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Seven salary arbitration cases to keep an eye on

Posted: Monday July 23, 2007 1:31PM; Updated: Tuesday July 24, 2007 1:35PM
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The Sabres will likely pay handsomely to keep Derek Roy, who ranked fifth in plus-minus in the league with an impressive +37.
The Sabres will likely pay handsomely to keep Derek Roy, who ranked fifth in plus-minus in the league with an impressive +37.
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Numbers are only numbers. Their value, it is said, comes in the interpretation.

The interpretation of those numbers is at the core of the NHL's salary arbitration process that, barring any more last-minute deals, gets under way today when the Capitals and forward Brooks Laich are scheduled to make their cases.

Heading into the arbitration period that was supposed to start last Friday, the 13 cases that were on the docket have already been amicably resolved between the players and their teams. It wouldn't be a shock to see as many as half of those remaining taken care of in advance of their date.

Ask around the league and you'll hear that arbitration is no longer quite as painful, or unexpected, as the Spanish Inquisition. Rather than a brutal divorce-style proceeding where vicious undercutting was commonplace in the pre-cap days (and, on at least one occasion, left a player in tears), it's a much more civilized give-and-take now. Both sides present their numbers, and the arbiter comes to a decision within 48 hours on how much the player will receive in either a one- or two-year deal.

More often than not, those numbers end up favoring the player, so expect to see some large awards given over the next week or so, but likely not large enough to force a team to exercise its walk-away rights.

The most intriguing case may be goalie Ray Emery, whose team has already dumped Peter Schaefer in an effort to clear some cap space. After taking the Senators to the Stanley Cup Final with four rounds of excellent goaltending, Emery's aiming for something in the same neighborhood as New York's Henrik Lundqvist ($4.25 million for one year) while the Sens were hoping for something closer to the $2.333 million that Carolina's Cam Ward averages over the three-year deal that he signed last summer. Ultimately, the two parties ended up agreeing on three years at $9.5 million before the arbitrator saw the case.

Although it might seem financially prudent for Bryan Murray to get a multi-year deal done beforehand, it was actually more sensible for the Ottawa GM to let things take their course. As good as Emery was last season, it was just one season. (It's worth asking how former Calder Trophy-winner Andrew Raycroft did in Toronto last season.) By allowing the arbitrator to take care of this season's contract, Murray would have bought himself another year to figure out if Emery really is the guy around which he builds his defense and, more importantly, if his salary will be too much to handle next summer when he has to take care of several cornerstone players, including Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza.

The Sabres, already reeling from the defections of free agents Chris Drury and Daniel Briere and the offer sheet-inflated salary of restricted free agent Thomas Vanek, could be in for another shock when 24-year-old Derek Roy's case is heard. It's scheduled for July 27. The third-year center had a career-high 63 points (21 goals, 42 assists) in 75 games last season. Those are exceptional numbers for a third-liner, especially given his limited time on the power play. And while there's plenty of debate about the merits of plus-minus figures, it's a cold, hard stat that will weight heavily in Roy's favor. His plus-37 rating ranked fifth overall in the NHL last season, demonstrating his value in five-on-five situations.

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