The St. Louis Blues aren't ready to cut ties with Russia-bound forward Vladimir Sobotka just yet.
The 27-year-old restricted free agent signed a three-year contract with Omsk of the KHL earlier this week after he couldn't come to an agreement with the Blues. But the team and Sobotka’s camp have plans to meet again on July 21 in Toronto for a club-elected arbitration hearing.
The arbiter’s ruling will set Sobotka’s salary for the season in which he returns to the NHL ... whenever that may be.
It's another odd turn in a relationship that didn't need to go sour. Sobotka is coming off a season in which he set a career-high with nine goals and 33 points and led the league in face-off winning percentage (61.9). Add in the immeasurable grit and competitiveness he brought to every shift and it was clear that he deserved a significant raise over the expiring deal that paid him $1.4 million. After several proposals from both sides were rejected, the Blues made a final offer of one year at $2.7 million. Sobotka held firm at $3 million.
It was easy for the player to draw a line in the sand considering that he had the KHL option in his back pocket all along. But it turns out the multi-year Russian offer was nowhere near as lucrative as the $4 million per season that was originally reported. Instead, an agent says it pays Sobotka just $8.5 million over three years, with $2.5 million coming in 2014-15. Taking state and federal taxes into consideration, he's still making more in Russia despite the lower dollar amount, but the minimal difference paints a picture of a principled stand rather than a cash grab.
That is what makes the arbitration hearing so interesting. Sobotka has an out-clause that allows him to return to the NHL, but the ruling would have to swing heavily in his favor to make it worth his while. And there's still some question as to who will represent him at the hearing. Sobotka switched agents at least twice last season, from Petr Svoboda to Stephen Bartlett to another agent named Petr Svoboda.
Whichever fancy suit shows up has plenty of ammo to make his case. And if the Blues are lucky, he'll beat them silly enough to expedite Sobotka's eventual return.