Bruins won't pay arbitrator's price; Berard is free agentPosted: Tuesday August 12, 2003 2:18 PM
Updated: Tuesday August 12, 2003 6:25 PM
The Bruins allowed Berard to become a free agent Tuesday by rejecting the $2.51 million salary set by an arbitrator last week. But they're hoping that he'll return to the team anyway at a 20 percent discount -- about $2 million a year.
"We do like Bryan. Hopefully, he'll come back to us," general manager Mike O'Connell said. "But at this stage in his development, coming back from a serious injury, we weren't prepared to go back to that [$2.5 million] level."
The collective bargaining agreement that ended the NHL's 1994-95 lockout allows teams to reject a limited number of arbitrator's decisions. The "walkaway" rights have only been used once before -- when the Bruins opted out of the $2.8 awarded to Dmitri Khristich in 1998 and allowed him to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs as a free agent.
The Bruins' strategy in this case was a little different, because the number they walked away from was the very one they submitted.
At the hearing last Friday in front of arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier, Boston submitted a figure of $2.51 million, anticipating that Berard would accept it. He did.
That meant that when the Bruins walked away from the decision, they would retain the right to match any contract less than 80 percent of their offer -- or $2,008,000. Anything more than that and Berard walks with no compensation to the Bruins.
"I've never been involved in an arbitration that went that fast," O'Connell said. "We laid our cards on the table. We told him exactly what we were going to do. So Bryan knew the risk.
"It was clear that we were miles apart in our negotiations. We put in a number that we felt we could live with the 80 percent of that number. That was our strategy."
At the same time, O'Connell offered Berard a two-year deal at around $1.8 million a year.
"We understand the risk that we took and we're willing to live with it," O'Connell said. "If someone gives him a terrific offer and he takes it, so be it. I'm happy for Bryan and we'll move on. We feel that the number we've offered is very fair."
Berard's agent, Tom Laidlaw, did not dispute that the team was within his rights by walking away from its own offer. O'Connell warned him months ago that it was a possibility.
"I don't like it. I don't think it was a good business practice," Berard's agent, Tom Laidlaw said. "But it's not like Mike was being sneaky. If I'm representing an athlete and I can use the collective bargaining agreement to my advantage, I do it."
But he said the two sides are not that far apart on a two-year deal for around $3.6 million, with incentives, Laidlaw said.
"So, to me, this whole exercise is kind of silly," the agent said.
Berard, 26, missed the entire 2000-01 season after being accidentally struck in the eye by a stick while playing for Toronto. He played a year with the New York Rangers before signing with the Bruins last summer; he had 10 goals and 28 assists last year while earning $850,000.
"He made great strides last year in his comeback. There still are some flaws in his game that need to be addressed, but everyone has flaws," O'Connell said. "I admire what Bryan's done and the courage he's shown. But I felt the offer we made -- a million dollars more than last year -- is where he should be."
O'Connell said the Bruins tried to be upfront with Berard from the start to avoid the acrimony common in arbitration cases. The brief the Bruins submitted did not mention his eye, O'Connell said.
"It didn't say one bad thing about the player," he said. "It was as complimentary as you can get."
Also Tuesday, the Bruins accepted the arbitration figure for forward Brian Rolston, who was awarded a $3.175 million, one-year salary last week. Rolston had 27 goals and 32 assists last year for the Bruins.
The Bruins also signed unrestricted free agent forward Sandy
McCarthy to a one-year deal. It will be McCarthy's 11th NHL season
and his sixth NHL team. He had six goals, nine assists and 81
penalty minutes last season with the New York Rangers.