Puck Daddy - NHL

If you asked the 30 NHL general managers, the most unpopular person in North America right now might be the arbitrator that decided Atlanta Thrashers forward Clarke MacArthur(notes) was a $2.4 million player next season.

The ruling was too rich for the Thrash, who walked away from the deal and let MacArthur park himself in unrestricted free agency. Its repercussions? How about the Edmonton Oilers suddenly worrying about Gilbert Brule(notes) getting a 300 percent raise if he wins his arbitration case?

The NHLPA announced the dates for 16 arbitration cases that are scheduled for the next two weeks, and they're vital for two reasons: First, because getting these issues settled will clarify the finances on hand for NHL teams, opening the faucet for free-agent signings a bit; and second, because some of these hearings could get quite uncomfortable (as usual), both at the bargaining table and within the context of the salary cap.

Here are five cases that, should they happen, could provide great drama for your momma (and, one assumes, the rest of your immediate family).

Blake Wheeler(notes), RW, Boston Bruins

The Man Who Said 'No' To Wayne Gretzky is putting the cap-strapped Bruins in an uncomfortable spot this summer. He made $2.8 million last season (clarification here: Wheeler made $2.825 against the cap last season, not base salary), could get a decent raise in arbitration, and as James Murphy of ESPN explains, that leads to some difficult calls for the B's:

Even Wheeler's cap hit from 2009-10, combined with the signing of top pick Tyler Seguin(notes) to his entry-level deal, would put the Bruins over the $59.4 million salary cap. That is why there has been plenty of speculation that the Bruins may deal the winger who was drafted fifth overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2004. But Keator didn't seem to believe that would happen.

"I don't really know because that's a question for the Bruins, but I wouldn't think so," Keator said. "He's only 23 years old and has a bright future ahead of him. We're not concerned about that. We know the cap situation and we know Peter [Chiarelli, the Bruins' GM] is working hard to deal with it. But we can't worry about it because it's out of our control."

Prediction: It goes to arbitration and the Bruins make a move or two to fit him under the cap. And yes, this is partially because new team president Cam Neely is a fan.

Matt Moulson(notes), LW, New York Islanders

Moulson made $575,000 last season, which breaks down to $19,167 for each of his 30 goals. Yes, this man will be getting a raise.

The question: How much does he deserve?  Is he a one-hit wonder? Or should he be paid like a 30-goal scorer? Does he get Clarke MacArthur money or Jussi Jokinen money? 

Prediction: He gets re-signed before the hearing, for all the reasons Chris Botta of NYI Point Blank mentions:

Scott Gordon and Garth Snow are on record saying Moulson is for real - not a one-season wonder. The franchise used him extensively with marketing materials, personal appearances and even a media tour as recently as last month.

So, if nothing else, we know they won't walk away from him. 

Tomas Fleischmann(notes), F, Washington Capitals

Fleischmann's agent Rich Evans made some bold statements to the Washington Post in June about the 26-year-old forward, who is a streaky scorer that finally cracked 50 points in his contract year last season:

Evans believes Fleischmann, given the time to learn the intricacies of playing center, could be the second-line pivot the Caps covet.

"It will be interesting to see what the Caps do with Flash next year," Evans said. "When he was scoring all those goals he was playing center. They may have their second line center right there. ...If they leave him at center and give him a couple of wingers, he'll adjust to those guys and he'll figure it out. He's got the right skillset to do it. It's just a question of getting some experience."

As far as comparables, Evans mentioned Montreal center Tomas Plekanec(notes), who jumped from 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) in 80 games in 2008-09 to 70 points (25 goals, 45 assists) in 82 games last season. Plekanec earned $2.75 million last season.

Prediction: No matter if he signs early or goes to arbitration, this isn't going to be a $725,000-a-year player next season. Eric Fehr(notes) avoided arbitration with a two-year deal worth $2,200,000 annually; can they bring Flash in for around that hit? Does he want anything more than a one-year deal?

Anton Stralman(notes), D, Columbus Blue Jackets

This one makes the list for two reasons: Because Stralman was, statistically, the Jackets' most productive blue liner, and because there's a good chance they may have to walk away from him if he wins the arbitration case.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

The Blue Jackets, per the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, have the right to request a one- or two-year ruling from Brogan. Howson would not reveal his plans yesterday. "What Columbus chooses," Levine said, "certainly has ramifications."

A one-year request gives the Blue Jackets the right - within 48 hours - to walk away from Brogan's ruling should they deem the terms too rich. Stralman would then become an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any club.

If the Blue Jackets request a two-year contract, they can only walk away from the second year of the contract set forth by Brogan. Stralman would be under contract for the 2010-11 season, then become a restricted free agent again - with arbitration rights - next summer.

Prediction: Take a look at some comparables. If Stralman wins, the Jackets might (some would say should) walk away.

Antti Niemi(notes), G, Chicago Blackhawks

Finally, this conundrum. We've written before about Niemi and the puzzle the Blackhawks have to solve about his value, based on such a small sample in the regular season. But the real issue is, of course, that the Blackhawks remain in a cap crisis. From ESPN Chicago:

Currently, the Hawks have little salary-cap space to afford the raise Niemi is due from his $800,000 salary of last season, when he helped lead the Hawks to the Stanley Cup title.

"I'm a bit at their mercy trying to find creative solutions to a problem I have no control over," Niemi's agent, Bill Zito, said on Wednesday.

Prediction: They still end up signing him before the case goes to arbitration, or they win a one-year deal to their liking.

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