For the last decade or so, very few restricted free agents and general managers across the National Hockey League have reached the arbitration table. Last year alone, all 25 cases were settled before reaching an independent negotiator.
To date, each player eligible for arbitration reached a deal before a decision from that neutral arbitrator. Last week, Tomas Tatar and the Red Wings agreed to a new four-year deal worth $5.3 million per season. On Tuesday, the Rangers and Mika Zibanejad also avoided the arbitrator’s table and agreed to a five-year contract worth $5.35 million per season.
Barring any last minute deal, Ryan Spooner and the Bruins, are set to have their hearing with an arbitrator on Wednesday. Both have put their offers on the table.
As first tweeted by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Bruins have put an offer of $2 million on the table. Spooner’s camp countered with their offer of $3.85 million.
With the sides nearly $2 million apart there’s a reason to think that the Spooner case will make its case to their neutral arbitrator. In the cases of the two most recent settlements, Zibanejad and Tatar, the difference was a little over $1 million.
Given the track records of Zibanejad and Tatar, both the Rangers and Red Wings saw their two mid-20’s forwards in their future plans. Even in a down year in Detroit, Tatar finished his third straight season of 20 or more goals, while Zibanejad tallied 37 points in 56 games in his first season on Broadway after being acquired from Ottawa last off-season.
Spooner, who had a 10-point dropoff a year ago after tallying a career high 49 points in 2015-16 – and was a healthy scratch in the Bruins’ last two games of their first round series with the Senators – doesn’t have near the track record as the aforementioned players. Even though he showed glimpses of potential, the 2010 second round pick is still searching for consistency and develop into a solid three-zone player.
Though Spooner was supposed to benefit from the firing of Claude Julien in February, he didn’t. In the last 24 regular season games under Bruce Cassidy, Spooner tallied 12 points and only saw 15 or more minutes of ice time on five occasions. Even though he had a pair of assists in four postseason games, his ice time decreased with each contest.
On the flip side, Spooner has solidified one of the two point spots – along with Torey Krug – on the Bruins’ top power play unit over the past couple of years. Of his 88 points over the last two seasons, 35 have come with the man advantage (9 goals, 26 assists). Yes, there’s a chance that Charlie McAvoy could fill that potential vacancy, but there’s no denying that Spooner has been one of the top producers for a Bruins power play that ranks fourth in the league in success rate over the past two years, trailing only the Capitals, Sabres and Blues in that span.
Even with the talent in the pipeline, there’s also the case of keeping Spooner for one more year based on the depth in center. Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson would be the ideal candidate to replace Spooner on the third line. Whether or not the Bruins think the former Boston University is ready to take on the 82-game slate – especially after not reporting to Providence during their Calder Cup run – is another story.
They may not be interested in keeping him long-term, but there may be a benefit to keeping Spooner on a one-year deal depending on any potential arbitration outcome. Given the impending David Pastrnak contract extension, Spooner’s credentials and the two sides being far apart in salary agreement, the odds of the Bruins moving on from the speedy forward continue to increase.
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