When you try to build a definitive image of P.K.Subban, it's difficult to bring that image into clear focus. Eventually, you realize that, instead of calling to mind a single emblematic picture of the player, you end up with a slide show. There's Subban scoring his first-ever playoff goal to put the Habs up 1-0 against Pittsburgh, and accepting the pats on the back from his teammates with an air of surprise. Subban hitting Boston's Brad Marchand so hard with a clean open-ice check that the Bruin wasn't sure what sport he was playing. Subban, late in his rookie season, scoring a vital OT winner against Chicago and coming up with one of his notorious celebrations. Subban at the NHL All-Star breakaway challenge, charming the crowd in Carolina by changing sweaters with hometown hero Jeff Skinner. Subban having fun with Carey Price. Subban in a practice scuffle with Tomas Plekanec as last year's bad season got a little worse. The images don't really give you a single clear picture of Subban, and that's part of the problem newly-minted Habs G.M. Marc Bergevin is having right now.
So far this off-season, Bergevin has been systematically identifying the players he wants to keep and signing them to extensions. He quickly chose the guys he wanted to bring in to fill roster holes and got them signed too. Now, aside from persistent rumours that he's planning to sign one of Shane Doan or Alex Semin to play wing on the second line, the only task left in Bergein's "in" box is Subban.
When two sides are negotiating a contract, they're basing their ideas of fairness on their respective images of each other. So, right now, P.K.Subban sees himself as a young stud who saved the Habs when they had nobody on defence. He's right, to a degree. However, Bergeron sees him as a kid with a lot of developing yet to do, who had a great rookie playoff, a fair-to-middling official rookie season and a somewhat disappointing second year. Still, Subban is developing quickly, as he has through every level of hockey, which is a good thing.
The problem is, he's not an A-List stud like Drew Doughty or Shea Weber. Yet, in Montreal, he's been given those kinds of responsibilities. So Bergevin is looking at a lineup including Andrei Markov as the number-one D, not Subban. At the same time, Subban is expecting to be paid for the role he's played while Markov was hurt for the last two seasons. It's a difficult situation because Subban is still a restricted free agent and hasn't really stepped up, in the stats department at least, as a guy who deserves the money his buddy Carey Price just made.
It comes down to what Subban is asking. Bergevin, certainly, has made an offer based on his perception of Subban's development and what he expects of the next two or three or five years. The difference in negotiations now is in how Subban perceives himself and his role on a D that includes a healthy Markov. Ideally, Subban would be a top-four guy who can step up into the top pairing if there's an injury. And, as he's a homegrown player with tons of potential and a fan favourite, he deserves a legitimate contract to keep him around during his development years. The thing is, Subban may already see himself as a top guy. That would mean the gap between what he expects and what Bergevin is offering may be wider than is comfortable.
It's important to sign Subban soon, because the pickins' are pretty slim on the open market right now, and teams like the Flyers are desperate for young, talented D-men. The Habs, however, can't panic and use that excuse to overpay a guy who should be coming into his money in about four years, after he's proven he's really a stud. Right now, given Subban's resume, it would be wise to sign him for about four years, with a cap hit no higher than about four million. Probably, that's what Bergevin's offering. And, probably, that's what Subban's team is rejecting because they think he should be compensated for the two years in which he's stepped in for Markov.
The two sides need to come to an agreement soon, because the slide show of P.K.Subban we have in our heads right now will get longer, and the images will be more and more impressive. We just have to hope the team can strike a deal that pays fairly early on for his current skill and expands for the development we know is coming.
P.K.Subban is one of the cornerstones of the Canadiens future, especially if they hope to win a Cup in the next 3 to 5 years. However, if the idea is to keep him around for longer than that, the next contract can't be crazy. Hopefully, both sides will eventually realize that and the kid we all love to watch will get signed for 3 or 4 years in the next little while. With any luck, Bergevin won't cave and hand him a ten-year contract with tens of millions involved. That won't help anyone and the Canadiens will be poorer for it.
The image we have of P.K.Subban, the person, not the player, is of an open-hearted guy who grew up cheering for the Habs. He's a hard worker and a smiler. He needs to stay a Hab. We hope it happens that way.