Last week, the main topic of conversation surrounding the Philadelphia Flyers was their possible approach to unrestricted free agency. They chose to be mostly quiet, adding bottom-six forwards Dale Weise and Boyd Gordon along with a host of players who will likely spend the 2016-17 season in the AHL.
With the unrestricted free agency period now in its slowdown phase, the focus shifts to the remaining restricted free agents on the market. Last Monday, the Flyers tendered qualifying offers to five such RFAs in their organization -- Brayden Schenn, Nick Cousins, Brandon Manning, Jordan Weal and Petr Straka.
By qualifying each of them, Philadelphia general manager Ron Hextall ensured that the five players would not reach unrestricted free agency on July 1st, and instead would require an offer sheet from another team (which could be matched by the Flyers) in order to pry any away.
But qualifying offers merely prevent another team from scooping up a player as a UFA. They generally are not the final contract that an RFA chooses to accept. He usually comes to terms with his team in one of two ways: a negotiated contract extension, or salary arbitration in front of a judge.
Today, we learned that three of Philadelphia's restricted free agents are willing to take the latter route, including the most important of the lot -- forward Brayden Schenn.
Schenn chose to file for arbitration, and he was joined by defenseman Brandon Manning and forward Jordan Weal. Cousins and Straka will not go to arbitration. Even though Schenn, Manning and Weal all have filed for arbitration, it does not necessarily mean that they will end up in front of a judge. The Flyers will retain exclusive negotiating rights from now until arbitration, so a new contract can still be negotiated in the meantime.
For example, Michael Del Zotto filed for arbitration last year, but agreed to a contract with the Flyers before ever reaching the actual hearing. One expects that Hextall will try to reach similar agreements with Schenn, Manning and Weal.
The players' decisions to file are more intended as a way to gain a bit more leverage in the RFA process. It speeds up the negotiation timeline, and ensures that a judge's decision (and not the qualifying offer) becomes the "fall-back" option in case a negotiated extension cannot be finalized.
If any of Schenn, Manning or Weal does reach an arbitration hearing, representatives for both the player and the team will make their case to the arbitrator. The judge listens to both sides, and then issues a verdict. Within 48 hours, the team then has the right to either agree to the verdict, or walk away from the proposed contract, making the player an unrestricted free agent. Arbitration hearings have been known to get contentious, as teams may use evidence critical of the player in order to win the case.
The Flyers obviously hope that with Schenn, Manning and Weal, it doesn't come to that.