Remember, Tyler Bertuzzi did the same last year and he ended up with a solid raise, but only on a one-year contract. His new two-year deal was announced Saturday.
Here’s the short of it: The team and the player can’t decide on a fair salary, so they have an arbitrator help settle the dispute as an unbiased third party based on specific evidence. That evidence includes the player’s statistics, his overall contribution to the team and even his team leadership qualities.
Vrana and Erne, 25 and 26 years old respectively, both became restricted free agents at the end of the 2020-21 season and both became eligible for salary arbitration. RFAs use this method because it is one of the few real bargaining options they have. There are so many restrictions on the terms under which these players can keep or change his employment status, hence the name “restricted” free agent. They might as well use what little power they have in this situation and head to arbitration.
Vrana and Erne just so happen to find themselves in positions to do so. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to be with the Red Wings, or that the Red Wings management doesn’t want them. It means they are going through a formal process to make sure both parties -- the player and the team -- get a fair deal. This is business, after all.
That’s the short of it. The long of it can be found written in legalese in the 2012 collective bargaining agreement between the NHLPA and the NHL. It is sure to make your eyes glaze right over, but if that’s your thing then search ahead for “Article 12″ of that 540-page document. There you’ll find the rules and proceedings of this process.
What is clear from this move is exactly what we expected: Steve Yzerman is not here to dish out big salaries for anyone just because. That’s not going to happen. He didn’t do it last year for Bertuzzi, and he’s not doing it now for Vrana and Erne. He’s calculated to the end. To arbitration they go.
Expect both stay with Detroit
That being said, we should fully expect both players to sign deals with the Red Wings. Most of the time this arbitration stuff is settled before it even goes to a hearing. In a weird way, filing for arbitration can speed up the whole process by kind of saying “hey, let’s get this done now.”
There is a scenario where the Red Wings could reject what the arbitrator settles upon, making the player an unrestricted free agent. But again, there is no real reason to expect that in these cases. These are two players with good excuses to enter this proceeding. A player’s previous season statistics are weighed heavily in this proceeding. Erne led the team in goals (11, tied with Anthony Mantha) while Vrana had 11 points in 11 games with the Red Wings after his trade from Washington.
And the Red Wings have good reason to keep them both -- they fit right in with the age group of Detroit’s burgeoning forward core with Dylan Larkin (25), Pius Suter (25) and Bertuzzi (26). Yes, I love that word burgeoning.
Meanwhile, Yzerman has two other notable RFAs to deal with: Forward Givani Smith and defenseman Filip Hronek -- both protected in the expansion draft. Those two are not eligible for salary arbitration because they have not played long enough -- they need four years of NHL experience before being eligible.
Bertuzzi extension note
Bertuzzi’s new two-year contract is reportedly $4.75 million against the cap per season. That’s another raise for him -- remember he was awarded a one-year, $3.5 million contract last year, up from the $1.4 million he was making the year before.
After he missed nearly the entire 2020-21 season due to his back injury, then had surgery, this is very fair. Perhaps it’s even more than one might expect another player in his position could get. But Bertuzzi is without a doubt someone viewed as the heart-and-soul of this burgeoning offensive core. Get healthy and stay healthy.
Note: The Red Wings remain roughly $25.5 million under the cap as of this writing.
Free agency moves recap:
Pre-free agency moves recap: