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 CapFriendly.com, sorted by arbitration hearing dates.
|Player||Elected By||Team||Hearing Date||Signing Date||Contract|
|Brandon Carlo||Team||BOS||–||Jul 14||6 x $4,100,000|
|Michael McNiven||Player||MTL||Aug 11||Aug 6||1 x $750,000|
|Adam Pelech||Player||NYI||Aug 11||Aug 6||8 x $5,750,000|
|Jakub Vrana||Player||DET||Aug 11||Aug 10||3 x $5,250,000|
|Victor Mete||Player||OTT||Aug 12||Aug 4||1 x $1,200,000|
|Neal Pionk||Player||WPG||Aug 13||Aug 11||4 x $5,875,000|
|Vince Dunn||Player||SEA||Aug 14||Aug 6||2 x $4,000,000|
|Zach Sanford||Player||STL||Aug 14||Aug 4||1 x $2,000,000|
|Ross Colton||Player||TBL||Aug 16||Aug 9||2 x $1,125,000|
|Adin Hill||Player||SJS||Aug 16||Aug 4||2 x $2,175,000|
|Kevin Fiala||Team||MIN||Aug 17||Aug 16||1 x $5,100,000|
|Juuse Saros||Player||NSH||Aug 18||Aug 16||4 x $5,000,000|
|Jason Dickinson||Player||VAN||Aug 20||Aug 14||3 x $2,650,000|
|Dante Fabbro||Player||NSH||Aug 20||Aug 5||2 x $2,400,000|
|Adam Erne||Player||DET||Aug 21||Aug 15||2 x $2,100,000|
|Dennis Gilbert||Player||COL||Aug 21||Aug 16||1 x $750,000|
|Zach Aston-Reese||Player||PIT||Aug 23||Aug 5||1 x $1,725,000|
|Andrew Copp||Player||WPG||Aug 26||Aug 12||1 x $3,640,000|
|Travis Sanheim||Team||PHI||Aug 26||Aug 21||2 x $4,675,000|
|Nikita Zadorov||Player||CGY||Aug 26||Aug 20||1 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.
|2014||WPG – Michael Frolik|
COL – Ryan O’Reilly
STL – Vladimir Sobotka
|2015||TOR – Jonathan Bernier|
EDM – Justin Schultz
|2016||DET – Petr Mrazek|
|2021||BOS – 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.