Tuesday, January 15, 2013


As the days of the abbreviated NHL training camps slip away, it's becoming more likely that the Canadiens will open their season on Saturday night without P.K.Subban in the lineup. The 2007 second-round pick would be starting his third full year with the club if not for a stalemate between his agent, Don Meehan, and Habs' G.M. Marc Bergevin.

Without the benefit of a fly's eye view from a handy wall in Bergevin's office, it would appear one of two things is happening. Either Bergevin is trying to seriously low ball Subban because of the looming cap crunch he's facing next year, or Subban believes he is entitled to a greater payday than he perhaps deserves.

If Bergevin is balking for fear of next year's payroll, there are ways to save money other than alienating a talented young player who could be a cornerstone of the organization for many years to come. The team is entitled to another buyout before next season, and after that, some big contracts (Markov, Kaberle, Gionta) run out. Unless Subban and Meehan are asking for really big money and/or term, there's little reason for Bergevin to drag out negotiations for cap reasons. If the two sides are close, there's a solution available.

If, however, Subban is expecting a big payday on a second contract, there may be a larger issue. Of the NHL defencemen who are his contemporaries and who signed mega-money long-term deals while still RFA, most are demonstrably better than Subban. For example, Erik Karlsson's 7-year, 6.5-million per year contract with Ottawa makes him the tenth highest-paid D in the league. He also has a 78-point season and a Norris Trophy to his credit. Drew Doughty has an 8-year deal with the Kings, with a 7-million cap hit, placing him fourth in the league among defencemen. Doughty's name is on the Stanley Cup, he's got an Olympic gold medal, he was drafted second overall and became a Norris finalist. Tyler Myers, another first-rounder, has a 5.5-million cap hit in Buffalo for 7 seasons. He's a former NHL rookie of the year and in his worst season points-wise, he had one point less than Subban did in his best year. None of these comparisons are meant to diminish the value, ability or potential of Subban, but those three players are the only defencemen under 25 with cap hits bigger than 4-million dollars.

Looking at an in-house comparison, Subban's should perhaps expect to follow the path of teammate Carey Price. Price came to the team as the Canadiens' highest draft pick since Petr Svoboda in 1984. His subsequent performances at the World Juniors and in the Bulldogs' Calder Cup championship launched his star and built expectations. Price, like Subban, had some bumpy moments in Montreal, culminating with losing the starting job during the 2010 playoff run. Still, there was never a question in the minds of management that the team's future was linked to Price's success. Subban also came to town with high expectations and has had some stretches of living up to them, and other periods of slow production and public controversy. Both young players are very important parts of the team's future.

Price's second contract was for two years, with a cap hit of 2.75-million. That gave the team a two-year break on paying big money, while Price had a chance to prove himself and cash in on his third deal, which he did last summer. A lot of people who don't get to sit inside contract negotiations might say if it's good enough for Carey Price, it should be good enough for P.K.Subban. That may be logical, but of course nobody really knows the circumstances. It's just a comparison worth mentioning.

At this point, nobody really doubts Subban and the Canadiens will come to a deal. Bergevin has already confirmed he won't be trading the player and as an RFA, Subban's options are limited. The big problem with the situation right now is its timing. Coming off a horrible team season and long summer, followed by the five-month league lockout, the Canadiens are facing a packed schedule in which every point carries huge significance. Playing even one game without a complete lineup reduces their chances of success. When the missing player is a top-four defenceman who eats minutes, the loss hurts a little more, as does the fact that he's missing for business reasons, not hockey reasons. Subban's missing camp is one thing, but when he starts sitting out games that count, the goodwill of fans and even teammates will eventually sour.We all know hockey is a business, but fans have had quite enough of the business of hockey at this point.

P.K.Subban is a good hockey player. He's got potential to be a great hockey player. Right now, he's got to stop and think...very hard...about whether he can recognize the difference. He's not great yet, and probably won't end up getting paid as though he is, no matter how long he sits home without a contract. The hope is that he and his agent can put things in perspective before Saturday.


Woodvid said...

As I've said many times before, I wish [Insert Person] could read your blog -- in this case, Subban.

Until now I've loved the guy, but I started worrying when I read him saying stuff like "It's not up to me" and "It's out of my hands." Mike Komisarek said the same thing when his contract was up. Sorry PK, it *is* up to you. Your agent works for *you*. Step up and get a fair deal done. (I'm in the camp that suspect he wants a crazy contract.)

Good to see you back, JT.

Anonymous said...

This is a pile of crap. Let him go, I say. You're right, JT, we all were sick of the money aspect and now, rather then sign, seal and deliver, they drag it on completely oblivious to the fact that they're doing if all again: money, money, money.

So I say let him GO.

JF said...

P.K. Subban and Carey Price are both big pieces of the Habs' future, but some argue that Subban's situation now is different from Price's two years ago. When Price signed his two-year contract, he was coming off a season in which he had lost the starting job to Halak; Subban, on the other hand, was arguably the team's best defenceman last year, assuming a lot of responsibility because of the injury to Markov and acquitting himself overall very well. He's not Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson, but his demand for longer than two years (if that is what he is asking) is not unreasonable.

However, your last point is one that should certainly give him pause. Fans have absolutely had it with having to hear about money and contracts. We've heard nothing but that for the last five months. The time has finally come to play hockey, and if Subban misses games because he wants more money or term, his popularity will quickly plummet.

I'd be OK with either outcome - his signing a bridge contract or the Habs locking him up long-term - but it needs to get done now. The team needs him and the fans are impatient.

UK3X said...

Great take on it JT - Subban needs to take control of the situation and get a deal done. I personally don't think he is high on Terrien's list of "must have" players so the longer he isn't in the frame for a spot oin the roster the harder it will be for him if and when a deal gets done. What @Woodvid said is true. It's your name on the contract my son. Not Meehan's -0 Yours! So sort it!

Steve said...

You nailed it. PFK is a lightning rod playing in the thunder capital of the world. Failure to be in the lineup game one after the lockup is very bad for his brand. After Del Zotto signed for 2.5 Mil he now looks like its all about him and not the team. You cant win the cup if you have 7 million tied up in a player who is not a gamebreaker. Subban has not proven he can win games on his own like other players making huge dollars. Montreal is smart to have the three contract system, and Subban has not proven he should be an exception to that rule. Also I would never sign him in a way he becomes a UFA under 30 because everthing he has done to date says he will go to the highest bidder,

juce said...

I think Meehan is the blocker here. Yes he works for Subban but, I think he's filling PK's head and stroking his ego, all the while with commission$ in mind. Agents have been dry during the lockout.

I hope they strike a deal soon, I want to see PK back on the ice.

Time for Beckenbaugh to step in.

moeman said...

Very well said and great detailed work JT.