As the Habs march on in this shortened 48 game season, one player remains home, mired in a contractual dispute. This player has his own idea of his worth. Habs management have their own view of his worth but also have to consider the future, the salary structure of the team and the message they will send when they sign him.
Fans of the Montreal Canadians are split on the issue and the longer this drags on; the more collateral damage will be done. With all that being said, what are the options here? I will explore a few of them and provide my own opinion in conclusion.
First, the big question: What is PK Subban worth? This can either be a complex question or a simple one. It depends on whom you compare the player with and in what context. To start with, what is the body of work of Pernell Karl Subban?
In a nutshell here is the “line” on Subban:
160 games played, 76 points (21 goals, 55 assists), +2, 24-28 minutes on average.
This means Subban is this team’s #2 or #1B defenseman. He plays on the power play, 5 on 5 and on the penalty kill. He is a valuable part of the Habs core. His game includes speed, physicality, offense and improving defensive play. So, faced with this what are the options and what do those options entail for Subban and for the Habs? Do they pay him for what he is now or for what he may (or may not) become?
Option 1: The bridge contract
This is the preferred option for Habs management. It means getting Subban to sign a 2-3 year contract that will lead to a longer term, high pay contract should he perform well. This is the safe option from the team’s standpoint and it fits in with the salary structure that GM Bergevin seems to want to institute/continue. The bridge contract, from what you read online and hear through media would pay Subban 2.5 to 3.5 million dollars a season. This option is leaning heavily on player comparables like Michael Del Zotto and Dimitry Kulikov who both signed 2 year transition deals and perhaps on John Carlson of Washington who signed a 3.9M dollar per season, 6-year deal before the lockout. The internal comparables are Carey Price and Max Pacioretty who both signed a bridge contract before getting a rich long term deal. How do these players stack up?
Michael Del Zotto: Games played: 206, Points: 90, +/- : -6, plays on an excellent defense and is a #3-4. Deal: 2 years, 5M
Dimitry Kulikov: Games played: 200, Points: 70, +/- : -17, plays on an average defense and is in the top 4. Deal: 2 years, 5M
John Carlson: Games played: 188, Points: 76, +/- : +19, plays on a reasonably good Capitals team. Deal: 6 years, 3.9M
Carlson is the closest to Subban in terms of experience, points but plays on a better team. Del Zotto plays on a solid defense while Kulikov plays on an average team. Somewhere in there is a comparable for Subban.
Option 2: The long & rich contract
This is the preferred option for PK Subban. Rumours are flying around about how much he is asking, how much he deserves but a number can be gleaned from the various reports: 5-6 million dollars per season for 5-6 years. This is an option the Habs are reluctant to choose because it would damage the salary structure of GM Bergevin and could potentially have a toxic trickledown effect on future negotiations with your players coming out of their entry-level deals with the Habs. From Subban’s standpoint, players just out of their entry-level deals have gotten long term rich contracts. He likely feels he is worth this considering his contribution to the Habs thus far. The comparables are again Carlson of Washington and perhaps other young players coming out of entry-level contracts.
Option 3: the high pay one-year deal
Seldom discussed but not to be dismissed, this would represent a compromise of sorts. Signing PK Subban to a one-year deal for 4-6M dollars would give Subban a shot at proving his long-term value while getting his money (at least some of it) now. This option seems highly unlikely, especially in a shortened season.
The longer this drags on, the worse it gets. For the Habs, they will miss one of their key young defenseman as the short season rolls on. If loses mount, the pressure will mount on management and this will test Bergevin’s mettle as a GM. In fact, this is a critical juncture for this new GM; this is where he puts his stamp on the team.
The longer this drags on, the worse it likely gets for Subban in the room. His teammates, battling for each win will see him more and more as a selfish player who is not team oriented. This is compounded by the fact that two of the team’s key core players took a bridge deal: Carey Price (who arguably is THE franchise player) and Max Pacioretty. You can add room leader Josh Gorges to the mix as he was signed to one-year last season coming off knee surgery and was then rewarded with a 6-year deal.
So, basically, I think a reasonable solution would be for PK Subban to sign a 2 or 3 year deal structured as follows: 3.5M, 4M, 5M (12.5M dollars). This means PK Subban gets some decent money and the Habs get the shorter term they want. This contract should be signed with the tacit agreement that if Subban performs well, he will be offered a rich extension in year 2 or 3 of the deal (much like what happened to Gorges and Pacioretty).
The fact is that for all his pizzazz and for all his talent, Subban has 160 games of NHL experience and plays in a salary cap league where GMs have to manage their resources. Marc Bergevin has to look beyond PK here and in my opinion cannot hand out a 6 year, 30M dollar deal to a player with 160 games of experience, a +2 rating and 76 points.
Finally if this drags on, the pressure may build to a level that makes trading Subban an attractive option for Montreal. If Subban is so serious about wanting to play and loving the fans (as he keeps saying on twitter for example) then perhaps he should show it. If he wishes to be with his team, then perhaps he should sign a deal like Price and Pacioretty did and show a level of maturity and team first attitude that would do wonders for him in the room.
The last stand option: Trading PK Subban
If things go far enough, this will inevitably become a possibility. The question then would become: what could the Habs get in a trade for Subban? No doubt this discussion will start a firestorm in Habs nation as fans would likely go bonkers. Sadly the GM does not manage the team based on fan feeling, he manages the team based on overall performance and needs. This is a lesson Subban may learn the hard way: no one is bigger than the team. I for one hope the Habs sign Subban. I think he would thrive under a coach like Therrien. I think a bridge deal is a reasonable option considering how it worked out for Price, Pacioretty and to some extent Gorges.