[With Milan Jurcina filing for arbitration earlier in the week (the hearing's set for July 28), we thought it'd be fun to do a little role playing and guess at what that hearing might look like (with some minor procedural liberties taken). Of course, we aren't going to be throwing 40-page presentations at you, so think of it as a thumbnail sketch (we're also going to stick with a one-year deal parameter). J.P. will present the Caps' side, DMG will present the player's side, and Pepper will then issue a ruling. Let us know who's right and who's wrong in the comments.]
Milan Jurcina is a borderline NHL-caliber defenseman who shows flashes of being more than that, but, to date, those flashes a few and far between. More often, Jurcina is committing penalties and/or turnovers, often at the most critical times.
Jurcina - who was 11th among Capitals defensemen in average time on ice per game in 2008-09 (and last among Capitals defensemen who played more than 15 games) - took more penalties at five-on-five than all but four NHL defensemen this past season (while playing against weaker competition than any of the three blueliners who finished ahead of him). Moreover, Jurcina's penalties are the type that indicate how poor a skater he is: eight holds, seven hooks, four trips, and four interference minors.
Despite his limited ice time, Jurcina was second among Capitals defensemen in giveaways, had a 2:5 takeaway-to-giveaway ratio, and has had a tendency to make mistakes with the puck over at critical times (for example, his behind-the-back hand pass into the middle of the defensive zone in Game 6 against the Penguins, his last minute gaffe in a tied game in Montreal, his Game 2 giveaway against the Flyers in the 2008 playoffs, etc.).
Jurcina doesn't play the power-play (six seconds per game), hardly kills penalties (last among Capitals defenders who played more than 15 games in average ice time per game shorthanded), and also does not contribute significantly at the offensive end, registering the second-fewest points-per-game of any Capitals defenseman (he has just four goals in his last two full seasons). Further to the point about his lack of offense, it should be noted that five of his 14 career goals were scored in his first 23 NHL games, meaning he has scored just nine goals in his last 252 regular season games, or one every 28 games. With as many goals (four) in his last two full seasons as he had in the previous campaign (and two fewer than he had as a rookie), Jurcina, it would seem, is regressing offensively.
In sum, to call Jurcina one-dimensional would mislead the reader by implying there is an area of his game that is particularly strong.
Below are some of Milan Jurcina's career statistics, through 2008-09 (age as used herein is the player's age on February 1 of the given season):
And here are some statistics of like-situated (i.e. comparable) defensemen through their "platform" seasons from the previous two seasons:
While Jurcina's offensive numbers compare favorably to the players listed above, as noted in the Overview, those numbers are skewed by the fluky start to his career. Over his last 234 games, Jurcina has averaged 0.15 points per game, placing him in the middle of this pack. However, the favorable comparisons end there for Jurcina, as both Morrisonn and Komisarek were top defensive defensemen for their teams in their platform years, both ranking third in average ice time and second in shorthanded ice time per game for their teams. Jurcina, as detailed above, was not similarly relied upon. For this reason, Morrisonn's $1.975 million and Komisarek's $1.7 million (average annual salary) post-platform salaries are clearly well above what a player like Jurcina can expect to be paid.
Exelby's role on the Thrashers was more similar to Jurcina's (though Exelby was a top-four defenseman for the Division-winning Thrashers in both average ice time overall and shorthanded), but Exelby also provided a certain measure of protection to his teammates, having engaged in 11 fights at the NHL level through his platform year. Jurcina, on the other hand, has never received a fighting major in an NHL regular or post-season game. Exelby's platform season and career to that point earned him a $1.39 million (average annual salary) contract, but given his role and the minutes played, he was (and remains) a more valuable player than Jurcina.
Milan Jurcina is a third-pairing National Hockey League defenseman... at best. His lack of discipline, skating ability and skill limit him to that role, and until he demonstrates that he can be adequately handle more than the minimal ice time he has thus far received throughout his career, he simply cannot reasonably command a salary in line with players on whom coaches and teammates rely in key game situations.
Jurcina has been durable throughout his career, and perhaps is fairly due a raise over the $912,500 he made in 2008-09. A ten percent increase is more than fair given what Jurcina brings to the Washington Capitals. The Capitals offer $1,003,750.00.
The skill set Milan Jurcina brought to the Washington Capitals in the 2008-09 season is one that is often under-appreciated because, although Jurcina is not among the league's foremost producers in terms of points and does not posses the kind of blazing speed that makes casual fans take notice, he successfully performs the duties of a National Hockey League defenseman by preventing his opponents from scoring and contributing towards a positive goal differential for his team when he's on the ice.
In his own end Jurcina stymies opposition's attacking efforts; of the seven defensemen who played more than thirty games for this season only one (John Erskine) had goals scored against his less often than Jurcina, and he played against significantly weaker competition. Jurcina also had a net positive impact on his team's five-on-five goal differential this season, outperforming 58% of NHL defensemen in that regard.
Jurcina's ideal frame and style of play also help to make his teammates better. Jurcina led all Capitals defensemen in hits, contributing to fatigue and intimidation of opponents, and in blocked shots, preventing scoring opportunities and allowing his goaltenders to conserve their energy for other situations. Additionally Jurcina's shot, which is acknowledged to be the hardest on the team, means that opponents have to be aware of his presence at the point, providing space for attacking players on his team.
Jurcina may not draw the attention and admiration of flashier players, but his contributions to the team and his style of play's residual impact on his teammates cannot be overlooked when considering the issue of fair compensation.
We present to the arbiter six examples of comparable players who signed contracts after either the 2006-07 or 2007-08 season, although it is important to note that the raw numbers of Jurcina's offensive productive are deceptively low. Jurcina played this past season with the Washington Capitals, a team that scored the third most goals among all NHL teams, was second in powerplay conversion percentage, and was arguably the most offensively talent team in the league. This incredible depth of talent pushed Jurcina into a role where his production was unable to reflect his quality as a player and where he was stuck with relatively low quality teammates, and we thus ask the arbiter to keep in mind that while Jurcina's raw numbers are comparable to the players listed below, he has achieved those numbers without as much playing time.
Basic Statistics, Platform Year
Milan Jurcina, 2008-09
|Trevor Daley, 2007-08||82||5||10||15||-1||85||0||0||2||104||6.7||$2,300,000|
Tim Gleason, 2007-08
|Shaone Morrisonn, 2007-08||76||1||9||10||4||63||0||0||1||50||2.1||$1,975,000|
Barret Jackman, 2006-07
Mike Komisarek, 2006-07
Anton Volchenkov, 2006-07
Additional Statistics, Platform Year
|GP||TOI||Hits||BS||GFON/60||GAON/60||GF/GA Diff.||+/- Rating||Q. Team||Q. Comp||Contract|
|Milan Jurcina, 2008-09
|Trevor Daley, 2007-08||82||1,624:10||32||24||1.91||2.34||-0.43||-0.95||0.04||-0.02||$2,300,000|
|Shaone Morrisonn, 2007-08||76||1,540:21||94||89||2.21||2.35||-0.14||-0.34||0.14||0.03||$1,975,000|
|Barret Jackman, 2006-07
|Anton Volchenkov, 2006-07
Career Statistics through platform year
|Milan Jurcina, 2008-09
|Trevor Daley, 2007-08||24||264||13||43||56||0.21||-7||249|
|Shaone Morrisonn, 2007-08||25||278||6||39||45||0.16||24||278|
|Barret Jackman, 2006-07
|Anton Volchenkov, 2006-07
Milan Jucina provides his team with the skill, dependability, and durability of a strong second pairing defenseman. His talents extend beyond the defensive zone to include his high-quality shot and extend beyond simply stopping opposition attacks, his noticeable physical presence making the roles of his teammates easier - even when he's not on the ice. Such a talent is a rare and valuable commodity, a fact which is supported by the contracts of players comparable to Jurcina in career- and season-long performance.
We believe a salary of $2,450,000 to be fair and equitable to both the player and the team.
IN THE MATTER OF A SALARY ARBITRATION CONDUCTED PURSUANT
TO ARTICLE 12 OF THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT BETWEEN:
MILAN JURCINA AS A MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE PLAYERS’ ASSOCIATION
hereinafter referred to as the "Player"
THE WASHINGTON CAPITALS, A MEMBER CLUB OF THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
hereinafter referred to as the "Club"
Before: Stephen Pepper, Arbitrator
For the Player: DMG
For the Club: J.P.
Hearing: New York, July 10, 2009
This is a matter of an arbitration involving Milan Jurcina and the Washington Capitals pursuant to Article 12 of the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the NHLPA.
The Player signed a 2-year contract after the 2006-07 season and ending with the 2008-09 season. He earned a salary of $912,500 for the 2008-09 season. At the election of the Player, this award is to determine the Player’s remuneration for the 2009-10 season. The Player is requesting a salary of $2,450,000; the Club is offering $1,003,750.
The Player is a 25 year old, 6’4", 233 pound defenseman with the Club. During the 2008-09 platform year, he played defense on the second and third pairings of the Club, and primarily, due to injury to a teammate, on the second pairing of the Club during its participation in the 2008-09 NHL playoffs. The Player was drafted in the eighth round of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins, and made his NHL debut with the Bruins in 2005-06. He played for Boston until roughly the mid-point of the 2006-07 season, when he was traded, on February 1, 2007, to the Club in exchange for the Club's fourth round selection in the 2008 NHL Draft.
The relevant statistics of this 4-year NHL veteran are provided above, and I further provide here his relevant career playoff statistics:
The Player's brief describes Jurcina as successfully performing what is the principal duty of a NHL defenseman: "preventing his opponents from scoring and contributing towards a positive goal differential for his team when he's on the ice." Further to that point, the Player's GAON/60 at even-strength was the second-lowest amongst all Capitals defensemen, and his GF/GA differential was better than 58% of all NHL defensemen.
Additionally, the Player is characterized as a bruising blueliner who uses his massive frame to wear down opponents. To that end, he registered the most hits of any Club defenseman, and the 22nd most of any NHL defenseman, and it is stated that "his style of play's residual impact cannot be overlooked."
Finally, according to the Player, his negligible offensive output is mitigated by the fact that the Club was one of the most offensively prolific in the NHL in his platform season, and that this fact relegated him to fewer minutes and limited his ability to operate as a two-way defenseman.
The Club's brief describes the Player as primarily a third pair defenseman who does not play on special teams, played, overall, the fewest minutes per game in his platform season of any Club defenseman who played in more than 15 games, and against relatively weak competition when compared to his teammates.
The Player is also characterized as a slow, plodding skater who commits frequent obstruction penalties which betray his skating deficiencies and, worse, as a blueliner who has developed a reputation of committing major errors in judgment at critical junctures of a contest.
Finally, the Club's brief emphasizes that the Player's offensive output is wholly inadequate in light of his potential and, in fact, is regressing.
In the search for comparables, the Player discounts, if not completely ignores, offensive output, in favor of "additional statistics" which primarily demonstrate his hard-hitting style of play. Most salient of these statistics are: GAON/60; GF/GA differential, hits, and blocked shots. The Player points out that even his modest raw numbers on offense were produced in fewer minutes on ice than of the comparables presented.
The Club focuses on comparables whose "basic" statistics are in line with the Player's numbers, and suggests that even the three comparables presented are perhaps "not so comparable" in that each of them played more minutes than did the Player, and that two of the three were top pair defensemen in their respective platform years.
It is noteworthy that Player presents six comparables and the Club merely three and, among them, we find two in common: Mike Komisarek and Shaone Morrisonn.
I am generally satisfied with the methods used to generate comparables, and find all but one of these seven unique players should be submitted as comparables.
I reject the inclusion of Anton Volchenkov for the combination of all of the following: during the respective platform years, (i) he averaged over a minute more in TOI/G than did the Player, (ii) he averaged 4.11 TOI/G on the penalty kill, while the Player averaged 0.93 TOI/G shorthanded; (iii) he blocked 116 more shots than did the Player, and 122 more than any other comparable; (iv) his +/- rating was third in the entire league (though second-best on his own team) and his GF/GA differential was the leader amongst all presented comparables, and over 1000% better than the Player's differential; and (v) he faced a significantly higher quality of competition than did the Player.
Trevor Daley matches favorably with the Player in terms of offensive output during their platform years, both during the regular season and playoffs, and faced a similar quality of competition. Similar to the Player, Daley's TOI/G was 5th most amongst defensemen on his team both during the regular season and playoffs. However, he registered far fewer hits and blocked shots than did the Player, and his GF/GA differential was far worse.
Tim Gleason tallied a similar total of hits and blocked shots as well as offensive output, but faced slightly better competition. He was tied for third in TOI/G amongst defensemen, for a non-playoff team.
Garnet Exelby presents a favorable comparison to the Player, in offensive production and TOI/G relative to this defense mates. He also registered a similar number of hits (146) to the Player (157), but with the added toughness benefit of two fighting majors in his platform year to the Player's zero.
The remaining comparables, Shaone Morrisonn, Barret Jackman, and Mike Komisarek, have all faced a higher quality of competition, to varying degrees, and played far more significant roles for their respective teams.
Finally, three general points should be made. First, the Club noted that the Player was not much relied upon to kill penalties. Significant is the fact that all six comparables killed penalties to some degree, ranging from 2.17 TOI/G (Exelby) to 3.36 TOI/G (Morrisonn) on the PK in their respective platform years. The Player had less than a minute per game on the PK during the 2008-09 season. This lack of versatility, especially given that the Club was short-handed the third most times in the NHL last season, stands out.
Second, the Player points out that the quality of the team on ice with him was rated far lower than that of all of the comparables he presents, thereby demonstrating some ability to perform similar to his comparables in more demanding situations.
Third, the Player committed about the same average number of minor penalties per game as did Exelby, Jackman, and Morrisonn, and fewer than did Komisarek, in their respective platform years. While perhaps some players' mistakes are more memorable than others, statistics do not appear to bear out that the Player commits minor penalties more frequently than do his peers.
In reviewing the above, I find Morrisonn, Jackman, Komisarek, and Gleason to be superior to, and play more significant roles on their respective teams than, the Player, Daley to be somewhat inferior to the Player, and Exelby to be most comparable in their respective platform seasons. The lowest paid player of the "superior" group is Komisarek at $1,700,000. However, Daley earned the second-highest contract of all comparables at $2,300,000, while Exelby earned $1,390,000. Given the sizable discrepancy between those latter two figures, I determine that the Player's salary should be set at a mid-point between that of Komisarek on the one part, and Exelby on the other part.
Milan Jurcina is to receive a salary of $1,545,000 for the 2009-10 contract season.
NEW YORK, this 10th day of July 2009.