By Roland Alonzi – The 2015-16 Philadelphia Flyers defense has started to take shape. Gone are longtime Flyers defensemen Braydon Coburn (traded to Tampa Bay), Kimmo Timonen (traded to Chicago) and Nicklas Grossman (traded to Arizona, along with Chris Pronger’s contract).

New faces include KHL all-star defenseman Evgeny Medvedev, Radko Gudas (acquired in the Coburn trade with Tampa Bay) and of course, the Flyers top pick at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Ivan Provorov.

The Flyers incumbents on the blue line include Mark Streit, Luke Schenn, Andrew McDonald, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning and 25 year-old Michael Del Zotto, who recently filed for a salary arbitration hearing.

Del Zotto was signed to a one-year contract for $1.3 million last off-season, when the Flyers learned that Kimmo Timonen would be out indefinitely due to blood clots in his legs and lungs.

Del Zotto played 64 games in 2014-15, registering 10 goals and 32 points, with a minus 5 rating while averaging 21:55 TOI per game. He was one of the team’s best defenseman last season, which isn’t saying much about the team’s defense.

New head coach Dave Hakstol is implementing a system that relies upon mobile, puck-moving defensemen. That is Del Zotto. He is an excellent puck mover, possesses an accurate shot, and is a good skater. He has been getting better with recognizing when he needs to join the rush. He struggled defensively last season, but markedly improved starting after the Christmas break.

“I love it here. I want to stay here. Closest group of guys I’ve ever played with. I truly do believe in the group we have here moving forward. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to [Ron Hextall] and my agents getting something that’s going to be fair for both sides,” Del Zotto said during exit interviews earlier this spring.

It is a crowded group already. Among the current crop of defensemen, we figure that Luke Schenn is the most likely candidate to be traded before opening night. Yes, we would love to trade MacDonald, but his contract will make that an unlikely scenario. Schenn’s contract ($3.5M cap hit) expires this season, making him much more attractive to a team.

Then consider that there needs to be a spot for one or two of the young prospects who are banging on the door.

Provorov immediately became their top defensive prospect and the closest of the “Big Four” (“Big Five?”) defensive prospects – Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg – to being NHL ready. Sanheim is said to be close, as well. Gostisbehere is recovering from his mid season ACL tear with the Phantoms last season.

With D Michael del Zotto filing for free agency, we decided to take a look at the National Hockey League’s arbitration process. Though we fully expect Del Zotto to sign a long-term contract before the arbitration hearing date, the fact that he filed has fans asking a lot of great questions about how arbitration works.

Here are a few frequently asked questions about the NHL Salary Arbitration process and the implications it may have on the Michael Del Zotto and the 22 other NHL players who have arbitration hearings scheduled from July 20 to August 4.

What is salary arbitration?

When a restricted free agent (RFA) gains a certain amount professional hockey experience, salary arbitration, collectively bargained by the union, becomes one of the player tools that can be used to gain leverage.

Why does a player initiate the arbitration process?

The end game when a RFA files for arbitration is not to get a one or two-year deal for a large amount of money. Rather, the process is set in motion in order for a player agent to put some pressure on a team to get a long-term deal at a favorable salary.

Why are most cases settled before the hearing?

Arbitration proceedings can be more messy and acrimonious than most divorce cases, which is why deals are usually hammered out before the actual proceeding. Why are they messy? Well, a team has to outline why a player is not worth what they think they are entitled to. There can be some hurt feelings on the player side.

What is the basic procedure for the process?

When a player files for arbitration, the league schedules a hearing, and a neutral third party arbitrator is assigned for the hearing. The team and player both exchange briefs with proposed salary figures no sooner than 48 hours prior to the hearing. At the hearing itself, both the player and the team have 90 minutes to make their case. Article 12.9 (k) in the NHL/NHLPA collective bargaining agreement (CBA) lays out the rules for the arbitration process. At the conclusion of the hearing, the arbitrator simultaneously issues a binding decision to both sides within 48 hours. The decision usually includes the term of the contract, player salary and a brief summary of the decision.

What happens if one party is not happy with the decision?

Teams have the option of “walking away” from an arbitration award exceeding $3.5 million if the arbitration process was initiated by the player. However, teams can’t walk away from a salary arbitration hearing they initiated. So in MDZ’s case, the Flyers could walk away from the award if it is higher than $3.5M. In this case, del Zotto becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and is free to sign with any team.

How long are the contracts awarded in arbitration?

The team gets to decide either a one or two-year contract term in player initiated arbitration hearings. The player can choose the term when the team initiates the arbitration hearing. Since Del Zotto’s camp initiated the arbitration hearing, the Flyers will choose a term for the contract, if awarded.

We expect Del Zotto’s contract situation to be resolved in the next two weeks. Of all the arbitration hearings set in the past two seasons, none have gone through to the actual hearing.

According to Hextall, arbitration hearings are usually used to spur negotiations and get a long-term deal signed. “The filing is procedural,” Hextall said of Del Zotto’s filing. “We hope to get a deal done [before the hearing].”

We think Del Zotto will eventually sign a three or four year deal in the $3M to $3.25M range.

It’s going to be an interesting couple of weeks.

 

 

Roland Alonzi

Public relations executive by career, hockey addict at heart. Give me a Gordie Howe hat trick any day and you get the first star of the night.

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