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An Example of Arbitration in Sports: Boston Bruins & Jeremy Swayman

West Palm Beach Business Litigation Attorney 2023-01-26 16-49-13

Arbitration plays a significant role in resolving sports-related disputes. Sports contracts can be complex and arbitration provides an effective means to resolve contractual disputes, including salary disputes. A great example of this is the current case involving the Boston Bruins hockey team and restricted free agent goaltender Jeremy Swayman.

In professional team sports with salary caps, disputes can arise over compliance with the league’s financial regulations. With a potential arbitration hearing set for the weekend, the Bruins and Swayman’s camp have officially filed their respective desired numbers for a potential 2023-24 salary, with the Bruins coming in with a $2 million filing compared to a $4.8 million from Swayman’s camp, as revealed by Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman. Although these numbers seem significantly different, the gap isn’t uncommon in these circumstances.  As is the case with any potential arbitration hearing, the player’s camp comes in high while the team comes in lower.

Should the case ultimately get to arbitration, the third-party arbitrator almost always finds a way to meet the sides in the middle. For example the Toronto Maple Leafs starting goaltender Ilya Samsonov was awarded $3.55 million in his arbitration hearing earlier this month, which was an almost perfect split down the middle after the Leafs filed at $2.4 million while Samsonov’s camp filed at $4.9 million. Up until the potential arbitration hearing, the Bruins and Swayman’s camp are free to continue to negotiate until the hearing.

Should the sides meet in the middle via arbitration (or on their own) with a $3.5 million contract, the Bruins would have a goaltending tandem accounting for $8.5 million of their salary cap.  Bruins president Cam Neely commented on what this means for the team’s cap: “We’ve been pretty fortunate over the years with what our total cap hit for goaltending has been compared to some other teams. We’ll see where everything plays out with Swayman, but there are certain areas where you look at goaltending, bottom six, you’re going to have to pay your top players, that’s just the way it is. So, it’s a matter of how you allocate and how you think you should allocate the bottom part of your lineup, your bottom pair D and your two goaltenders.”

In any case, the role of arbitration in sports disputes is invaluable, offering a tailored and efficient process to resolve conflicts within the sports industry. With a focus on expertise, confidentiality, and expediency, sports arbitration ensures fair and consistent outcomes for athletes, teams, and sports organizations, helping to maintain the integrity and spirit of fair play in the world of sports.

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