Pavel Kubina marks the first of five scheduled salary arbitrations.
By BRANT JAMES
Published August 1, 2004
The Lightning's perfect record in salary arbitration is likely to end today. Not perfect in the sense the franchise has won every case, but in that it has never completed one of the divisive hearings. General manager Jay Feaster does not expect any deals before this morning, when defenseman Pavel Kubina is the first of five players with hearings in the next two weeks in Toronto.
The Lightning offered Kubina a three-year, $9-million contract, but agent Petr Svoboda countered with $7.4-million plus bonuses over two seasons. Kubina, 27, earned $2.5-million last season.
"We certainly expect the hearing to go through and have the arbitrator decide," Feaster said. "We don't see him being awarded that. If he gets it, it'll be through arbitration because we're not going to negotiate that. I'll do two years but not at ($3.7-million). Kubina set career-bests in goals (17), points (35) and plus-minus (9), had four winning goals and drew the top opposing scorer throughout the postseason. Left wing Ruslan Fedotenko, who scored both goals in the Lightning's 2-1 Game 7 victory in the Stanley Cup final, is scheduled for Tuesday, followed by defenseman Cory Sarich (Aug. 9) and left wings Fredrik Modin (Aug. 10) and Cory Stillman (Aug. 15).
The Lightning offered Fedotenko, 25, a three-year deal "at an increase," Feaster said, of his $950,000 salary. But agent David Schatia is seeking a two-year deal worth $1.6-million the first year and $1.75-million the next.
Fedotenko set career-highs in points (39) and assists (22) in the regular season and added 14 points in the playoffs.
Left wing Kyle Calder, who had 21 goals and 18 assists last season, signed a deal with Chicago similar to the one Fedotenko seeks.
"We're not prepared to go there," Feaster said of the terms.
Schatia said Fedotenko's big-moment impact - he also scored in Game 7 of the East final - justifies his demand.
"In the court of public opinion, we are right," he said. Arbitrators award the contract sought by either side or anything in between. Decisions come within 48 hours, and if the team does not want to pay the salary determined for a one-year deal, the player can become an unrestricted free agent. The Lightning might start paying off its frugally financed title. Winning a Cup could carry weight in arbitration, and most of the eligible players had career seasons.
Sarich had personal bests in assists (16) and plus-minus (5) and was a defensive stalwart. Modin set bests in points (57) and assists (28), and Stillman had career-highs in points (80) and assists (55) and was second on the team in regular-season scoring. "I don't mind paying players," Feaster said. "I'm not prepared to overpay players. If I did not think there was overreaching going on, we would have deals done."
With negotiations with Hart Trophy-winner and leading scorer Martin St. Louis ongoing, the Lightning's payroll is certain to exceed the $33-million of 2003-04. Feaster said he will not know how much leeway he has to sign outside players until he has handled his internal business.
"We have a budget we have to work within," he said. "Every contract rendered and every player signed starts to add up. What we would need to do to respond remains to be seen."