Going into the 2014 playoffs, there were many unanswered questions swirling around the Canadiens. How much will GM Marc Bergevin be willing to pay to keep Thomas Vanek? What kind of deal does P.K.Subban deserve? Will Andrei Markov be re-signed or not? Who will be captain if Brian Gionta is let walk away? Now, on the brink of elimination, management should have a very good idea about the answers to those questions.
On Vanek, there's no doubt the man wants his last big NHL pay day this summer. He's 30, and knows from now until the end of his career, he'll be fighting to maintain what he's got, rather than keep improving. He'll want the maximum seven years teams other than Montreal can offer him and he'll want significant coin. The temptation to sign him is significant because the Habs could definitely use his skill. He's able to put up anywhere from 60-80 points a year if he stays healthy. However, at his age, his ability to keep producing at that level will inevitably begin to decline. If he were signed for five years, one could reasonably expect him to maintain his output for three or four years, with a bonus if he can do it for all five. However, Vanek doesn't want a five-year deal, and anything beyond that is risky for the team that signs him. The Canadiens are looking at a window for Stanley Cup contention opening in the next couple of years, and can't afford to have a giant contract with small return on the books then. Of course, Vanek may surprise and be a legitimate producer for the next ten years. There's a better chance he won't, if you look at his compete level in these playoffs, so if he's not willing to sign for five years, he should be let go to Minnesota or whatever other team will commit its future to him.
P.K.Subban, on the other hand, has proven, beyond a doubt, that he's the real deal. He has managed to raise his game significantly when it really counts, and he has proven he can handle adversity by taking the high road in the face of racism and petty garbage like Shawn Thornton's spraying him with water from the bench. He didn't fight back when Michel Therrien benched him for mistakes other players were forgiven, or when Therrien talked about making him a "better person." He handles all the crap that comes his way with dignity and aplomb and still faces every day with a smile. He accepted a low-ball bridge contract last time he was up for renewal, then went out and won the Norris. Subban has more than earned his pay day. The team has the option of signing him for eight years, and Bergevin should grab that option with both hands. Subban is the team's best player and its future and if he wants eight million dollars a year, he's worth it.
Andrei Markov has proven this year and through these playoffs that he's still a worthy defenceman. His game is cerebral and durable, so even if he's not as fast or mobile as he used to be, he still has a lot to contribute. Also, the Habs could use his experience and leadership as young players like Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi learn the ropes next year. Markov has said he wants to finish his career in Montreal, and rumour is, he wants three more years. However, at 35, any contract he signs is a risk for the team. For that reason, Bergevin would probably like to do a one-year deal. Considering the contributions Markov has made over the years and can continue to make, it would be fitting if the two sides can compromise and agree to two years at his current salary. Markov's too smart and too good to fall off steeply in the next two seasons, and he would be a great mentor for the kids.
Brian Gionta is a different story. The playoffs have shown he's really not the same player he used to be. He takes too many low-percentage shots right at the goalie and his speed, which has always given him a much-needed edge, is showing signs of dropping off. If, as it appears, he's becoming a third-line penalty killer, there are guys out there with a size advantage who can fill that need. Gionta has been a respectable captain and has given the Canadiens his all, but his run in Montreal is over.
Now the question is, who should be captain when Gionta is gone? Based on everything we've seen in these playoffs, the answer can only be one person: P.K.Subban. At 25, Subban has punched four full NHL seasons and has demonstrated an ability to raise his game when required. As mentioned earlier, he's the best player on the team, and, if there's any justice, will soon be the highest paid. Most importantly, he's a huge personality. Claude Lemieux said earlier this week that winning starts at the top and it's contagious. In the dressing room, the top is your captain. If you've got a captain who's upbeat, energetic, competitive, durable, classy and dedicated as well as supremely skilled, the other players on the team will be able to look to him for inspiration and example. A team that competes like P.K.Subban is a winning team. He's handled himself with such maturity this spring he's showing he's ready to be a leader. Other captains in the league have been named at younger ages than him, and not all of them have the kind of ability Subban can boast. If you want someone who can give an underachieving teammate "The Look" when needed, Subban can do it. He can challenge any player to be better because he demands it of himself.
It's funny how the playoffs work. You can spend a whole season asking questions, then have them answered in the space of a handful of high-pressure games. The Habs season may end prematurely this week, but management has seen enough to resolve some very important issues.