By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

Earlier this offseason, restricted free agent Peter Holland filed for player-elected arbitration in hopes of getting a deal done with the Maple Leafs. The 25-year old forward is coming off a year in which he mostly played a secondary role on a very bad team. Despite the limited role, Holland put up a career high in points, although that’s not saying much as he had never had more than 25 in a season.

In an offseason that signals a huge transition for the Maple Leafs organization, Peter Holland seems to be a forgotten man. When fans discuss the Leafs, it’s rare that Holland finds his way into the consciousness – I know that I have forgotten he’s still on the team on more than one occasion. That said, he is still a part of the team for now, and dealing with his arbitration hearing is still something the team needs to do.

What will Holland be looking for?

If Peter Holland’s agent is doing his job properly, there is one player that he should be walking into the hearing ready to talk about – Lars Eller. When he was 25-years old, Eller signed a four-year contract extension with an AAV of $3.5m. There’s not debating that Eller’s is a bad contract but on the ice, he is a very good comparison for Holland.

Holland is the same age Eller was when he signed the contract, they were both drafted in the top-15 of the first round – which is still worth noting for old school thinking hockey minds for some reason – and over the past two seasons, the two players have produced at a strikingly similar pace.

Here is their 5 on 5 production from 2014-2016:

GP Points Prim.Points P/60 Prim P/60 Shots/60
Lars Eller 156 42 34 1.28 1.04 7.54
Peter Holland 127 32 25 1.35 1.05 7.49

Now $3.5m is an absurd salary for Peter Holland, even on a one-year deal but it’s not the agent’s job to worry about past overpayments, it’s his job to give a comparable player and Lars Eller is that. If the two sides don’t come to an agreement before the hearing at the end of the month, Eller’s $3.5m very well could be what Holland is asking for. It should be noted that neither has had particularly good possession numbers, but Eller’s CF% of 50.2 is better than Holland’s 48% over the past two seasons. The problem is, that there was talk last summer that things like Corsi still aren’t taken into much account during these arbitration hearings – even though they should be.

What is Holland actually worth?

If Holland and his agent actually do have the guts to go into the arbitration hearing and ask for the $3.5m Lars Eller is making, there’s a simple counter from the Leafs – J.T. Miller. This week, Miller signed a two-year deal with the Rangers at an AAV of $2.75. Holland is older and not nearly the player Miller is, so it’s easy to point at that contract and say Holland should get less.

The Maple Leafs will likely go to the hearing armed with the numbers for Devante Smith-Pelley. He is only a year younger than Holland and over the past two seasons has similar production numbers at 5 on 5.

GP Points Prim.Points P/60 Prim.P/60 Shots/60
Devante Smith-Pelly 138 39 25 1.48 0.96 6.49

On July 1st, Smith-Pelly signed a two-year deal with the New Jersey Devils worth $2.6m. This AAV of $1.3m is likely to be pretty close to what Leafs management will be looking for in a Holland contract. It’s a number that makes sense for the team and if Holland is being honest with himself, it’s a number that makes sense for the player as well.

Walking away? Not so fast

Should the ruling at the arbitration not be in their favour, it’s not as easy as the Maple Leafs just walking away from Holland. According to section 12.10 of the CBA, a team can only walk away from an arbitration ruling if the figure awarded is greater than $3.5m. Since it’s incredibly hard to envision any arbitrator awarding Holland a contract that big, the Leafs will be obligated to sign the young forward.

The assumption right now is that the Leafs have their group of four centers and Peter Holland isn’t one of them. Nazem Kadri, Auston Matthews, Tyler Bozak and Brooks Laich have been penciled in down the middle. With those four it looks like a signed Holland is destined for the wing – or the press box – whether he should be or not.

By offering Holland a qualifying offer and giving him the option for arbitration, the Leafs locked themselves into signing the player – barring something absurd. This puts them in the dangerous position of potentially having to sign Holland at an expensive contract. Say the agent does a good job and sways things in his favour, a ruling in the $3m range could be very troublesome for the Leafs and salary cap management.

Is he a part of the Leafs future?

Let’s say everything goes according to plan and the Leafs come out of arbitration week having signed Holland to a reasonable one-year contract, the question becomes whether or not he’s part of the long-term vision of the team.

At 25-years old Holland fits perfectly into the age bracket the Leafs should be looking for as they build. He’s like Nazem Kadri in the sense that Holland is still young, yet he’s been around the NHL for a while. Kadri and Holland are the perfect age to step into a veteran role on a very young team as players like Laich, Bozak, Lupul, Michalek and Greening disappear over the next two years.

Holland really seems like an ideal bottom-6 forward for an NHL team trying to work its way out of the basement. He’s a decent secondary producer and a player that has proven he can play both center and wing. He had his best season last year on a terrible team and his 97.2 PDO suggest he could have been even better.

Whether he is or not, Peter Holland should be a player that the Leafs envision as part of the team moving forward. The ideal situation would be to sign him to a reasonable bridge deal this summer and have him accept his role as a valuable bottom-6 player. If that happens, a longer term extension after next season would make sense. I just hope Mike Babcock’s love of players like Brooks Laich and Byron Froese don’t push him down the depth chart and ultimately out of the organization.

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