Last Tuesday, when Los Angeles forward Mike Cammalleri was awarded a two-year, $6.7 million contract, the decision marked a conclusion to an annual summer ritual that neither clubs nor players particularly enjoy.
"I'm not averse to arbitrations," said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, who didn't have any cases this year. "You get a little dirty in them. I think what's important is that you make every effort, at a relatively early stage, to sign players who you think will be contributing players. If you do that, you can avoid arbitration.
"But sometimes you have a difference in opinion, and it's a difficult thing to hand over to a third-party arbitrator."
This summer, there were 31 potential arbitration cases. Twenty-nine players opted for arbitration, while the Rangers (with goalie Henrik Lundqvist) and the Wild (with tough guy Derek Boogaard) filed for club-elected arbitration to shield their players from offer sheets.
But only seven cases advanced to arbitration: those of Washington forward Brooks Laich (one year, $725,000), Dallas forward Antti Miettinen (one year, $885,000), Rangers forward Sean Avery (one year, $1.9 million), Islanders forward Trent Hunter (one year, $1.55 million), Florida defenseman Steve Montador (one year, $800,000), Tampa Bay forward Ryan Craig ($850,000), and Cammalleri. The 24 other cases were resolved by the clubs and players, avoiding what can be a prickly process.
"We got there the hard way," Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi told the Los Angeles Times of Cammalleri's case. "Nobody wins at these things. I think it is safe to say that it came out closer to our end. But these situations aren't for winning and losing."
Avery, according to the New York Post, found out the hard way. During his case, the Rangers described the agitator as a selfish player who didn't always think team first. It's a common practice for both sides to employ -- standard contract negotiations can get heated in similar fashion -- but it can sometimes leave both parties with battered egos.
"There's pretty pointed stuff mentioned in the briefs that a player can get offended at," said Chiarelli. "During the hearing, sometimes your emotions get the best of you and you end up doing damage."
Despite the potential rancor, arbitration is used by eligible players and teams to overcome a negotiating impasse. During a case, each side presents its evidence, which usually revolves around the player's statistics and the salaries of other players with comparable numbers.
Within statistics, however, is a gray area that teams and agents can massage. For example, consider an NHL forward we'll call Player X. During his career, Player X competed for his country at the World Championships each season and led the team in scoring every year.
The mere fact that a player performed well in non-NHL situations -- World Championships, Olympics, World Junior tournaments -- is usually not admissible in arbitration cases. However, Player X's agent could work backward to make international play part of a case. The agent could draw on NHLers comparable to his client who also led their respective countries in scoring at World Championships.
"It gets creative," said Chiarelli. "There are a lot of different ways to skin a cat."
Depending on the arbitrator, even statistics can take a back seat. Chiarelli recalled a case while he was working in Ottawa when the sides disagreed about the significance of a player's time on ice.
"What happened," said Chiarelli, "is that it came down to the testimony of the GM. It was how credible the arbitrator viewed the credibility of the GM. The whole case turned on the testimony of the GM. You throw all the stats out the window. That doesn't happen much anymore."
Both sides agree that arbitration isn't a perfect process. Last season, Cammalleri scored more points (80) than a host of centers, including San Jose's Patrick Marleau, Anaheim's Andy McDonald, Toronto's Mats Sundin, Montreal's Saku Koivu, Tampa Bay's Brad Richards, Carolina's Eric Staal, Boston's Patrice Bergeron, and New Jersey's Patrik Elias. However, all those players make more than the LA pivot.
On the flip side, ex-Buffalo sniper Daniel Briere scored a $5 million payday in arbitration last summer, a number that raised eyebrows around the league.
The bottom line: Arbitration, while still a tool in negotiations, isn't always the most effective way to come to an agreement.
A bonus ruling for Penner
Dustin Penner hit the jackpot last month by signing a five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet from Edmonton that Anaheim declined to match. The move broke up a powerful, fast, and skilled line of Penner-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry that could have been one of the most dominant trios in the league.
However, all the drama -- which peaked when Anaheim general manager Brian Burke called Edmonton counterpart Kevin Lowe "gutless" -- could have been avoided had an arbitrator made a different ruling.
At the start of 2006-07, Gerry Johansson, Penner's agent, believed his client would be eligible for arbitration at the conclusion of the season. Penner signed his first contract as a free agent out of the University of Maine May 12, 2004, when he was 21 years old, meaning he would be arbitration-eligible after three years of pro service.
In 2004-05, Penner played for the Cincinnati Ducks, then Anaheim's AHL affiliate. In 2005-06, Penner split time between Anaheim and the Portland Pirates, the Ducks' new AHL affiliate, then spent all of last season with the big club, thereby accumulating three years of pro experience.
But this past winter, an arbitrator ruled that Penner's 2004-05 lockout season in Cincinnati didn't count as pro service, leaving him with only two years at the conclusion of 2006-07 and making him ineligible for arbitration.
"It might have been different," Johansson said. "It might have given us more leverage. Who knows? It was a strange ruling."
Had the arbitrator decided differently, Penner would have most likely gone to arbitration and earned half of what he'll make in Edmonton. Instead, Penner will be pocketing $4.25 million per season.
Not bad for a guy who once lived in a basement dorm at Minot State (a North Dakota junior college) before he was discovered by Maine assistant Grant Standbrook.
Point-of-sale look at league's best bargains
Of the top 10 scorers in 2006-07, Sidney Crosby (120 points, $850,000 base salary) was far and away the best bargain, making $7,083 per point. Under his current salary (Crosby signed an extension that will pay him $8.7 million per season starting in 2008-09), the Pittsburgh captain would have earned $72,500 per point in 2006-07.
The second-biggest bargain was Dany Heatley (105 points, $4.5 million), who will be an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of 2007-08 and projects to be the biggest name on the market unless the Ottawa sharpshooter agrees to an extension before July 1, 2008.
Jaromir Jagr (96 points, $8.36 million) cost the most among the top 10, earning $87,083 per point for the Rangers in 2006-07. Marc Savard (96 points, $5 million), the only Bruin in the top 10, made $52,083 per point.
Some candidates who might qualify as cash-per-point bargains for 2007-08: Alex Ovechkin ($984,200, although he could agree to an extension with the Capitals prior to the season), Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin ($984,000), Los Angeles's Anze Kopitar ($850,000), Boston's Phil Kessel ($850,000), Colorado's Paul Stastny ($685,000), and Ryan Getzlaf ($623,000).
USA Hockey's National Junior Evaluation Camp, the annual midsummer showcase for red-white-and-blue teenagers competing for a spot on the world junior roster, came to a close yesterday at Lake Placid, N.Y. Patrick Kane (Chicago) and James vanRiemsdyk (Philadelphia), the top two picks of the 2007 draft, saw some time on the same line and were among the camp's standouts. Also setting himself apart was Kyle Okposo (Islanders), who will play at least one more season at the University of Minnesota before going pro. Hard to believe that one summer ago, Phil Kessel was skating at the same camp just prior to signing with the Bruins.
Yet to make his mark
Defenseman Danny Markov, arguably the best player remaining on the free agent market, might have to lower his demands if he hopes to latch on with an NHL club for 2007-08. In 66 games for Detroit last season, the 31-year-old Markov scored 16 points and had the 10th-best plus-minus rating in the league (plus-25) while earning $2.5 million. Markov is looking for a raise that isn't coming, at least from the Red Wings. The Bruins could still use upgrades on the blue line, but they have nowhere near the cap space that could lead to a Markov signing, even at his current price.
Writing the checks
Doug MacLean, ousted as Columbus general manager in April, has resurfaced in Tampa, where he's leading a group called Absolute Hockey Enterprises to purchase the Lightning. MacLean has a history of achievement in Florida, as he coached the Panthers to the Stanley Cup finals in 1996. But MacLean, hired by the Blue Jackets in 1998, isn't coming off much success from his most recent job. Since their inaugural 2000-01 season, the Blue Jackets have never posted a winning record and have yet to qualify for the postseason. Despite having six straight top-10 picks during his administration, MacLean drafted only one impact player: Rick Nash, with the No. 1 selection in 2002. Perhaps he'll have better luck in the owners' suite than he did at the GM's desk.
Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report; Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com.