Senators should be avoiding arbitration hearings with Stone, Ceci

Erik Karlsson’s status aside, the next few days are the most important of the summer for the Senators.

They should determine if Mark Stone has a future in Ottawa. Possibly Cody Ceci, too.

First things first.

The prediction here is that if GM Pierre Dorion doesn’t sign him to a long-term contract before his scheduled hearing with the arbitrator on Aug. 3, Stone will play next season at whatever one-season salary is decided upon and then bolt as an unrestricted free agent in 11 months.

“He is in the driver seat,” Dave Poulin told TGOR host John Rodenburg and yours truly on TSN1200 Thursday morning, “because he’s a very, very good player. By doing the entry-level contract as a three-year deal and the bridge deal as a three-year deal, the threat of walking him right to free agency is very real.”

Poulin has an expert opinion on such matters. Not only is he a TSN Insider, but he is also very familiar with both sides of the fence – as a former executive with the Maple Leafs and a very good player for most of his 12 NHL seasons.

In 1992-93, two years before the NHL arbitration process was created, a 33-year-old Poulin was in a similar situation as Stone will be if he doesn’t sign a new deal before next Friday – or the same situation both Karlsson and Matt Duchene are in if they don’t get extensions before October. He was playing the last year of his deal for the Boston Bruins, with the opportunity to become a UFA waiting for him when it was over.

“I got to Christmas, and I was having a great season,” remembered Poulin, “and they came to me and said, ‘we’d really like to do a deal now.’ I go wait a second, I just risked myself for the first half of the year, and I’m having a great year. I’m going to risk the second half of the year and take it to free agency.”

Poulin signed with the Washington Capitals in August.

Ceci is also scheduled for arbitration next Wednesday and if the trend holds, neither Senator will get to the hearing. Last year, 30 players filed and only one, Nate Schmidt, didn’t reach an agreement before seeing the arbitrator.

This summer 44 have filed, and with just 11 hearings to go, only Winnipeg defenceman Jacob Trouba and Calgary defenceman Brett Kulak made it to their hearing. In each case, the arbitrator went right down the middle between the player ask and team offer – awarding Trouba $5.5 million and Kulak $900,000.

As the process goes, the sides exchange briefs 48 hours prior to hearings – which is Wednesday for Stone and Monday for Ceci – and can negotiate until seconds before meeting with the arbitrator, where players can hear some uncomplimentary remarks from their employers.

“A lot of teams don’t want to get to that (48-hour) period,” said Poulin. “It’s like going into the room.”

After that, it’s completely in the hands of the arbitrator – other than for the team’s right to walk away from the player if the award is above the league average salary.

That won’t happen with the Senators, but neither can we be sure they’ll follow the trend and sign Ceci and Stone before the hearings. The teams’ big picture “game plan” remains pressed to its vests, but it should include locking up both players.

If it doesn’t …

While Stone’s contract had a $3.5-million average annual value, his representatives will point out that his salary last season was $4.5 million, and use that as a starting point.

From there, the back and forth begins with each side having 90 minutes (plus timeouts) to present their case.

“With a player like Mark Stone, could they softly tread that he’s been a little bit injury prone, or he hasn’t played in all 82 games?” said Poulin. “And if I were rebutting that, I would say yeah, and he’s still been your leading scoring forward, or your leading scorer, despite the fact. He played 58 games last year and he tied for first in team scoring. He’s even better than that.’

Team success is a factor that is considered, as are comparable players around the league. Poulin says Stone warrants a salary somewhere between the high $6-million range to $8 million.

“I’m a huge, huge Mark Stone fan, and I have been for a few years now,” said Poulin. “I think from an all-round standpoint, he’s one of the top players in the game. Now he doesn’t bring the points maybe that someone does, but the numbers are going to be really interesting to me. I have him as one of the top forwards in the league, and you have to be paid accordingly if you are that player.”

The Senators have some decisions to make about defenceman Cody Ceci. (AP/PHOTO)

While analytical stats are now allowed to be used in arbitration – and Ceci’s aren’t very good – Poulin likes the 24-year old blue liner who had a $2.5-million AAV with his last deal and a salary of $3.35 million in 2017-18.

“I followed him really closely in his draft year … he was looked at as a really top offensive player,” said Poulin. “When he got to Ottawa, they worked hard on his defence, and he became more of a shutdown guy. And he fulfilled that role. He’s a top four pairing guy. A right shot D, which you hear all the clamouring for of the value of a right-shot D in the NHL, and you can’t get them.

“He’s a guy who has maybe flown under the radar a little bit in Ottawa, and I think has an upside that’s pretty good.”

Poulin thinks Ceci is worth a salary as much $5 million.

“You just saw Trouba get 5.5, in that range, and I think Cody Ceci, probably from a hockey standpoint would be a notch below that, but pretty close,” he said. “He’s still a young player, and he’s developed to a fairly solid point the things they’ve asked him to do that he wasn’t strong with coming in.”

Poulin thinks there’s a better chance Ceci makes it to the arbitrator than Stone “because it’s happening first.

“If that one does, it may affect Stone’s as well, and the outcome of that one,” he said. “One may be tied to the other in a more significant manner than we really think right now.”

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