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Mock Arbitration: Brian Dumoulin

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We put on a role-playing hat and look at the upcoming arbitration case of Brian Dumoulin, as his impending hearing to determine his next contract hits on Monday.

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Six Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

[Brian Dumoulin will have an arbitration hearing on Monday, unless a contract agreement is reached beforehand. Since Penguins GM Jim Rutherford recently indicated the sides weren’t close, we did some research to present what the case may look like. While we can’t say this is an attempt at the exact prediction of the requests, or outcome, this mock case assumes what we believe both sides might be thinking as they approach the hearing.

In reality each side gets up to 90 minutes to present their case, but we tried (honestly!) to make a brief, simple and somewhat general look here. Robbie puts on the team’s case and Hooks takes the side of the player below. Outline and rules follow the Collective Bargaining Agreement of the NHL with some help on pointers from this 2014 article from The Score. And a special thanks to our lawyer-y friends at Japers Rink for their past work]

Mock Arbitration of Brian Dumoulin

Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets - Game Four Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

(A): Affirmative case of the player and the NHLPA

I. Overview

Brian Dumoulin is a 25-year old defenseman who just completed his fifth professional season in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. To date, Dumoulin has played 163 career regular season games and 54 more games in the playoffs, all with the Pens.

In that brief amount of time, Dumoulin has flourished and grown to become one of the most important players on the team, a fact reinforced by the amount of ice-time that he is consistently entrusted with. Dumoulin’s average of 21:59 played per game in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs led all Pittsburgh players, making him the defacto #1 healthy defenseman in a Stanley Cup championship run. The season prior in the 2016 playoffs, Dumoulin again played top-pair minutes, his 21:31 per game was 2nd on the team, in what was another Stanley Cup championship team.

In Dumoulin’s two full seasons in the NHL, he showed a wide-variety of positive contributions. He displayed durability, ranking 2nd on the team in defensemen from 2015-17 in games played (149), 2nd in takeaways (57), 3rd in hits (190) and tied-4th among assists (30).

Dumoulin is well-represented in NHL approved advanced stats relative to his peers of Penguins defensemen in this time-frame as well; Dumoulin is 2nd in SAT % at 52.14%, 3rd in USAT % 52.30%, and 1st (by far) in total defensive zone faceoffs at 809. Dumoulin has been a regular member of the team’s penalty killing unit and his regular season TOI at even strength (17:37) is 2nd on the team, showing again usage as an important, first-pairing team member throughout his NHL career.

Dumoulin also plays a very clean game, taking just 28 total PIMs in the last two seasons, the lowest among the regular six defensemen on the club in the prior 2 seasons.

II. Comparables

We present five examples to the arbiter of comparable players to Brian Dumoulin who signed recent contracts after the 2014-15 or 2015-16 season. All were (or would have been) among “Group 2” (restricted) free agents. Stats listed are for the season immediately prior to signing of the listed contract:

  • Brian Dumoulin (25), 70 games, 1 goal, 15 assists, 20:32 TOI/game

  • Danny Dekeyser (26 years old at time of signing), 6 yrs, $5.0m AAV; 78gp 8g, 12a, 21:48
  • Chris Tanev (25), 5 years, $4.45 million AAV; 70gp 2g, 18a, 21:04
  • Connor Murphy (23), 6 years, $3.85 milion AAV; 78gp, 6g, 11a, 20:30
  • Mattias Ekholm (25), 6 years, $3.75 million AAV; 80gp, 7g, 11a, 19:00
  • Simon Despres (24), 5 years, $3.7 million AAV; 75gp, 3g, 20a, 18:39

Like Dumoulin, all of these players play a defensive-defenseman style and take a role where they don’t compile many points, but still play 18-21 minutes a night, are important on penalty kill units and can also match-up against the top offensive players on the opposition. Dumoulin stacks up comparably to all statistically with his production, and has had much more success winning the only two Stanley Cups of this group.

III. Summary

Brian Dumoulin has played 2 full seasons in the NHL, with a clear 1st pairing work-load in each and has been a positive possession player and contributing member to 2 Stanley Cup championships. Because of his strong play and importance to the team’s success, we believe a salary of $4,200,000 would be fair and equitable for both the player and the Club.

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Pittsburgh Penguins v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

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(B): Affirmative case of the club and the League

I. Overview

Over the past two seasons, there is no doubt that Brian Dumoulin has acquitted himself as an NHL caliber defenseman and had played a significant role in the back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise has won. He’s been durable and proven himself a capable partner to Kris Letang on the blue line. With a career CF% over 50% and positive career Corsi Relative there is no one here doubting Dumoulin’s skill as a defender.

Where we take pause when it comes to the matter of compensation are the offensive output numbers from the player. While clearly solid on the defensive end of the spectrum, the offensive side is not at the standard of a top pairing defenseman.

Over the course of two full seasons in the NHL and a combined 163 regular season games played, Dumoulin has registered just 33 career points (.2 ppg), including just two career goals and only one goal since the beginning of the 2015-2016 season. His playoff offensive numbers show a similar trend, recording just 14 points in 54 games (.26 ppg) since 2015.

A further glance into the advanced stats shows low totals for offense all across the board despite playing the second most games among all Penguins’ defenseman. Dumoulin’s Points Per 60 minutes currently sits at .6, lower than many of his peers including Ian Cole (.81 P/60) over the last two full seasons.

With the man advantage Dumoulin is rarely on the ice and when he is it normally is at the tail end of a power play with the second unit in preparation for the return to even strength.

Overall, there should be no qualms about Dumoulin’s talent as a defender at the NHL on the defensive side of ice. Through two full seasons he has proven to be an above average defensive player and the underlying numbers are there to prove it. However, where his defensive numbers are on par with a standard top 4 defenseman, his offensive output is severely lacking. Sitting at .2 ppg in the regular season (and only slightly better in the post season) is not up to par with the output of a top tier blue liner and a sample size of two full NHL seasons is enough to show where Dumoulin lies on the spectrum and not much is likely to change going forward even if he continues to develop.

[All statistics taken from Hockey-Reference.com]

II. Comparables

For consideration by the arbiter of this case, the Pittsburgh Penguins present five players who the team considers comparable to Dumoulin on both ends of the ice. All players listed signed a new deal following the 2014-2015 or 2015-2016 NHL seasons.

  • Brian Dumoulin (25), 70 games, 1 goal, 15 assists, 20:32 TOI/game
  • Matt Dumba (22 years old at time of signing), 2 years, $2.55 million AAV; 81gp, 10g, 16a, 16:50 TOI
  • Thomas Hickey (26), 3 years, $2.2 million AAV, 81gp, 2g, 20a, 18:55
  • Jake McCabe (22), 3 years, $1.6 million AAV, 77gp, 4g, 10a, 19:07
  • Jon Merrill (24), 2 years, $1.1 million AAV, 47gp, 1g, 4a, 16:53
  • Mark Pysyk (23), 2 years, $1.1 million AAV, 82gp, 4g, 13a, 18:33

All five of the comparable players listed by the Club have previously signed a new deal via arbitration as a “Group 2” restricted free agent and all five compare to Dumoulin on both sides of the puck in terms of scoring and their respective puck possession metrics.

[All salary figures taken from CapFriendly.com]

III. Summary

Since breaking into the league full time during the 2015-2016 season, Brian Dumoulin has shown his adept defensive skills and his versatility to play alongside a variety of partners on the blue line. What is lacking however is the necessary skill on the offensive end to be considered a truly two-way defenseman in the NHL. His lack of scoring ability prevents him from being an true No. 2 on the Penguins current roster. All factors taken into consideration, the Pittsburgh Penguins believe submit a salary of $2,550,000 and believe it to be fair for both parties involved. The Club, as the side which did not elect this arbitration, requests that the arbiter select a two-year term as a result of this procedure.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Five Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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(C): Rebuttal and closing argument of the Player and the NHLPA

While the Club is correct that Brian Dumoulin is primarily a defensive defenseman, the Player would rebut that the Club is too dismissive in their claims that his scoring ability has any bearing on the status of his role on the team. Ice time and player usage, not scoring, has clearly shown that the Club has utilized Dumoulin in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 regular seasons as their #2 overall defenseman, in what clearly is a 1st pairing role, despite what they find to be underwhelming offensive outputs.

When it counts in the playoffs, Dumoulin’s been asked and provided even more. Again we would emphasize in the 2017 playoffs, Dumoulin was the Club’s #1 defenseman in ice time and they repeated as Stanley Cup champions.

Brian Dumoulin’s game is maximized with his positional defense. He is 6’4”, 220 pounds and the statistics show he is consistently the defender they lean on most to start in the defensive zone. He does not generate a huge number of points, but he does support the transition game with his passing ability to his offensive-minded teammates, even though it has not resulted in a large number of points. This is verified in that when Brian Dumoulin is on the ice, the Penguins out-shoot their opponents. When Brian Dumoulin is on the ice, the Penguins out-score their opponents. This would not happen if Dumoulin was not a very competent and capable player and due to be in-line with the salary comparables listed by the player.

The Club’s alleged comparables seek to pay Dumoulin as if he does not score points AND does not eat a 1st rate set of responsibilities, which we ask the arbiter to reject. The case is clear that Dumoulin’s usage and more importantly results have been key pillars in the Penguins success of Stanley Cup champions in both the two seasons he has been on the NHL roster. The more reasonable comparables provided by the Player show why he deserves to be compensated as such at a rate of $4.2 million dollars due to his past and future contributions to the Club.

2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

(D): Rebuttal and closing argument of the Club and League

In the Club’s original argument, there was never any doubt being made about the Player’s role on the team and the importance of his role was clearly acknowledged. In our eyes, that role is one dimensional as a defensive defenseman and the comparable players we offered as examples fit that role on their respective teams and their salaries properly reflect that.

Of the list of comparables offered by the Player, four of the five players listed (Simon Despres has played only 33 games since the start of 2015) have seen significantly more power play time over the past two seasons in addition to their roles on the penalty kill where they all see big minutes.

The Player’s salary request was set at $4,200,000 million, higher than both Mattias Ekholm and Connor Murphy who were listed as comparables. The Player compares favorably against both players when looking at their respective defensive statistics but offensively he trails behind. The Player has posted a .63 P/60 over the last two seasons while Ekholm and Murphy have registered .97 P/60 and .66 P/60 respectively in the same time frame.

One final point of contention from the Team was his play in the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs where he helped lead the Team in ice time and took on a larger role due to injuries to fellow defenseman. While those points are on correct and face no debate from the Team, a deeper look at the analytics will show the Player often struggled at times in the larger role he was forced into. His 41.2% CF% and -7.9 Corsi Relative are a big step backwards from where they were a season prior.

Combining two seasons of statistics show what the Player is asking for exceeds the comparables his side provided in the original argument. While there is no disagreement on the Player’s defensive play, his lack of offense must play a major factor when gauging salary, especially when compared against the list of peer he provided. With all of this evidence, the team believes their original number of $2,550,000 million dollars is fair for both sides.

The Club’s offer recognizes the Player’s contributions and reasonably factors him at the top of the better list of comparable players, which ought to make for a more fair salary in the two seasons to follow.

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Ruling

IN THE MATTER OF A SALARY ARBITRATION CONDUCTED PURSUANT

TO ARTICLE 12 OF THE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT BETWEEN:

BRIAN DUMOULIN AS A MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE PLAYERS’ ASSOCIATION

AND

THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS, A MEMBER CLUB OF THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE

Before: Mike Colligan, Arbitrator

Before I issue my decision, I’d first like to remind everyone of the information I can and cannot take into consideration, as defined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

I’m allowed to take into account official NHL stats (these can even include advanced stats as long as they're officially tracked by the NHL/NHLPA), games played or injury history, length of service, overall contribution to the team’s success the prior season, and any special leadership or public appeal qualities. I can also consider comparable players and their respective comparable salaries.

Among the many things I can’t consider are the contracts of players who aren’t considered comparable, any history of prior salary negotiations, video clips or newspaper columns, the financial condition of the league, or references to the league’s salary cap.

I will assume the comparables presented by both parties are admissible, but in a real arbitration process these names would be vetted and reviewed ahead of time.

I have also relaxed the rules that prohibit both parties from presenting new evidence in their rebuttals. In a typical arbitration case, each party would only be able to respond to the evidence presented in the other party’s brief. Now onto the decision…

Award:

Both sides presented plenty of interesting information for me to consider. A key observation from the salaries of all comparable players presented are that ice time tends to correlate with contract values.

The Club argues that offensive production is a critical factor and that the lack thereof for Mr. Dumoulin should prohibit him from a higher award. Yet Matt Dumba, presented by the Club as a comparable, significantly outscored Dumoulin and was compensated $2.55 million. Dumba’s ice time per game was only 16:50, however, the lowest of all comparables presented by both sides.

In addition, the Player presented Chris Tanev and Connor Murphy as comparables. These two players had similar ice time to Dumoulin as well as similar offensive production. If Dumoulin’s production is “severely lacking”, as stated by the Club, teams are apparently willing to compensate players such as Tanev and Murphy for other factors. Unfortunately, the Player didn't shed light on these other factors and their potential comparability to Dumoulin in the time allotted.

Both sides acknowledged that Dumoulin’s role and ice time increased in the Club’s last playoff run. The team finished with a Championship, which lends some credence to Dumoulin’s importance.

Lastly, one challenge in assessing the contract comparables presented by the Player are that all were longer than the two-year contract being awarded to Brian Dumoulin. This makes it difficult to truly assess comparability, despite the similarities in age and stats.

For all of these reasons, Brian Dumoulin has been awarded a two-year contract (term decided by the Club) at an annual average value of $3.7 million.

You are dismissed.

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Thanks for reading! The real hearing is set for Monday (unless the two sides agree to a deal) and the award will be made within 48 hours. But a settlement and contract can be made even after the hearing. At the time of the award, the contract becomes binding (though the team technically can walk away and make Dumoulin a UFA if it’s over $3.5 million), but that seems unlikely in this case, barring a hugely unforeseen ruling.