Thrashers forward Clarke MacArthur had an arbitration hearing on Wednesday, which was a first for a Thrashers player. The team decided to double up that history making moment by declining the arbitrator's salary award of $2.4 million, and by cutting MacArthur free.
For those of you who follow other sports, $2.4 million sounds reasonable. In hockey, that would be about a third of Ilya Kovalchuk's contract while he was with the Thrashers. Last season, MacArthur (with both the Thrashers and the Buffalo Sabres) scored 16 goals and 19 assists. Reasonable totals for a third-liner, but is that kind of talent worth $2.4 million dollars? More importantly, is that worth taking up a roster spot that a prospect potentially could win at training camp? Is the coddling of an average player for another season more important than giving a kid who has a long-term future with the organization a slot in the lineup? Dudley weighed the pros and cons and assumed that allowing one of the kids a chance was more worth it. He made a solid choice.
The problem with the MacArthur deal is that it gives an artificially high standard for other RFAs who have decided to test the court of opinion. The arbitrator awarded MacArthur a raise of $1 million for an average career year. Where does that put teams who are already up against the cap that have players who are testing the waters? The Chicago Blackhawks might have a problem with Antti Niemi and the amount of raise he gets, and if a run-of-the-mill forward gets a million dollars, what would a Stanley Cup-winning goalie get? The Blackhawks just traded forward Marty Reasoner to make a little bit more room, so it's obvious that they're having problems still. If they can't afford to re-sign Niemi because an arbitrator inflates his contract, that leaves them in a decidedly awful pickle.
This whole situation is not necessarily a reflection of what will happen when (if) Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager wind up in a hearing. Those are two players that the Thrashers traded for in the offseason specifically for this season. The Thrashers have the cap space. God knows, they have the cap space. Whatever the decision of the arbitrator is, if that decision needs to be made, chances are very good that the team agrees.