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The Hronek Deadline: Why the Canucks can’t let their top RFA reach the arbitration stage this summer

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
19 days ago
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Like many of you, we here at CanucksArmy are still processing the sudden end of the Vancouver Canucks’ 2023/24 season. But whether we’ve processed it or not, the season is over, and that means that the offseason has begun.
And what an offseason it is shaping up to be.
As you’ve no doubt heard mentioned too much already, GM Patrik Allvin and Co. have a veritable boatload of free agents on hand to sort through. From the active playoff roster, a full nine UFAs and three RFAs need to be either signed or replaced, and that’s a lot.
Of course, we plan to cover it all here at CanucksArmy, but these items will mostly have to be tackled one at a time. And there’s no better place to start than perhaps the most consequential free agent of all, pending restricted free agent Filip Hronek.
Even in covering Hronek as a singular entity, there are countless avenues one can do down, and the enterprising reader can safely consider this as Part One in a multi-part series on the subject. It makes plenty of sense to start our examination of the Hronek situation with a discussion of its timeline, and in particular the very clearcut “deadline” that the Canucks will have to navigate as they make their decisions on this player.
We’re talking about arbitration. Otherwise known as the thing that the Canucks absolutely cannot allow Hronek to file for, if they can help it.
An RFA who is 24 or older only needs one year of NHL experience in order to file for arbitration. Hronek is 26, going on 27 in November, and has six years under his belt. He’s eligible.
Players or teams can file for arbitration, but for reasons that shall become obvious, in this case it would definitely be the player. In such situations, both sides submit what they believe is a fair amount of compensation, and an independent arbitrator looks at the stats and facts, settles on a number themselves, and awards a contract.
Now, normally, the side that does not initiate the arbitration can select whether the contract offered is a one- or two-year deal. But not so if the player in question is within one year of UFA status.
UFA status is reached, in most cases, at either age 27 or after seven NHL seasons. Whatever contract he signs now, Hronek will be 27 and have completed his seventh NHL campaign by next July. Ergo, he’s a year away from UFA status, and thus only eligible to be offered a one-year deal by an arbitrator.
And that’s a problem for the Canucks. Because what that essentially means is that any contract offered to Hronek by an arbitrator, no matter the value, will walk him right to unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2025.
Of course, if the player-initiated arbitration awarded is for more than about $4.5 million in value, the team can walk away. But that just makes the player a UFA immediately.
Neither outcome is great for the Canucks when it comes to one of their most valuable assets.
So, any outcome of arbitration for Hronek is disastrous, in that it walks him right to free agency, setting him up to walk away in turn in a year’s time, leaving the Canucks empty-handed.
Never mind the fact that said one-year arbitration award would probably be a hefty one for Hronek in the first place. Arbitrators aren’t necessarily analytic experts, and they’re notorious for putting too much emphasis on raw points, in addition to weighting regular season accomplishments as heavily as playoff achievements. Both standards majorly favour Hronek.
Someone who watched each and every Canucks game could tell you that Hronek’s play deteriorated as the season wore on, and that he saved his worst performance for the postseason. But all an arbitrator is going to see are things like Hronek being  27th in overall ice-time, or21st overall in defender scoring this year, or 15th overall in D assists, or seventh overall in plus/minus.
A Canucks fan looks at those numbers and thinks, “Well, duh, Quinn Hughes factor.” An arbitrator looks at those numbers and hands Hronek a huge one-year paycheque that walks him right to the open free agent market. We’re talking in the range of a one-year, $7 million contract, if not more, based on his stats. This is why we’re quite confident that, if the Canucks let Hronek get to this point without having either extended him or traded him, he will be filing for arbitration. It’s just too potentially lucrative for him not to.
Therefore, the solution is pretty simple. And as we said at the outset, it’s not so much a solution, really, as a deadline.
Whatever they decide to do with Hronek, the Canucks need to do it before he has the opportunity to file for arbitration.
That date and deadline is July 5, 2024. That’s the point by which Hronek and his camp must officially file for arbitration. As of this writing, it’s about a month and a week away.
If the Canucks want to extend Hronek, they’ve got a much better position from which to negotiate now. As soon as the arbitrator steps in, the Hronek camp gets to negotiate from the position of already having a one-year deal in hand, and from knowing that they’re just one year away from negotiating with the entire league. That’s definitely a player-friendly set of circumstances, and unlikely to lead to a contract that the Canucks and their fans are pleased with.
Maybe such a contract will never wind up on the table, but we’re confident in stating that, if it does, it’ll appear now, prior to arbitration, not after.
And if the Canucks decide to go the other route, and trade Hronek, they’re still far better off to do so before arbitration, and ideally long before arbitration if they can swing it. For all the reasons listed above, Hronek becomes a much less valuable asset the second he files for arbitration. And while he may have at least a little loyalty on hand for the Canucks, but he won’t for whichever team they trade him to, and that all but guarantees an arbitration filing.
The circumstances are the same for the Canucks or any team trading for Hronek: it’s much better to do so (and extend him) now than after July 5.
The space between now and July 5 contains the buyout window, the NHL Entry Draft, and the beginnings of the Free Agent Frenzy. It’s the busiest portion of the offseason. If they had their own way about it, Allvin and Co. would probably prefer to leave the business of Hronek negotiations until later in the summer.
But they won’t have their own way about it. The Hronek Decision begins with adhering to the Hronek Deadline, and that’s July 5.
And as for which of the myriad Hronek Decisions is the right one to make before that date… stay tuned.
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