NHL Arbitration: Time to Change?

Take a leaf out of the baseball ‘final offer’ playbook and apply it to the NHL’s arbitration, says one Canadian Sports commentator.

TSN’s Gord Miller suggests that it’s high time for the National Hockey League to consider a drastic change to how it arbitrates over salary disputes between players and their teams.

It’s especially significant given the gaps in amounts that teams are offering and the players are expecting and issues over exceeding salary caps.

With almost two dozen players having asked the National Hockey League for arbitration hearings over salary disputes with their teams this offseason, is it time for change?

What’s Miller saying?

With the beginning of the NHL’s arbitration period last Thursday, the TSN NHL and International Hockey Commentator suggested that the league ‘needs baseball-style “final offer” arbitration’.

In his social post he continued:

‘Each side submits a number, the arbitrator chooses one.  That stops the “low ball/high ball” positions.’

Why was he saying it?

2PTDN2H Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov makes a save against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period of Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series Thursday, April 27, 2023, in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)

Miller’s proposal sparks from the then news that Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Ilya Samsonov had asked for a hearing in which he filed for $4.9M per season, going into 2023/24.

Leafs would only offer him $2.4M.

It would be up to the NHL arbiter to decide how much the team should pay the goalie.

The result

The judgment from the arbiter was that the Toronto Maple Leafs should give Samsonov a one-year contract worth $3.55M.

Essentially, the arbiter ‘split the difference’ right down the middle between the offer and request and awarded something that wasn’t Samsonov’s high ball and was certainly not Leafs’ low ball.

This has more consequences which we’ll get to later.

What is baseball arbitration?

While the attitude of ‘split the difference’ appears fair for both parties, the baseball arbitration or ‘final offer’ is different.

It’s less about a satisfactory middle ground and more about choosing one or other offer based on the issues of the case.

There are no compromises, no middle ground, there is only Option A or Option B. Both sides submit a figure or reasonable remedy and the arbiter picks one based on the facts.

Proponents of baseball arbitration, say that it actually forces both parties to either settle on an amicable agreement before it reaches the arbiter or to develop a reasonable enough proposal based on the facts.

The more extreme and unreasonable the offer can be deemed by the arbiter, the less likely they will choose it.

What’s in place currently?

2MBM4YT Detroit Red Wings left wing Tyler Bertuzzi plays during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, April 17, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The NHL’s collective bargaining agreement of 2020 outlined that both sides need to seek an agreement as soon as possible.

They are not allowed to continue negotiations during or after the arbitration.

That meant that in the three years which followed, there were only two hearings; the first with Tyler Bertuzzi’s cap hit from $1.4M to $3.5M with the Detroit Red Wings.

There was also the Yakov Trenin’s fight with Nashville Predators to increase his salary from $725K to a two-year deal of $1.7M per season.


There were 22 cases filed to the NHL arbiter from players dissatisfied with salary expectations and offers, but interestingly only two of the cases have been HEARD and arbitrated.

The first of those being the Samsonov – Toronto Maple Leafs. The second involves Phillipp Kurashev asking for Chicago Blackhawks for $2.65M instead of the $1.4M the team offered.

The arbiter did the same as the Leafs arbitration and awarded Kurashev a $2.25M contract but allowed Blackhawks to dictate how many years on the contract.

Still outstanding?

There are still seven arbitration cases that are still unsettled and could go to hearings between July 30th and August 4th.

Among them are the filings by the Boston Bruins’ Jeremy Swayman and Arizona Coyotes’ Jack McBain.

The Schedule

2MBFA0K Minnesota Wild’s Brandon Duhaime (21) skates against the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Here’s the most updated look at which cases have been filed, have been HEARD yet to be heard or have already been SETTLED (as of July 25th)

20 July:

Philipp Kurashev (HEARD $2.25M yrs TBD by Blackhawks)

Brandon Duhaime (settled 1yr – @ $1.1M per season)

Alexei Toropchenko (settled 2yr – @ $1.25M per season)

Noah Cates (settled 2yr – @ $2.625M per season)

21 July:

Ilya Samsonov (HEARD 1yr @ $3.55M)

24 July:

Brett Howden (settled 2yr @ $1.9M per season)

Vince Dunn (settled 4yr – @ $7.35M per season)

Tanner Jeannot (settled 2yr – @$2.665M per season)

26 July:

Ian Mitchell (settled 1yr – @$775K per season)

Will Borgen (settled 2yr – @$2.7M per season)

27 July:

Ross Colton (settled 4yr – @$4M per season)

28 July:

Gabriel Vilardi (settled 2yr – @$3.437,500 per season)

Cale Fleury (settled 2yr – @$800K per season)

30 July:

Jeremy Swayman

Jack McBain

31 July:

2M9WN62 Ottawa Senators’ Alex DeBrincat plays during an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Alex DeBrincat (settled 4yr – @$7.875M per season)

1 August:

Trent Frederic

2 August:

Morgan Barron (settled 2yr – @$1.35M per season)

Troy Terry

4 August:

Ryan McLeod  

Brandon Scanlin

Filip Gustavsson

Drew O’Connor

What’s interesting to note is that the remaining 13 cases above, were all settled without the arbiter.

That suggests that the system is very likely working and such a drastic baseball style arbitration isn’t really needed.

The consequences

2MA30WA Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov is scored on by Los Angeles Kings center Adrian Kempe during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

While it seems fair and reasonable for the arbiter to ‘split the difference’ down the middle of both offer and request, what happens in the event of salary cap issues?

That’s the other half of the Samsonov – Toronto Maple Leafs story.

The NHL ruling on Samsonov’s salary now puts extra pressure on Toronto Maple Leafs’ already ballooning salary cap.

At the time of writing, the Toronto Maple Leafs are now facing a projected overspill of over $12M. That exceeds the $83.5M which teams are expected to comply with their roster of players going into the new season.

Matthews – Nylander

They’re still negotiating deals with two of their core-4 forwards, Auston Matthews and William Nylander.

While it looks like the Matthews deal could be ending on a $13.5M per season with an ‘as yet’ undisclosed duration, the Leafs have been reluctant to agree to Nylander’s $10M+ aspirations.

News at the time of writing suggest an old rumour about the possibility of Nashville Predators being a possible route for the Swede, have resurfaced.

This is also while the Leafs have signed one-year deals with the likes of Max Domi ($3M) and Tyler Bertuzzi ($5.5M), players viewed as suitable replacements for Nylander.

Posted on: 25 Jul 2023