Teddy Purcell could benefit from big free agent contracts

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Teddy Purcell had a breakout campaign in 2010-11 by scoring 51 points in 81 games, including 17 goals, and then went on to tally another 17 points in 18 playoff games before the Lightning were eliminated in the Conference Finals. So if Purcell makes it to his salary arbitration hearing on July 20, the 25-year-old forward could be due for a significant raise from the $750,000 he made last season. But what determines the amount of his raise may not necessarily be a reflection of his production on the ice.

When the salary cap was raised to $64.3 million several weeks ago, so was the salary cap floor – the minimum that teams are required to spend every season. This caused some teams to overspend on talent early in free agency to help meet the cap floor, which may have an adverse effect for teams during salary arbitration hearings as agents look to secure fair market value for their clients.

Tomas Kopecky had a bit of a breakout campaign himself this past season when he scored 42 points in 81 games for the Chicago Blackhawks. His reward? A contract from the Florida Panthers for $3 million per season after earning $1.2 million with the Blackhawks the season before. While Kopecky certainly adds some value to the Panthers, such a hefty contract is largely viewed as a result of the increased cap floor and Florida’s need to meet the league minimum salary. But this move could inadvertently benefit players such as Purcell.

When Purcell and his agent meet with arbitrators next week, Purcell’s agent will likely point out Kopecky’s contract as an example of what fair market value would be for his client. After all, Purcell scored more points and was a major contributor in the Lightning’s playoff success and if his client wasn’t a restricted free agent, he likely could have gotten $3 million per season on the open market.

Purcell’s agent will likely cite Ville Leino as another example. Last season with the Flyers, Leino tallied 53 points in 81 games – only two more points than Purcell. And Leino wasn’t nearly as productive in the playoffs either. That didn’t stop the Buffalo Sabres from handing Leino a contract worth $4.5 million per season when free agency began last week.

It’s highly unlikely that Purcell will receive $4.5 million a season, but there is a high probability that Purcell could get more than he otherwise would thanks to a weak free agent class and a rise in the salary cap floor that helped increase offers for mid-level scorers around the league. An arbitration award of $3 million might not be out of the question, but it’s more likely that Purcell gets an award of somewhere around $2 to $2.5 million – an award that could be a steal if Purcell continues to grow into a quality scorer with the Lightning in the coming years.

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