Zach Aston-Reese was one of 17 players to file for salary arbitration ahead of the deadline to do so today.
NHLPA announces 17 players have elected Salary Arbitration: https://t.co/aR7otBGAod— NHLPA (@NHLPA) August 1, 2021
This step is to be expected and is the player’s leverage to start the clock for agreeing to his next contract. The player and team can sign a contract at any point up to and after the hearing date, this is mainly a procedural move.
Pittsburgh currently has an estimated $2.6 million left under the upper limit of the salary cap for 2021-22 season. By the estimate of the Evolving Hockey projections, Aston-Reese has a predicted next contract of $2.1 million for three years, with an average of $1.9 million time two years.
Aston-Reese has some of the best defensive metrics for a forward, but has had issues with his durability and offensive production over the years.
The other procedural note is that no other NHL team can provide an offer sheet to Aston-Reese. Though those are very rare, especially for role players, that is off the table after this move.
There is usually some confusion or misunderstanding about if the team can “walk away” or not honor the arbitration process. Last season, only awards of $4.5 million in annual salary could be denied by the team. Given Aston-Reese’s status and standing, that won’t be the case to hit such a high salary threshold, so Pittsburgh will have to accept and work his salary into their structure for next year, barring a trade. There will be no ability for the team to sidestep the arbitration award, should it get that far into the process.
Last week, general manager Ron Hextall expressed some confidence that the team would be moving soon to get Aston-Reese signed up in the near future. This move to file for dearbitration might help get the wheels moving. Most NHL cases never get heard before teams get the players signed ahead of time, so we will see if that likely scenario plays out in the days and weeks ahead for the Pens and Aston-Reese.