The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to avoid arbitration with defenseman Justin Schultz, signing him to a three-year extension a few weeks ago. However, the Penguins weren’t so fortunate with fellow blue liner Brian Dumoulin.
Pittsburgh and the 25-year-old were unable to agree on a long-term deal before the restricted free agent had to file for arbitration. Now, time is running out, as Dumoulin’s hearing is scheduled for July 24.
That doesn’t seem to be an issue with either side, though, as both the Penguins and the defenseman are content on deciding how much Dumoulin is worth in arbitration.
He put together another strong season, his second full one in the NHL. Dumoulin isn’t as polarizing as some, but just like most of the arbitration battles that reach the hearing, there’s an argument to be made that he deserves a hefty raise or that he should be on a more team-friendly deal.
The most obvious thing working against him is his lack of offense. Dumoulin has just two goals in 163 regular-season games. He doesn’t set up many plays, either, as he has just 31 assists to go with the pair of goals. In 2016-17, he had one goal and 15 points in 70 games.
In terms of other statistics, Dumoulin owns a plus-11 rating over his full two seasons in the NHL but possessed an uninspiring even rating during 2016-17. He also had 113 hits and 99 blocks, both of which were ranked in the top five for Pittsburgh, but neither total is enough to brag about, either.
These are the points the Penguins will bring to the table. If successfully argued, Dumoulin will probably receive a deal worth approximately $3 million. All things considered, that would be a significant raise from the $800,000 he earned in 2016-17.
Except Dumoulin is worth a lot more than what the counting stats indicate. First, he averaged 1:40 minutes per game more than he did in 2015-16 and still posted a Corsi For percentage above 50 percent and the same relative Corsi For percentage (plus-0.9). Then in the playoffs, he played even more, skating 21:59 per game.
Without No. 1 defenseman and minutes eater Kris Letang for much of the season, Dumoulin handling a bigger workload was vitally important for Pittsburgh’s second Stanley Cup run. Among Penguins skaters who played at least 45 regular-season games, Dumoulin had the highest time on ice average, and nobody skated more playoff minutes than he did.
Of course, Pittsburgh would love to see more scoring from Dumoulin, and if he did, then a hefty pay raise would be a no-brainer. But clearly, there’s still value in a stay-at-home defenseman, especially in today’s offensively challenged NHL. With that in mind, his next contract could be worth closer to $5 million than $3 million.
To argue that point, Dumoulin’s camp needs to look no further than Pittsburgh’s roster. General manager Jim Rutherford signed 22-year-old Olli Maatta to a six-year, $24.5 million deal in February 2016.
It’s not a perfect example because Maatta is very much getting paid based on the untapped potential that he has yet to show since his rookie season because of injuries. Still, Maatta had poorer possession numbers and played fewer minutes than Dumoulin did this last season. And while the 22-year-old came to life a bit with eight points in 25 playoff games, it’s not as if Maatta was a better offensive defenseman than Dumoulin last season. The Finnish blue liner had one goal and seven points in 55 contests.
Therefore, it’s not likely Dumoulin’s camp will look for anything less than the $4.083 million per season Maatta will receive each of the next five seasons.
Andrew MacDonald, Andy Greene and Brooks Orpik are other examples of stay-at-home defensemen who make at least $5 million per season, and two of them were older than 30 when they signed those deals. Dumoulin is still in his prime, turning just 26 this fall.
The good news is for the first time in several summers, Pittsburgh has salary cap space to spare. The Penguins have about $11 million to work with to re-sign Dumoulin, Conor Sheary and then maybe Matt Cullen. The Penguins will more than likely also trade for a third-line center who needs to fit under the cap, but it’s possible to move salary off the books by including an NHL player, such as Carl Hagelin, in the deal.
As long as the arbitrator doesn’t award Dumoulin more than $4.5 million, he should still fit on next season’s payroll. The Penguins will find out just how much the stay-at-home defenseman is truly worth this Monday.
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