3 funny stories from NHL's rarely-used salary arbitration

by Aug 1, 10:30 AM

Today P.K. Subban found himself in a bit of an awkward situation that few players these days have to go through: salary arbitration. That entails sitting in a room with your team - the team you’re going to be playing for the next year - and listening to them explain why you aren’t that good at your job. Your lawyer says you’re awesome, your team scoffs, a settlement is reached, and then you shake hands. I assume you then receive a blast from the Men in Black neuralyzer.

Not many of us are privy to just how awful and/or hilarious past hearings have been (they're generally kept private for obvious reasons), but there are a few stories in the public sphere. Below are three of those, and they’re pretty fantastic.

#1 Brian Burke on Brendan Morrison

Brendan Morrison had a pretty cushy gig in Vancouver. He was a great player, but his linemates happened to be Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi in their primes. They threw up massive points, and so, in turn, did he. The Canucks weren’t shy to point this out.

From Adrian Dater’s post in Sports Illustrated:

During the summer of 2002, Brendan Morrison of the Canucks was a man being compared to a mouse. During a salary arbitration hearing, an attorney arguing on behalf of the team tried to minimize Morrison’s contributions to Vancouver’s just-concluded season by likening linemates Todd Bertuzzi and Markus Naslund to elephants.

“‘But for the elephant, [Morrison] never would have been able to get across the swaying bridge,’ I still remember the lawyer, in a French accent, telling the arbiter,” says Morrison’s agent, Denver-based Kurt Overhardt. “‘Monsieur arbiter, can we agree that the linemates are the elephant, and player X is the mouse?’ It was hilarious. By then, my client was laughing so hard he was turning beet red. Even the guys from the league who were monitoring the whole thing were laughing.”

Patrick Burke, Brian’s son, followed up a previous post I wrote on this by noting a small correction to Dater’s story:

Close. It's about a mouse hitching a ride on an elephant to wade across a rushing river. They get to the other side and the mouse says "Good for us! We made it over!" French lawyer screams "BRENDAN MORRISON IS DA MOUSE!"

The man-turned-mouse had his $770k salary tripled by getting a two-year, $4.6 million deal.

#2 Mike Milbury to Tommy Salo

Milbury was, to put it gently, not a fan of Tommy Salo’s. The opportunity to tear down Salo in arbitration was something he seemed to relish, as he went no-holds-barred.

From Lighthouse Hockey, here’s a little something on that:

Milbury took that to an extreme though when he went to arbitration with Tommy Salo. With Salo sitting next to his agent, Milbury began ranting about how bad he was directly to his agent: Claiming that he was one of the poorest conditioned players in the league, that he wasn't an NHL caliber goalie, and tearing into him in what is considered one of the most infamous arbitration rants of all time. According to reports, Salo left the room to use the bathroom, and when he returned it was clear that he had been crying.

Nothing like bring your own player to tears to say “We’re looking forward to you being a valuable contributor to our squad next year, old chap.” How perfectly Milbury.

#3 The Phoenix Coyotes vs. Mike Johnson

A year ago I tweeted something to the effect of “I’d kill for a TV network to televise arbitration. ‘Here’s why the guy we’d like to sign is terrible.”

I heard from long-time NHLer Mike Johnson who now works as an analyst for TSN with this little tale:

I filed with Phoenix and in their brief they called me the worst forward in the NHL the previous year.  You can't help but laugh. We settled and it was nothing but love afterwards. It didn't bother me, I was almost disappointed not to have gone through with it. I still have a copy of the brief in my office somewhere.  It would make for some funny reading.

“The worst forward in the NHL.”

There’s a reason that hardly anyone goes to arbitration anymore.