Rangers center Derek Stepan (21) and Capitals goalie Braden Holtby (70) are just two of the NHL players possibly headed for arbitration this summer.
Jared Silber/Getty Images

Capitals goalie Braden Holtby is unlikely to need salary arbitration, but Derek Stepan’s case puts the New York Rangers in a tough spot.

By Allan Muir
July 06, 2015

The NHLPA on Sunday released the list of 23 restricted free agents who have filed for salary arbitration.

Recognize a favorite player? Don’t panic. The process of filing creates a path that almost always leads to a settlement between a player and his current team. Most often that happens as a result of continued negotiations (19 of 20 who filed last year settled early). Those discussions that do not end in a settlement will see the team and player argue their cases in front of an independent third party, with the result being either a one- or two-year award. There’s an option for the team to walk away if the award exceeds an average annual value (AAV) of $3.5 million, but that option is rarely exercised.

But just because the path to settlement is there doesn’t mean it’s a straight line. Here’s a quick look at the most interesting players on the list and the likely outcomes:

Remaining NHL free agents who are most worth signing

•  Derek Stepan, C, Rangers: Ryan O'Reilly's contract could play into Stepan’s negotiations, but not in the way many think. A source tells SI.com that the seven-year, $52.5 million extension handed to him last week by the Sabres is inadmissible in arbitration (because it covers his Group 3 years), but O'Reilly's current deal, which will pay him $6.2 million next season, can be used as a comparable. And because Stepan's numbers are superior to O'Reilly’s in nearly every category, it's easy to imagine an arbitrator granting Stepan an award of at least $7 million. That puts new GM Jeff Gorton in the tough spot of having to make a quick call on how badly he wants Stepan and at what cost. Although the two sides might find common ground, there’s a good chance that the Rangers could decide to move him now rather than risk a massive arbitration award that hamstrings them now and potentially sets Stepan up to become a unrestricted free agent (UFA) in two years.

•  Gustav Nyquist, RW, Red WingsThis one should be much less contentious. Nyquist, who scored 27 goals and had a career-high 54 points in 2014–15, is due for a raise on the $1.05 million he took home last season. There’s wiggle room for both sides, but this should end up somewhere between a $4 and $4.5 million AAV over a three-year deal.

Tales from arbitration: NHL salary hearings an old fashioned bruisefest

• Braden Holtby, G, Capitals: No chance of this one getting to the arbitrator. None. Holtby is arguably one of the top-five goaltenders in the league after finishing fourth in Vezina Trophy voting and tying franchise records for wins (41) and shutouts (9). A one-year award would set him up for a bigger score next summer. A two-year would make him eligible for unrestricted free agency at its conclusion. The Caps and the keeper both are looking at something in the five-year range and likely will arrive at something in the neighborhood of a $6 million AAV to rank Holtby around No. 10 on the league’s goalie salary chart.

•  Colin Wilson, C; Craig Smith, C, Predators: GM David Poile told The Tennessean that he’s looking at four-year terms for both of these top-six forwards, which means that he’s ready to offer a significant bump to the $2 million each made last season. Both will be looking for something in the range of $3.5 to $4 million.

•  Adam Larsson, D, Devils: This one could get interesting. Larsson was a different player after coach Peter DeBoer was fired, scoring 20 points in his final 42 games while playing upwards of 23 minutes a night in all situations. The 22-year-old left the impression that he’s ready to deliver on his immense promise. So, does new GM Ray Shero lock him up long-term in hopes of getting a few bargain years at the end of the deal, or does he play it conservatively and hand Larsson a short-term “show-me” contract? Bet on the latter, something in the range of $5 million over two years.

The case for using RFA offer sheets as weapons in NHL free agency this year

•  Mike Hoffman, LW, Senators: Most teams don’t want their young players to reach arbitration. This could be the exception. Hoffman led Ottawa with 27 goals last season, but defensive concerns relegated him to the fourth line at various times, including down the stretch. That gives the Senators some leverage should it come to an arbitration hearing. They committed $10.5 million over three years to Mark Stone and there’s no reason for Hoffman not to shop in the same neighborhood for a deal. But Ottawa could be aiming for something closer to half that amount. Things could get ugly.

•  Marcus Johansson, LW, Capitals: He scored more goals last year (20) than he had in the in the previous two season combined (14). He was second on the team in even-strength goals (15). And he finally committed to shooting the puck more often (138 shots). Gotta like Johansson’s chances for a decent raise on $2.175 million he made last year, right? Maybe. After all, Washington added Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie in the past week, both of whom could eat into Johansson’s ice time and production. He’s a useful player, but not indispensable. A short-term agreement with a $3 million AAV seems likely.

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