Friday, June 13, 2008

Pens elect arbitration for Fleury

The Pittsburgh Penguins have elected to take goaltender (and impending RFA) Marc-Andre Fleury to salary arbitration. It's not that Fleury isn't worth the $1+ million qualifying offer he would otherwise be owed. GM Ray Shero is sending a clear message: "Kevin Lowe, you won't be shopping for a no. 1 netminder here."

Owners fought hard for club-elected salary arbitration in the new (is it still new?) CBA. Nothing's worse than having to decide whether to commit to overpaying a RFA another year or let the player walk and get nothing in return. Bryan Murray faced that question twice when he was GM in Anaheim. If only he could have taken Paul Kariya to arbitration.

Club-elected salary arbitration has another added benefit. The player cannot be tendered an offer sheet by another team. That buys some more time after the July 1st free agency deadline to negotiate without fear another GM will poach your guy - or at least drive his price up. Worse case, it goes to arbitration, some not so nice things are said, and the player's under contract for at least another year.

But beware, taking a player to arbitration now may screw you later. A player can only be subject to club-elected arbitration once in his career. If Shero doesn't come to terms with Fleury on a contract which extends to UFA eligibility, he can't pull this trick again next time...and Fleury knows it (or at least his agent does).

Also, a club can only exercise their right to arbitration twice per year. Shero's other RFAs this summer (Tim Brent, Jonathan Filewich, Ryan Stone) are hardly being drooled over by the league's other GMs. Next year, however, Pittsburgh has Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Maxime Talbot and Tyler Kennedy scheduled to become RFAs. Shero will need to spend most of next season negotiating contract extensions, as he did with franchise player Sidney Crosby this last year, to keep his stable of young talent in the fold.

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