimir Sobotka
2015TOR – Jonathan Bernier
EDM – Justin Schultz
2016DET – Petr Mrazek
2019Ville Husso
2021BOS – Brandon Carlo
MIN – Kevin Fiala
PHI – Travis Sanheim

This route is often avoided by teams, with only two instances occurring in the five offseasons prior to this one. Yet, three different teams went this way in 2021 and all of them were able to settle.

Onwards to regular season hockey

Arbitrators had an easy job this year as all arbitration filings were promptly resolved between teams and their players. The reality of the situation was that the pandemic led to unique strains in salary management for clubs and players alike. Now that this portion of the offseason has concluded, teams can turn their full attention to the 2021–22 season, as preparations for training camp will soon begin.

Whether teams will continue to tweak their roster and make big trades remains to be known, but at the very least rosters are becoming more clear with each passing day. As the league returns to a full season with all teams facing off against each other at least twice, it’ll be fascinating to tune in and see how these rosters once again stack up against each other at a league level rather than just within unique divisions never to be seen again.

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