Today was the final day for NHL players to file for arbitration. As reported this evening by Tom Gulitti at Fire & Ice, only one of the New Jersey Devils' restricted free agents decided to take his team to arbitration: defenseman Mark Fraser.
I'll be honest, my first reaction was: "What? He can't be serious. He made $500k last season, how much more does he think he'll get?" After writing the following, it dawned on me why it makes sense from his standpoint. I'll explain why I think Mark Fraser is pretty shrewd for filing for player-elected arbitration after the jump. After all, he's done this before (also discussed after the jump).
The New Jersey Devils qualified Fraser last week and like the rest of the RFAs, he is waiting on a new deal. However, it is apparent that he is either pushing New Jersey to get one done before his hearing or try his luck with the arbitrator. Those who have went to arbitration with Lou Lamoriello have not come out of it with a long future in New Jersey. It's why Devils fans really want Zach Parise signed as soon as possible. Yet, can we say the same for Mark Fraser? Not really.
At the end of the day we're talking about a third-pairing physical defenseman whose last contract was at the NHL minimum for 2010-11 on a one-way deal. Let's go over his 2010-11 briefly. He played a whopping 26 games in 2010-11, picked up 2 assists and 29 minutes in penalties. While he suffered a broken hand in the first half of the season, he was a healthy scratch more often than not in the second half of the season. According to Behind the Net, he played against weak competition (-0.025), didn't play all that much at even strength (12.57 TOI/60), and the other team shot at a higher rate when he was on the ice (increase in 2.0 shots against per 60 minutes). Though he did apparently have a positive on-ice Corsi rate (5.69 on ice Corsi) if you don't factor in the quality of competition (-0.892 Corsi QoC, worst on the team).
His 2009-10 will be brought up as an example of a "healthy" Fraser. Then, he potted 3 goals and 3 assists in 61 games, and racked up 36 PIM. He was held mostly to the third pairing again, as he played an average of 12:22 per game. According to Behind the Net's numbers from 2009-10, Fraser still got limited minutes at even strength, played weak competition, earned a negative Corsi QoC, and the opposition got shots on net at a higher rate when he was on the ice. While he got more games, he wasn't making a positive difference on the ice to command more minutes then - and he didn't when healthy in 2010-11. I have no issue with Mark Fraser, but he doesn't bring much to the table for New Jersey. Essentially, he's a depth defender at the NHL level at best right now.
Of course, I'm just stating what type of player Fraser is. Unless I misread the section, advanced statistics can't be used as evidence from either side of the arbitration hearing per 12.9(g) of the CBA. Not that the stats the NHL keeps makes him look that much better. In case you're wondering on what is and isn't permissible in an arbitration hearing, then please check out 12.9 in the CBA. But that may not be necessary. Perhaps Fraser and the Devils won't get to a hearing again.
That's right: again. As evidenced in this year-old post at Fire & Ice, Fraser filed for arbitration with the Devils last year. Fraser was also coming off of a contract at the NHL minimum with limited ice time, though it was a two-way deal. According to this article at NJ.com by Rich Chere, the Devils signed Fraser to a NHL minimum deal on a one-way contract. This avoided their scheduled arbitration hearing, as it was clear Fraser got the additional security he wanted with a one-way contract. I believe he's trying to do this again, and I now realize why I think this is a good move from his standpoint.
In my view, Fraser's basically repeating history again to get another one-way deal with New Jersey. It's a shrewd move. According to Section 12.10(a), a club can only walk away from an arbiter's decision if the contract is over $1,042,173. (Related Aside: Actually, per 12.10(d), this value goes up at the same rate of the average league salary; but even at this base level, it's not going to happen. So for the sake of argument and clarity, I'm using this number.) I don't see how anyone would give him such a massive raise based on my admittedly-limited understanding. Fraser has not done nearly enough to justify a full-time NHL position or even 14-16 minutes per game when he does play, much less a seven-figure salary.
Therefore, the Devils won't have the right to walkaway from the reward in the case this does go to an arbitration hearing. And I'm assuming an arbiter would not award a two-way contract. Basically, Fraser will either get a one-way deal for a minimum (which is $525,000 for this season) or near-minimum salary from the Devils prior to the hearing or as a result of the hearing. He may be a fringe defenseman, but he's doing what he can to avoid a two-way deal and get paid much less to play in the AHL.
Provided I didn't miss anything (other than the walkaway minimum), it makes perfect sense for Fraser to file for arbitration from this standpoint. He either leverages the Devils for a contract or he gets one after taking some lumps in a hearing. I'm actually surprised no one else on New Jersey wanted to do it. (Correction Update: Probably because no other qualified RFA could do so, as Triumph44 pointed out in the first comment.) It also means that we should expect to add one more defenseman on the books on a one-way deal; further fueling what I believe is the need for New Jersey to move some of the many defensemen in their system out. Well played, Mark Fraser. Well played.
What do you think of Mark Fraser's filing for arbitration? Do you think he'll get what he wants prior to the hearing for a second straight season, or do you think it will go to the hearing? Would you miss Fraser if he's eventually moved? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on Mark Fraser and his decision to file for arbitration in the comments. Thank you for reading.