Arbitration eligibility clouds negotiations with Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu

In all, eight players and prospects are eligible for arbitration this year.

The Montreal Canadiens have 13 pending restricted free agents as July 1 approaches. In order to retain their rights, the team will have to present a qualifying offer to each player by 5:00 PM ET on June 25.

A qualifying offer is the starting point for negotiations with these players. Normally RFAs have little leverage in negotiations and typically just sign these offers, but certain RFAs will have arbitration rights, which complicates the negotiation process for the team. The eight restricted free agents in the Canadiens organization with arbitration rights are:

  • Alex Galchenyuk
  • Nathan Beaulieu
  • Nikita Nesterov
  • Stefan Matteau
  • Keegan Lowe
  • Ryan Johnston
  • Mark MacMillan
  • Joel Hanley/

When does a player become arbitration eligible?

It all comes down to how old a player was when they signed their first professional contract, and how many seasons they have played since then. Section 12.1 of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement breaks it down as follows:

The majority of the players who are arbitration eligible signed entry-level contracts when they were 18 to 20, and now have four years of professional experience. Johnston and MacMillan signed their entry-level deals at the age of 23 when they completed their four years in the NCAA. Hanley signed his first pro deal with the Canadiens at 24 years old, and was arbitration eligible last season as well, but managed to come to terms on a second one-year deal without going through the process.

Who can trigger request for salary arbitration?

Either the player can trigger a request for salary arbitration, or the team can do so in certain situations.

  • The deadline for a player to elect salary arbitration is 5:00 PM ET on July 5
  • The deadline for a team to elect salary arbitration is 5:00 PM on July 15/

P.K. Subban and Lars Eller both filed for arbitration back in 2014, although Eller agreed to a contract before the hearing, Subban’s was a much more contentious case, which ended up being settled after the arbitration hearing, but prior to the arbitrator giving a decision.

Teams can either forego a qualifying offer entirely and go straight to arbitration for players whose salary reached a certain threshold the previous season. In the case where a player rejects a qualifying offer, the team can then elect to go to arbitration as well.

Team-elected arbitration happens less often, as has not happened with the Canadiens in the Marc Bergevin era. The Detroit Red Wings went that route last season with goaltender Petr Mrazek.

What can we expect this year?

For the most part the team will manage to avoid arbitration for the majority of these eight players, either by offering them a slight bump in salary beyond the required 10% in the qualifying offer, or in the case of MacMillan, Lowe, and Hanley, perhaps simply not qualify them at all and allow them to become unrestricted free agents. The Canadiens will probably jettison any restricted free agents who they don’t see developing any further in the organization, as they did last season when they released a bevy of players from the AHL affiliate.

Obviously Galchenyuk and Beaulieu are the two big names in this group. Negotiations with these two players are reportedly slow to start, and you can assume that Bergevin is waiting for the expansion draft to shake out first, and then will give them qualifying offers to begin negotiations.

The qualifying offer for both those players will be one-year contracts at 100% of the previous year’s salary. Beaulieu will receive a $1,000,000 offer and Galchenyuk will receive a $2,800,000 offer.

It’s clear that both players will want a significant increase over those salaries, but given their recent struggles will probably fail to easily convince the Canadiens that they deserve a raise. That is why I expect both of them to use the one leverage device available to them and elect to go for arbitration.

Should it go in front of an arbitrator for a ruling, the Canadiens will have the option of signing a one- or two-year deal. Both Beaulieu and Galchenyuk are two seasons away from unrestricted free agency.

Arbitrations are of course very contentious affairs, involving the team dressing down the player in person, knocking him for every failing and flaw he has. This obviously affects long-term relationships with the organization.

Just look at the cases of Eller and Subban, who were both gone from the team two years after their decision to file for arbitration. This is a fact that Beaulieu and Galchenyuk will have to keep in the back of their minds as they make their decision on arbitration.

Listen to Andrew weekly on TSN 690 Radio Sundays at 8:05am on Habs Breakfast, part of Weekend Game Plan.

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