Player-elected salary arbitration and Mark Fraser

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The Leafs had a quiet weekend after a very busy Friday, but yesterday it popped up that Mark Fraser has perhaps filed for salary arbitration, which is an interesting move on his part. Fraser took the New Jersey Devils to arbitration in 2010 and won settled for $500k, so knowing he’s the son of an Ontario judge, we can spin in some wacky story about how Fraser loves courtrooms and the law and if he hadn’t been a hockey player would have been a lawyer.

I didn’t post anything on this yesterday because I wanted to read through the relevant Collective Bargaining Agreement sections on player-elected arbitration. Nothing has been announced yet, but other than the Jarome Iginla deadline mess, Aaron Ward is rarely wrong, so let’s just work under this assumption.

So two relevant sections right off the hop. The first is Article 10.2:

(B) Notwithstanding the foregoing, if a Group 2 Player requests salary arbitration, or a Club requests salary arbitration, pursuant to Article 12, such Player will not be eligible to negotiate with any Club other than his Prior Club or sign an Offer Sheet pursuant to this Article 10, except as provided in Sections 12.3(a) and 12.10.

And this is Article 12.9:

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The party against whom a salary arbitration election was filed (i.e., the Club in Player-elected salary arbitration and the Player in Club-elected salary arbitration) shall elect in its brief whether the salary arbitration award shall be for a one or two-year SPC. Failure to make such an election shall be deemed to constitute an election for a one-year SPC. Notwithstanding the foregoing: (i) the Club or the Player, as the case may be, shall be entitled to elect only a one- year SPC if the Player is within one (1) year of attaining the age and experience level required for Group 3 Player status; and (ii) if the Player has attained or is within one (1) year of attaining the experience level required for Group 5 Player status and the Club has elected a two-year SPC, the Player may, at the end of the first year of such SPC, elect to void the second year of the SPC if the Player’s Paragraph 1 NHL Salary for the first League Year of such SPC is less than the Average League Salary for such League Year and, upon making such election, such Player shall (if he otherwise qualifies at such time) become a Group 5 Player and be entitled to the rights set out in Section 10.1(b).

For our purposes, I think it’s obvious why player-elected arbitration is a little rarer than club-elected arbitration (although I admit that’s just anecdotal evidence). If I’m a free agent I think I’d prefer to max out on term rather than dollars, but the rules seem to lean towards giving players one-year deals. UPDATE: Twitter dot com’s @abrarhuq tells me that player-elected arbitration is much more common than club-elected.

Fraser, coming off his age 26 season, is just one year away from becoming a Group 3 player but has only accrued seven professional seasons, so he still has a little ways to go before qualifying as a Group 5 player which is a player that has 10 years of professional experience. That said, I don’t think that the Maple Leafs would have too much of a desire to let an arbitrator decide how much they’re going to pay Fraser for longer than a year.

He has not lost his right to negotiate an extension with the Leafs, but Dave Nonis doesn’t have a whole lot of leverage here. He could if there was a chance that the Maple Leafs could walk away from the arbitrator’s decision. This is per Article 12.10:

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(a) If a Club has elected to arbitrate a one-year SPC, and the award issued is for $3,500,000 or more per annum, then the Club may, within forty-eight (48) hours after the award of the Salary Arbitrator is issued (or, if a Club has any other Player still eligible for salary arbitration at that time and for whom a decision has not been rendered by a Salary Arbitrator at that time, and the Club still has a walk-away right available to it in such League Year pursuant to paragraph (c) below, forty-eight (48) hours after the award of the Salary Arbitrator for such other Player is issued or that Player’s salary arbitration case is settled), notify the Player or his Certified Agent, if any, the NHLPA and the NHL in writing, in accordance with Exhibit 3 hereof, that it does not intend to tender to the Player an SPC based on the award as determined by the Salary Arbitrator. Upon receipt of that notice, the Player shall automatically be deemed to be an Unrestricted Free Agent.

I haven’t dipped too much into comparable players that Fraser could argue for himself just yet, but I don’t think that there’s a case to have him land more than $3.5-million, which means that the Leafs are pretty much going to be stuck with what will be an elevated salary. There isn’t much of a case against Mark Fraser. While he’s little more than a 7th defenceman, he was still second in the NHL in plus/minus this season and led the Maple Leafs’ defence in blocked shots.

Fraser didn’t perform well-enough to have that +18 number. His individual PDO (addition of team shooting and team save percentages at even strength with the player on the ice) of 107.3 and a point away from leading the NHL. PDO is important to consider when evaluating small-sample results since it isn’t exactly repeatable, but it is also simply a number used in various corners of the Internet and far from being an official NHL statistic.

The statistics, per Article 12.9, that can be used for or against Fraser relative to any aspect of Player performance must be “kept or maintained by the League” or “retained by any Club.” That basically means the NHL’s RTSS data like hits, blocks and giveaways, but that sort of stuff is both inconsistent and bad. Hilariously, giveaways are slightly more predictive of wins than takeaways, although not to any significant degree. Still, it doesn’t take a genius to note that RTSS data is flawed, but that’s the stuff the NHL keeps.

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The team can’t use newspaper testimonials, the team’s cap situation or Fraser’s negotiation and contract history with the Leafs. Basically, it comes down to identifying comparable players. I’ve yet to go through that, but Fraser seems like he has a pretty good case to make a couple of million bucks. LIke I mentioned, he’s second in plus/minus among defence, 15th in blocked shots, second in hits, and first in penalty minutes. There’s a fun excerpt from Avery v. New York Rangers in a post from Travis Yost about the broken arbitration system, where “the player argues that his high PIM total is a mere reflection of his aggressive, physical style”.

Yost notes that some arbitrators prefer comparable players, while some prefer statistics. If it’s the latter, the Leafs are in some trouble.

Having never built an arbitration case before (here’s an interesting mock arbitration from Canucks Army writer Jeff Angus, who had to negotiate against Brian Burke) I wouldn’t know where to first search for comparable players, but given what the CBA says counts as admissible and inadmissible, Fraser’s got a pretty good case he can build. It will be a one-year deal, but I think he could break a million bucks easy. The Leafs would save $925k on his salary cap hit if they sent him down to the minors, but with Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, Joe Colborne and Carl Gunnarsson still unsigned, this could be a problem. They only have $10.3-million to sign those five players and upgrade the blue line.

Not to say that Fraser’s bulletproof, because he was 9th on the Leafs in ice-time and just 5th in ice-time per game among left shooting defencemen, you could make the argument that he’s just a depth guy and not deserving of a million a year. It will come down to what the arbitrator weighs as more meaningful, ice-time or the RTSS “results” and the decision could be hazardous to the Leafs.

Then again, since Fraser is allowed to negotiate with the team right up until the hearing, perhaps this is a negotiating chip by Fraser to secure a multi-year deal. That may be the Leafs’ best chance at ensuring that Fraser comes out of this with a low cap-hit.

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  • Thanks for this. I’m not really a stats guru, but I think cases like Fraser show the weakness of relying on numbers like +/-, which only paint part of the picture. I wonder if the Leafs have their own analytics person who’d be able to parse the raw data into a more complete image of Fraser’s performance.

  • The problem is that it doesn’t matter if the Leafs hired every analytics blogger in the world: their arguments would be inadmissible. That mock arbitration is instructive as it shows how hilariously they approach the argument. It’s quite constrictive and I think it’s quite easy to see a way that Fraser gets a ridiculous contract from the arbitrator.

  • Another stupid move by Nonis. Fraser is a core piece of the leafs defence who will get awarde Mcdonaugh money. This gaffe by Nonis is truly fire worthy. Nonis is surpassing Feaster in ineptitude as a GM.

    Leafs will lose a cost contained cheap asset because of the arbitration and will have to endure Carlyle pairing Phaneuf with Holzer.

    Leaf fans need to rise up and protest in front of MLSE front office to fire Nonis before he does anything more damaging to the franchise.

  • caper7

    Really enjoyed Fraser’s work last season. Does not skate that well but makes up for that with smart positioning. He knows where he has to be at all times. Excellent in his own zone. Not to mention the toughness he brings to the table. Something that if he leaves will be lacking on the back end. Nonis better get this done. He is a bargain for what he does.

  • MaxPower417

    Multiple millions for Fraser? I really really hope the artbritor focuses on comparable players and ice time because that kind of awarded salary is going to hamstring the team in signing the rest of the RFA’s.

  • Also, to Mark Milner, Max Power, Cam, and anyone else worried +/- and RTSS stats might have a bearing on this:

    “To debunk one common mistake, plus-minus has been abandoned by arbitrators. As have hits, blocked shots, giveaways and takeaways. Basically all the stats we mock for their inconsistency are not even considered. How the actual comparisons work is crazy simple. For forwards and offensive defensemen, arbitrators will usually just rank the players based on points per game. For defensive defensemen, they rank them based on time on ice.”

    Source: Derek Marr, a lawyer with experience in NHL arbitration cases.

  • Jay? Fraser was a plus 18..did you read the article above…lots of hits, blocked shots…I think Fraser was a unsung hero on the team last year..i always felt comfortable with Fraser and Franson on the ice last year unlike Phaneuf and Holzer/gunnarson…little things that don’t show up on scoresheets matter to win games..people fall in love with dions slapshot and his flash but don’t see the value in a guy like Mark fraser…Nonis should sign him for cheap and isn’t too bright if they let him walk