Art of Negotiation
We're coming up on the middle of July and the Oilers still have a some RFAs to sign. The biggest name on the list Andrew Cogliano has also filed for Salary Arbitration. Arbitration is where the player and the team sit down across the table from each other and try to hash out what the player's worth is in front of an arbitrator. This process is not for anyone who has low self-esteem or an easily bruised ego. The player will try to inflate himself to increase his pay-day and the team will haul out every reason in the book to show why the player isn't worthy of cashing in.
Cogliano does have some pluses, he is rarely injured and is consistent with his contributions on the ice. However, those contributions are not that of a top 6 forward. Now that isn't a shot against bottom 6 guys, they are just as important to winning the Stanley Cup as the top 6 guys. In fact, history has shown that the bottom 6 guys are the ones that will grind out those important wins during the playoffs. There is a definite difference in salary when it comes to the top 6 versus the bottom 6. Top 6 forwards are the point getters, they are the ones who get the offensive zone faceoffs and therefor the better chances to contribute to the scoresheet. Bottom 6 guys get the defensive zone faceoffs, they are there to win the draw, chase down the loose puck and get it out of the zone.
Where does that put Cogs in the big picture? Well last year showed us that the Oilers coaching staff is more than happy to groom the 24 yr old center to be a good bottom 6 forward. Tom Renney was giving Cogliano the opportunity and for the most part Andrew did his job. He was making a cool million last year and is undoubtedly looking for more this year. But how much more? What is his worth compared to the rest of the league? There were 10 Centers last year that played 70+ games and had 31 to 37 points. Cogliano sits right in the middle of this pack. The top of the heap was Kyle Brodziak, the one-time Oiler played 80 games and will earn 1.3 million this season. The bottom of the group (which was a veteran add-on) was Jason Arnott. The 36 yr old is slated to make 2.5 million with the St. Louis Blues. The highest paid player on the List is Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators at a grand total of 4 million per. (Note: Fisher cashed in with Ottawa who was not prepared to let him walk as an Unrestricted Free Agent). The other player of note on the list is Tyler Bozak. Bozak is an up and comer on the list, and Toronto opened up and over-paid a little bit with the hope that Bozak continues to raise his point totals. Unlike Cogs, Bozak is counted on to be a future 2nd liner with a salary to match. Bozak is slated to earn 1.6 million next year.
*Cogliano has 3 more years of experience over Brian Boyle, their salaries in the chart are from 2010-11 season.
So, where does that leave Andrew Cogliano at the negotiating table? Well the chart above showed us that most of the players similar to Cogliano earn between 1 million and 1.3 million dollars. This is about right for a good 3rd/4th line player. Eric Belanger, just signed as UFA by the Oilers, is on a front loaded 3 year contract and is due to earn 2 million this year. Should Cogliano earn that much? No. Belanger has years of experience in the league and was one of the best face-off guys in the NHL last season (over 50% avg. for the season). Belanger also sees time on the Powerplay and the Penalty Kill. By the time Cogliano hits the age of 29 or 30 he could be one of those players. He needs to learn the craft over the next 3 years from Belanger, Cogliano already has the speed and he is tougher than most think (he was hit in the mouth with either a stick or a puck so many times last season that his dentist is now retired). Once Cogs improves his face-off totals and chips in offensively more consistently he will be one of those highly sought after Centers during his UFA years. Good luck Andrew!
The Other Guys
Taylor Chorney and Ryan O'Marra are also RFAs..they aren't going to arbitration, they probably won't even start with the big club this season. This is not a knock against either of those guys. Right now they are more suited to the AHL than the NHL. Best they can hope for is a 1 or 2 year deal to earn the league minimum when they are in the NHL (on call up). They may improve to role players in the future, but they will never be ticket selling players. There is absolutely nothing wrong with playing in the AHL is a career. A good AHL player can earn $100,000 or more playing in the American Hockey League. Even an average player in the AHL makes more than a working-man's average salary, AND that is to play the game of hockey. We should all be so lucky.