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Sports The arbitration breakdown for Coyotes winger Lawson Crouse

05:50  07 august  2022
05:50  07 august  2022 Source:   prohockeyrumors.com

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It’s likely to be a long weekend for representatives of Lawson Crouse and the Arizona Coyotes as they prepare for a Monday morning arbitration hearing to decide the forward’s next contract, or perhaps try to settle it ahead of time. A veteran of six NHL seasons, Crouse has two more seasons as a RFA and had filed for arbitration ahead of the deadline for players to elect on July 17.

Arizona Coyotes left winger Lawson Crouse. © Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports Arizona Coyotes left winger Lawson Crouse.

Given Crouse’s age, play style and Arizona’s cap space, one may have expected the sides to work out a long-term deal this offseason. However, as the hearing date approaches, that agreement appears less and less likely, especially as figures have been exchanged. With another year of control which will require another contract given that both sides asked for a one-year deal in arbitration, Arizona should have another chance at keeping the forward long-term, while Crouse will have a chance to repeat on his strong 2021-22 and command an even higher salary.

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Filings:

Team: $2.5M

Player: $4.00M

Midpoint: $3.25M

(per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman)

The Numbers:

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Crouse is a large power-forward willing to hit anyone in sight and can chip in offensively. The 25-year-old arguably hasn’t hit the ceiling projected for him when the Florida Panthers selected him No. 11 overall in 2015, however he has made a name for himself in the league, filling his role, one that is usually in high-demand, quite well. Barely more than a year after Florida selected Crouse, they dealt him to the Coyotes along with the contract of Dave Bolland, and he was given an opportunity to slot right into Arizona’s lineup.

Crouse would get into 72 games as a rookie in 2016-17, but struggled to just 12 points in that time. The following year he would appear in only 11 NHL games, spending the rest of the season in the AHL. Since returning to a full-time NHL role in 2018-19, Crouse has been a steady presence in the Coyotes lineup, but had struggled to find his place on the offensive side of the puck. 2018-19 saw Crouse record 25 points in 81 games, repeating that number in a notably fewer 66 games in 2019-20, a season COVID-19 cut short. Unfortunately, the winger took a step back in 2020-21, recording just 13 points in 51 games.

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Heading into his prime years and towards opportunities to make big money, Crouse not only needed a bounce-back season, but needed a bit of a breakout in 2021-22 and got just that. In 65 games, Crouse hit career-highs in goals with 20 and assists with 14 (the second time he’s done so) and even found himself part of trade deadline speculation. The performance didn’t cement him as one of the league’s best, but it didn’t need to. As a grinder, a heavy hitter, and someone who plays the game the right way, Crouse was able to show he could contribute offensively on top of that. In a hearing, an arbitrator will look at the bulk of a player’s production over the years, considering consistency and growth, but no season is more important to consider than the platform year. For his career, Crouse has shown consistency and some growth ahead of his poor 2020-21, but again showed that growth heading into his platform year, the best he’s had to date.

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2021-22 Stats: 65 GP, 20 G, 14 A, 34 pts, 52 PIMs, 131 shots, 181 hits, 17:26 ATOI

Career Stats: 346 GP, 56 G, 54 A, 110 pts, 253 PIMs, 538, 1,014 hits, 13:50 ATOI

Potential Comparables:

Comparable contracts are restricted to those signed within restricted free agency which means UFA deals and entry-level pacts are ineligible to be used.  The contracts below fit within those parameters.

Andrew Copp (Winnipeg Jets) – Copp and the Jets avoided arbitration last summer with a one-year, $3.64M contract that carried the forward through to unrestricted free agency. Having agreed to the contract two weeks prior to the hearing date, neither side exchanged figures for the arbitration. Copp’s 2021-22 salary comes in just about halfway between the midpoint and the player filing in Crouse’s case, meaning that Crouse’s representatives would have to show that he, right now, is somewhat better than Copp was last summer. Much like Crouse, Copp had made a career as a hard-working, physical forward who could chip in point totals somewhere in the upper-20s, but not much more. Also like Crouse, Copp had an offensive breakout in his platform year, though his 39 points in 55 games was notably stronger than Crouse’s 34 in 65 games. While he fits nicely within the filing numbers in the instant case, the former Jets forward may not be an ideal comparison for either side, as Crouse would find it difficult to show he’s any better than Copp was, but Arizona would have a tough time showing that Crouse is so far behind Copp that he warrants a salary $1.14M less than Copp.

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Tyler Bertuzzi (Detroit Red Wings): We take another step back in time, now to 2020, for the rest of our comparables. That year, Bertuzzi and Detroit went to arbitration, where Bertuzzi was awarded $3.5M. That number was closer to Detroit’s $3.15M filing number as compared to Bertuzzi’s $4.25M, but represented something closer to a split for both sides. Bertuzzi had come off of a 48 point season, featuring 21 goals and 27 assists in 71 games, better than Crouse’s 20 goals and 14 assist platform year. What’s more is that this wasn’t a breakout for Bertuzzi like it was for Crouse, having his 47 points in 73 games the year prior, and a similarly-paced 24 points in 48 games before that. This comparison would likely work best for Arizona in the instant hearing, considering Bertuzzi had exceeded Crouse’s breakout season in his platform year, already a repeat of the year prior, and was only awarded $3.5M. If a player with production considerably better than Crouse, for a longer stretch, is only worth $3.5M, then it stands to reason that Crouse would not be worth more than $3.5M, or anywhere near that amount, Arizona may argue.

Connor Brown (Ottawa Senators): Also during the 2020 offseason, Brown and Ottawa settled their case, agreeing to a three-year, $3.6M AAV deal. Entering that offseason, Brown was coming off a career remarkably similar to Crouse, having been reliable for some offensive production with point production hovering just over the 30-points-per-82-games level, and fresh off a bounce-back season after a rough year prior. Brown had 43 points in 71 games in his platform year, a significant step-up from just 29 points in 82 games the year before. Even though this $3.6M is below Crouse’s filing, it’s above the midpoint and as a three-year deal, shows Ottawa’s confidence in Brown after his up-and-down trajectory. Crouse may argue that the long-term commitment shows confidence on this trajectory, one remarkably similar to his. He could also show that in addition to similar offensive production, he unlike Brown, adds an additional element as a hard-hitting power forward, which is production in its own right.

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Jake Virtanen (Vancouver Canucks): A final comparison from 2020, and a strong one for the Coyotes is Virtanen, who settled with Vancouver on a two-year, $2.55M AAV contract. This deal is just barely over the Coyotes’ filing number, and Virtanen’s trajectory heading into arbitration is incredibly similar to that of Crouse. After a somewhat pedestrian rookie season, both players spent a majority of their second year in the AHL, but returned with a bit more production, remaining consistent over the next two seasons. The season after would then be Virtanen’s platform year, where he took a step forward, recording 18 goals and 18 assists in 69 games. Crouse on the other hand would regress before his 20 goal and 14 assist platform year. With similar production for their career, Crouse recording 110 points in 346 gams entering arbitration and Virtanen 95 points in 279 games before the above contract, the only difference is that Crouse took a step back at one point, Virtanen did not. Arizona would likely argue that the two players had almost the same career, except Crouse regressed two years before arbitration, while Virtanen did not, thus why Arizona filed just slightly below what Virtanen and Vancouver agreed upon.

Projection:

Given the comparable players, Crouse may find it difficult to be awarded at his filing number. However, the relevant comparables outside of Virtanen show that Crouse is most likely worth around or above the midpoint. The forward had his best season in his platform year and hit somewhat of a milestone marker with 20 goals. His ability to play a physical game supplement’s his offense as well, helping to drive up his value.

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On the other hand, Crouse’s 2020-21 was unimpressive at best and serves to show that some inconsistency may be present in the winger’s game, and even though Copp, Bertuzzi, and Brown show Crouse should be above the midpoint, Virtanen casts doubt on that assumption, even if his contract isn’t dispositive.

What Crouse’s next salary winds up being is a question most likely reserved for arbitration at this point, however the more important question for the rebuilding Coyotes will be how one of their young building-blocks can continue to develop and whether they can secure him long-term.

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