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July 05, 2016

Flyers forward Brayden Schenn files for arbitration - what does it mean?

Boy, that escalated quickly.

In a surprising turn on Tuesday, Philadelphia Flyers forward (and restricted free agent) Brayden Schenn filed for arbitration prior to the league's 5 p.m. deadline. He was one of three Flyers -- Jordan Weal and Brandon Manning were the others -- and 24 NHL players in total to do so.

Last week, the Flyers extended a qualifying offer to Schenn and four other players in order to maintain their rights during free agency. And after a career year in 2015-16 (26G, 33A) in which he carried just a $2.5 million cap hit, the 24-year-old was likely due for a big payday this offseason regardless. That's at least part of the reason general manager Ron Hextall has put the focus on adding depth at forward in the four days since the signing period opened on Friday; he needed to save room under the cap for Schenn's contract, among others.

The NHL's arbitration process is a complicated one -- much more so than baseball -- but on its face, Schenn's decision to file does not look good for the ongoing negotiation process between player and club. It also would seem to contradict Hextall's statement from over the holiday weekend in which he insisted that it was "not an issue" and that a deal with the young forward "will get done."

The why behind Schenn's desire to head to arbitration remains to be seen. It could be something as simple as a negotiating tactic suggested by his agent. As for what it means going forward, that's ... complicated. In large part, because the process itself is complicated.

Here are some important things to remember about arbitration -- and you can also check out this great, in-depth breakdown of how it works.

 Only restricted free agents who meet certain qualifications in terms of age and service time are eligible for arbitration.

•  There are two ways arbitration can commence: 1) the player files or 2) the team files. Players who meet those requirements can file for arbitration in as many seasons as they wish. However, a team can only elect for arbitration with a specific player once. Once any NHL team has elected to take a player to arbitration, no other team (at any time in his career) can take that same player to arbitration. That also applies if the two sides reach a deal before their hearing.

•  By filing, the player is essentially refusing the qualifying offer extended to him by his current club. In the case of Schenn and the Flyers, that's not a surprise. No one expected him to sign the qualifying offer.

•  Whichever party didn't select arbitration -- in this case, the Flyers -- gets the right to determine whether or not they'll be arguing over a one-year or two-year deal.

•  Negotiations can continue up until the actual hearing, and Schenn can still avoid going to arbitration if he agrees to a new deal with the Flyers before the hearing. Once the arbitrator has rules, however, the two sides will no longer be able to negotiate any different terms.

•  All NHL arbitration hearings will take place between July 20th and August 5th. The schedule is determined once all players and teams have filed. 

•  Both sides send an outline of their arguments -- including the amount of money they think the player is worth -- to the arbitrator (and the other side) 48 hours before the hearing.

•  Once the hearing is over, the arbitrator has 48 hours to make a decision.

•  When a player elects to go to arbitration, the team can still decide to walk away and not sign the player, making him an unrestricted free agent. Here's more from the aforementioned breakdown over at SBNation.

As long as the club has a walk-away right, they have 48 hours after the end of all their arbitration hearings to elect to walk away from a player. The amount of walk-aways a team may carry out in one year depends on how many players take them to arbitration.  [SBNation]

Since three Flyers players filed for arbitration on Tuesday they will be able to walk away twice.

Where this becomes complicated moving forward is in the one part not mentioned here -- the actual hearing.

In order to win in a case like this, the Flyers will need to argue that Schenn isn't as good as he thinks he is. To a certain extent, that happens in any contract negotiation, but with the final decision out of the team's hands, they'll probably need to get pretty negative and specific with their arguments. 

Some players don't take that well. It's a business, sure, but it's hard not to take it at least a little personally.

Furthermore, if they make it all the way to arbitration, it means that Schenn will, at most, only be under contract for the next two seasons. After the Flyers signed Sean Couturier to a six-year extension and handed out a monster eight-year, $66 million deal to Jake Voracek last summer, many thought 2016 would be the year for Schenn. 

And looking at Schenn's numbers over the past few seasons since joining the Flyers, Hextall and the rest of the front office may have their work cut out for them if they hope to come out on top.

GP G A PTS +/-
'11-12 54 12 6 18 -7
'12-13 47 8 18 26 -8
'13-14 82 20 21 41 0
'14-15 82 18 29 47 -5
'15-16 80 26 33 59 3

Still, this can and often does have a happy ending. Michael Del Zotto filed for arbitration last season, and that seemed to work out just fine for everyone. He avoided a hearing by signing a two-year deal.

As for Schenn, stay tuned...

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin