Colorado Avalanche: Arbitration Is Terrible For Chemistry

Mar 20, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Colorado Avalanche defenceman Tyson Barrie (4) is seen out on the ice during the pre-game warm-up as they took on the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 20, 2016; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Colorado Avalanche defenceman Tyson Barrie (4) is seen out on the ice during the pre-game warm-up as they took on the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports /

The Colorado Avalanche are in arbitration with Tyson Barrie, and although there may be good outcomes contract wise from this, it’s terrible for the team.

We all know by now that according to Joe Sakic and Tyson Barrie’s  agent that arbitration is just business. And on the surface it is, but let’s take a quick look at the process to examine why it’s bad for not only the team’s relationship with a specific player, but for overall team chemistry as well.

The Process

I’m not going to break down the CBA here, but for here’s a very brief overview of the process (for an in depth breakdown The Score has a great article):

  • The Colorado Avalanche and Tyson Barrie submit their asking price to an independent arbitrator, because this is a negotiation those figures get inflated
  • Each side gets 90 minutes to make their case on why their figure is correct.
  • This includes general performance, leadership, and comparable contracts for players who were also RFA’s-among many other things
  • This means that comparable players who signed free agent deals don’t matter, as well as past offers the club made. For example I’m sure the Av’s submission will be lower then their longterm offer to Barrie. At which point Barrie can’t point to the offer as evidence he is worth more.
  • And from those 90 minutes, a contract is awarded by the arbitrator

Sounds pretty fair, right? The ability for the arbitrator to create his own number is good and bad compared to leagues (such as the MLB) where the arbitrator has to pick one of the numbers. Good because it leads to more fair contracts, but bad because it widens the initial gap between the parties.

The arbitration also doesn’t allow statistics not kept by the NHL, but as of this year the keeping of shot attempts (Corsi) by the NHL should make certain advanced statistics eligible.

Why It’s Terrible For The Player

Like both parties has mentioned, this is business which means both sides are going to do their best to get the best deal. In Sakic’s case that means going up and, with Barrie in the room, talking about all the flaws in Barrie’s game.

Now Sakic is renowned for his demeanor, but nevertheless, arbitration gets the best of people and it once led to poor Tommy Salo leaving a hearing in tears. Obviously, I doubt that will happen in this case, but it’s Sakic’s job to justify the lowest number possible and that means beating down Tyson Barrie’s skills to a pulp. It means pointing out all the negatives of his game for 90 minutes. No matter how professional it may be, that stuff hurts. A lot of these things will be items Roy has been working with Barrie with, but the tone will be significantly different in court.

Another factor is that Barrie is represented by the same agency group (although different agent) as Ryan O’Reilly was. Both parties have claimed that won’t be a factor, but these things stick, especially when it looks bad for Sakic that (in his mind) a specific group of agents is constantly forcing his hand in arbitration.

Why Arbitration Is Bad For The Team

The point of RFA is that teams get to sign players below open market value to protect their assets from the draft. And while limiting comparable contracts to only those signed under restricted free agency helps, arbitration is really seeking the fairest number.

I’m not sure which way most players feelings swing, but I guarantee most players are either on the side of “The Avalanche have treated you fairly, and we all managed to reach our contracts without causing a scene for an extra half a million.” Or players are thinking “How ridiculous is it that Sakic refuses to give Tyson Barrie a reasonable offer.”

Either of these if obviously bad for the team’s chemistry. You could end up with players thinking arbitration is the only way to get a fair deal out of Sakic, or with players resentful at what Barrie ends up getting out of arbitration. Either way the club loses, even if players think Barrie was being stuck up, it’s certainly not going to help the locker room dynamics.


All of this is not to say that Tyson Barrie and the Colorado Avalanche can’t have a healthy working relationship going forward. But no matter how things work out I’m sure players are shaking their heads at either Sakic or Barrie and his agent.

And if there is any previous acrimonious feelings between the two sides arbitration is sure to shed light on them, and possibly bring them to a breaking point.