On July 24th, Brian Dumoulin and his agent will present their case to an arbitrator for a salary befitting a top defenseman. The Pittsburgh Penguins will then explain why Dumoulin isn’t worth what he’s asked. Perhaps in painstakingly brutal detail.
If the arbitrator in the Dumoulin case is a Penguins fan, the team should have no issue getting a cap friendly award. Pens fans are set to award Dumoulin about $3 million and continue the search for a third line center. However, a review of the market force indicates a reward could well exceed $4 million.
In order for the Penguins to adequately complete their third line, they will need more money than they are currently projected to have and Dumoulin could find himself the odd-man out. If the defenseman is given a big award, Rutherford could lose further leverage to make a deal.
Perhaps we could finally see that long-awaited trade in the next 10 days, to avoid that potential.
In the bruising face-to-face arbitration battle, the Penguins will point to Dumoulin’s lack of offense. 16 and 15 points in his first two years. The statistical argument for the Penguins ends there. Dumoulin’s lack of numbers is indicative of a player which altered his game to play in the NHL. His shot and foot speed are not advantages.
The case for Brian Dumoulin is easy: A top pairing defender who played big minutes. Dumoulin had the second highest ice time in the playoffs. Dumoulin has become a net clearing, positional defenseman often tasked with the opposing team’s best players. Such defensemen aren’t cheap.
Brooks Orpik (Capitals) Marc Staal (Rangers), and Andy Greene (Devils) are three quick examples, simply in the Metro Division, of offensively challenged defensemen who are paid in excess of $5 million per season. Jonas Brodin, 24, of the Minnesota Wild signed a six-year, $25 million contract after a seven point season in 2015.
Olli Maatta also makes north of $4 million.
Unlike MLB arbitration, an NHL arbiter is able to select a salary anywhere between the two sides. The system encourages a player to ask for even more than desired, giving the arbiter a wide range to settle. So, the Penguins should expect a healthy raise from Dumoulin’s current $800,000 salary. And a number well more than $3 million.
The Salary Cap Limits
The Penguins have about $10 million of salary cap space with which to absorb Dumoulin’s award, Conor Sheary‘s award, and pay two more centers. It won’t be easy for General Manager Jim Rutherford. It actually seems impossible to fill that third line center role with a Stanley Cup worthy pivot, without shedding salary.
According to CapFriendly.com, just six other teams in the NHL have four defensemen who make $4 million or more (we rounded up for players making $3.9 million and change). The Red Wings, Capitals, Ducks, Jets, Sabres, and Oilers. Only the Ducks and Capitals also have a pair of $8 million forwards.
According to Spotrac.com, only four teams spend more than $25 million on defense. Dumoulin’s award will most likely push the Penguins past $26 million. Pending a few dollars either way, the Penguins could have the second highest paid blue line in the NHL.
Does anyone want to say the Penguins have the second-best blue line in the NHL?
Suddenly, the cost-benefit of the Penguins backside isn’t very good.
There are a few free agent defensemen who could be a short-term fit for the Penguins, including Johnny Oduya if the Penguins deal a defenseman. Or the Penguins could finally roll with Derrick Pouliot, who they just signed to a one-way, NHL deal.
Something has to give. Rutherford may wait out a team with an extra center. Perhaps somewhere a rookie in camp makes a veteran expendable (see Winnipeg, Montreal). Perhaps a waiting trade partner doesn’t want to eat salary and only the start of the season can force that decision (see Hurricanes, Avalanche).
The asking price from opposing GM’s will be higher to the Penguins. “How badly do you want to make history?” The Penguins appear ready to wait a few more months to address their most pressing need and pay Dumoulin’s award, regardless of winning or losing.
For the moment, it appears the Penguins strategy is being dictated to them by others. Maybe it’s time the Penguins begin to counter-attack. Dumoulin could be the first domino.