After a reportedly marathon-length hearing Sunday, an NHL arbitrator has finally decided — after going well-over the 48-hour decision window and forcing writers to sit on their hands all day waiting — on a new contract between the Winnipeg Jets and restricted free agent forward Andrew Copp.
Even though the arbitration process — in which players, agents, and general managers clash — can sometime ruffle feathers and cause bad blood, the new deal, a two-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $2.28 million, seems to be a good one. It grants short-term benefits and opens up the potential for long-term ones for both sides.
Meet Me in the Middle?
Prior to arbitration, Copp and his agent, confrontational and ruthless negotiator Kurt Overhardt — a man disliked in Winnipeg perhaps just a teeny bit less than mosquitos and potholes — asked for $2.9 million on a one-year deal, which would have nearly tripled Copp’s annual salary from the two seasons prior. The Jets countered with a two-year deal worth $1.5 million a year.
Copp and Overhardt’s ask was likely based on the AAV Copp’s former ‘TLC’ linemate Brandon Tanev got from the Pittsburgh Penguins during free agent frenzy — $3.5 million a year.
Given Copp has shown he can excel with a wide variety of players — unlike Tanev, who needed Copp and Adam Lowry to make an impact — the Jets’ offer seemed liked an intentional lowball to try and establish what the middle ground would end as — somewhere around $2.2 or $2.3 million — given arbitrators usually split the difference.
Related: Jets Will Survive the Loss of Tanev
That was a good strategy move on Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s part, because the arbitrator stayed true to form and split the difference between Copp’s ask and the Jets’ offer. Not sure why it took so long for them to rule.
Copp on the Cusp?
Copp has suited up for 293 games since he made his NHL debut in 2015 at 20-years-old, but only recently has come into his own as an impact player. Last season, he posted a career-high 11 goals and added 14 assists in 64 games; if he hadn’t missed time in November and December due to a concussion, he would have easily surpassed his career-high in points (29, set in 2017-18).
More importantly, last season was when Copp truly emerged as a line-driver. Between the now-departed Brendan Lemieux and Mason Appleton, Copp boosted a fabulously-effective fourth line that proved dominant in holding the puck in the offensive zone and applying pressure at five-on-five. Copp’s above-average intelligence, high hockey IQ, and puck possession skills were key to that line’s success from the New Year through mid-February.
Related: Copp Critical to Jets’ Fourth Line Success
While Copp will play wherever he’s asked with a smile — and has been a bottom-six guy until now — some have speculated he could push for the role as the Jets’ second-line centre.
Given his possession numbers, could he finally be the one to get Nikolai Ehlers and Patrik Laine firing consistently at even strength? He’s worth at least a look between the Dane and the Finn — Bryan Little has proven ill-suited for the job, and the Jets seem loathe to roll Jack Roslovic out between the two for some reason (THW’s own Rob Mahon advocated for just that last November).
Deal Should Work for Both Sides
On first glance, the deal and term seems like it’ll work for both Copp and the Jets.
It’ll give the 25-year-old a chance to prove what he’s truly capable of. If he shows capable of centering the second line, it’s tough to envision his point totals not increasing substantially.
“For Copp, a major opportunity is staring him in the face,” the Winnipeg Free Press’ Mike McIntyre wrote recently. “Perhaps he will get a look at the second-line centre position… That could open the door to more offensive chances and bigger production. And, ultimately, a bigger bank account,” (From ‘Lowball offer, arbitration hearing not necessarily beginning of the end for Copp and Jets,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 0/22/19.)
Even if Copp stays on the bottom six but remains valuable as a possession specialist, face-off man, and penalty killer, he could still cash in on a lucrative, longer-term deal when the deal he inked Tuesday is up after the 2020-21 campaign.
The deal also gives the Jets his services for two seasons at a reasonable price at a moment when money is tight. They still have to sign Laine and Kyle Connor, which will take them pretty much to the cap ceiling given they are a bit hamstrung by the Little and Mathieu Perreault contracts.
By the time 2020-21 wraps up, however, the Jets will have more financial freedom to tender a long-term deal to Copp if they wish — Dustin Byfuglien and Perreault (who combine to make nearly $12 million) will be off the books following that season.
Overall, the arbitrator helped Jets’ brass and Copp reach a reasonable solution and there shouldn’t be animosity between the sides going forward. Copp isn’t getting robbed, but the Jets will be getting his contributions — whether they come on the bottom or top six — for the next two seasons at a decent price.