This is hardly a surprising development for the Coyotes, as the team had three arbitration eligible players file last season, most notably: Mikkel Boedker. They managed to get all three under contract before arbitration, which tends to be the norm league-wide. That's no surprise, considering how brutal the process can be.
So in all likelihood, Stone will be signed to a contract prior to arbitration. But if he isn't, it will be due to a unique set of circumstances that work in Stone's favor this summer.
What Case Does Michael Stone Have?
Michael Stone's first two contracts were great value for the Coyotes. His entry-level deal paid just under $850k per year for three years, and his second contract averaged $1.15 million over the same length of time. Over the life of that second contract, Stone scored 17 times and recorded 58 assists for a total of 75 points, or about $46,000 per point over the life of the contract.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson, by contrast, recorded 142 points over the first three years of his six-year contract. He was paid $13.5 million in that stretch, so retaining OEL's services cost the Coyotes roughly $95,070 per point.
Obviously, Stone and Ekman-Larsson are different players who receive different assignments and different deployments during games. Ekman-Larsson is very much a complete defenseman, while Stone is more slanted towards the offensive zone.
In particular, Stone's expected percentiles next season for primary points and Corsi Differential (the orange boxes with percentages in them) are pulled more heavily towards a middle to bottom pairing role, while Ekman-Larsson's are quite firmly in the top two range.
So they are different players. But nevertheless, it's not hard to see why Michael Stone might want to be paid more for his contributions, especially given Ekman-Larsson's contract is, if anything, extremely team-friendly.
Arbitration in the NHL is usually not so much about settling contract disputes as it is a tool for restricted free agents to create leverage in negotiations. No team really wants to go to arbitration; it requires them to show a third party why their player isn't really that good while the player is sitting in front of them. And they are ultimately stuck with whatever the arbitrator rules, unless they decide to walk away.
So arbitration is really the only leverage some RFAs have, and Stone has a lot more of it than is usual for an RFA.
For starters, Arizona is desperate for right-handed defensemen. Connor Murphy (a non-arbitration eligible RFA) has settled in to playing alongside Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and has matured quite significantly in that stretch. However, he still has yet to string together two strong seasons.
After Murphy, Arizona's two options on the right side are Zbynek Michalek and Jamie McBain. Both are perfectly serviceable defensemen, but neither is going to be confused with Kevin Shattenkirk or Roman Josi either.
So Michael Stone is the only proven puck-mover on the right side that the Coyotes have right now. And if the draft is any indication, this is a management group that likes puck movers. That benefits Stone.
Furthermore, the entire league is largely bereft of high caliber defensemen. If you are an NHL team shopping around, your best options on the right side are James Wisniewski, who missed all but one game last season with the Carolina Hurricanes after tearing his ACL, and Justin Schultz, who was not even extended a qualifying offer by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
If Stone entered the free agent market, he would instantly be one of, if not the best, options available. He would have missed the boat on some of the larger contracts, but a team in need of defensemen would find a way to pay him.
Both Michael Stone and the Arizona Coyotes know how important Stone is to the team's offensive structure, especially absent another RHD who can move the puck and create scoring chances. While Stone has some questions to answer after undergoing ACL/MCL reconstructive surgery this off-season, a trade is really the only way Arizona is going to bolster their defensive corps.
Stone will get paid significantly more than he earned last season, that much is clear. The question is, who is going to make that decision. If the Coyotes and Stone are smart, they'll strike a deal far before arbitration rolls around, and join the myriad of teams and players who never ended up using the services of the salary arbitrator.