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Ilya Mikheyev’s arbitration ask is more than double the Leafs’ offer

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These are dramatically different views of paying the Leafs only arbitration-bound player. Is there a settlement here?

Kontinental Hockey League: Avangard Omsk 4 3 SKA St Petersburg
Ilya Mikheyev showing off his fashion sense at a game in his hometown last month.
Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images

With Ilya Mikheyev’s player-elected arbitration set to be heard on Wednesday, the two sides have made their submissions.

The arbitrator will hear the supporting arguments for the ask from Mikheyev at $2.7 million and the Leafs offer at $1 million. When a number is determined, the Leafs get to pick the term. In other words, no matter what amount the arbitrator picks between 1 and 2.7, the Leafs can force that to be a two-year contract and get a UFA year bundled into Mikheyev’s last year as an RFA. EDITED to add: this is totally wrong. The only way Mikheyev can get a 2-year deal, which was the Leafs offer, is if he has 2 years of RFA status left. His October birthday threw me off! He is 26, but only just 26.

The two parties can settle this anytime between now and when the hearing begins, but they may not settle after that.

The Leafs will not have any walk-away rights to this contract, no matter what the arbitrator decides.

Usually, in cases that go to arbitration and aren’t settled before, the arbitrator picks a number almost right down the middle, which in this case is $1.85 million. That is obviously more than the Leafs want to pay anyone right now.

With the exception of Wayne Simmonds, and his reputation-based $1.5 million — said to be less than he was offered by the Canadiens — the Leafs signed all their new players to $1 million or less. Jimmy Vesey, expected to play on the third line at least, the same level as Mikheyev, signed for $900,000.

A contract of $1.85 million, and without knowing what Travis Dermott will sign for, puts the Leafs in a position of having to run a 21-man roster all the time without some kind of significant move.

It’s hard to imagine the Leafs would be happy with that, even if over two years, that’s probably a fair contract to a bargain, depending on how Mikheyev performs. Is he really more than the third-liner with PK time he was last season? Then it’s a good deal. If he’s not, it feels like there’s other options out there for less, half as much in Vesey’s case, who can come close to what Mikheyev adds to the team.

In cases — which are rare — where the arbitrator feels the player ask is unreasonable, they will come well below the halfway point. But the tricky thing about Mikheyev is that you can make a case for any number since his actual on-ice results are so limited. He has only 39 NHL games plus five pointless quasi-playoff games post-injury. He finished below Zach Hyman in ice time, points per 60 minutes and goals per 60 minutes. The only non-fourth-line wingers he finished ahead of in points pace are the two the Maple Leafs traded. Zach Hyman is currently paid $2.25 million, but should expect a raise as a UFA next offseason. His other problem is he’s 26, not two to three years younger, like most of the players who enter arbitration with a very limited track record.

The question to be answered by Mikheyev’s agent over the next two days isn’t so much what is his player worth, but how much will the Leafs be willing to pay for what he brings. There has to be a point at which they decide to trade him rather than chop players off the roster to make him fit. Guessing where that point is, is likely exactly what Mikheyev’s people are doing right now. That and trying to consider all the pros and cons to a one-year vs two-year deal.

A settlement might be the best thing for both sides, but it’s hard to see where the acceptable middle ground really is here.

Note, since I just saw a member of the media say something about Mikheyev “winning at 2.7” I want to emphasize that it doesn’t work like that. The arbitrator does not pick one of the two, they set a compromise between the two.