Contract Negotiations, Vol IV: A Subban in the Hand…

by Jacob Saltiel
2011-NHL-All-Star-Upper-Deck-PK-Subban

“If I’m this happy signing autographs, imagine the smiles for a longterm contract extension…”

Coming out of the lockout, the first article TSN.ca posted about the Montreal Canadiens carried the following headline: “Signing Subban Top Priority for New Canadiens GM Bergevin”. With the rest of the lineup set- barring the incredible possibility of subtracting either Gomez or Kaberle from the roster- the  PK Subban negotiation is the most important item on Bergevin’s agenda before the season starts, with the negotiation also representing an opportunity to control the future of a young, dynamic defenceman with potential to improve. This will also be Bergevin’s second major roster move with respect to his core, the first one being the Pacioretty signing.

Without relying on rumours of what Subban may have asked for and what the Habs may have offered, let’s imagine the pros and cons of the negotiation from the perspectives of an NHL player agent, the GM of the Canadiens, and a fan:

AGENT’S TAKE

“Pernell is a #1 defencemen and should be paid like one. In fact, last year he played the minutes of a top-pairing D, at 24:18, putting him 18th for average ice time per game, and 14th overall for total minutes. On the worst team in the Eastern conference, he was still a +9, and scored as many points as Drew Doughty. Yes, the 7m+/year Drew Doughty. PK loves the city, the fans, and thrives in the Montreal market and is willing to sign long term. He’s a young, durable defenceman with the potential to score more points than he has, as evidenced by the fact that he was 7th in the NHL in shots from a defenceman with 205. His defence has also improved, and in his first two playoff runs he shut down elite players such as Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, and Alex Ovechkin. At the minutes he’s sure to play, we’d prefer to sign him up to a long-term contract- if he gets hurt then we’re left out in the cold. Marc, do right by the fans of Montreal and sign PK Subban for the 5 years, at 5.5M a year, which would be a steal. You won’t be sorry”

GENERAL MANAGER’S TAKE

“Firstly, I want to say that we are extremely thankful for everything that PK has done for the team on-ice, and we look forward to having stay in Montreal for his career. Having said that, PK is still a restricted free agent, and although he’s made great progress for a 2nd year player, he still had lots of potential. Before committing to a long-term contract, we’d like to take another year to gauge what that might be. Given the salary we have committed this year, we’d prefer to wait until the offseason. Markov’s contract expires and then we can use the buy-out option to free up cap space and reward PK for the excellent season we’re certain he’ll have. Sure, we finished last in the East last year, but our problem was offence, which was 13th in the East, while our defence was actually top 5 in the conference in terms of goals allowed. We’d also like to see PK work on taking fewer penalties, as he had the most penalty minutes in the league for a defenceman at 119, many of which were minor penalties, a category he led with 47- or 10 more than the next most for a defenceman. So, let’s say 3 million to play through this season and next year we can renegotiate when PK. Look, if you’re willing to use the contract of a player such as John Carlson (3.9m/yr for 6 years), then maybe we have something…”

THE FANS
“Sign him, Marc! PK can only improve and he’s our best young blueliner since Chris Chelios, a pest, defensive pillar, and powerplay scorer. He can lead our team for a decade and a half and wear the ‘C’! He produces the best highlights on the team and has the best commercials. Subban and Gorges can combine with one of Beaulieu or Tinordi to become a defensive core for the next 6+ years. In fact, Subban is the team’s most exciting player and signing him to a long-term deal now can only pay off.”

Conclusion
These three arguments about Subban’s value to the club are not contradictory, but, ultimately, the club should sign Subban now to a long-term extension that carries through his restricted free agent and first few unrestricted free agency years.

If Subban has a breakout year over the shortened season, scoring a point a game and improving defensively, he could suddenly be worth 6 million+ a season. Even if Subban remains the exact same player, he would still be worth about 4.5m a season, simply based on his icetime and the expectation that he’ll learn to take fewer penalties under Therrien’s discipline. It’s much easier to teach a dynamic player to cut down on penalties than to develop a mediocre talent into a top-pairing defenceman.

Worse, stiffing Subban on a contract now could leave him open to an offer sheet later, or eventually pave the way for Subban to leave as a free agent, something the Habs can ill-afford after squandering McDonagh’s potential through trade. The Canadiens will never have more leverage over Subban than they do now and with an aggressive contract offer similar to the one Pacioretty received, say 6 years at 4.5m/year, it would be tough for Meehan and Subban to turn down that guaranteed money.

Given the buy-outs that are likely coming this summer and the assured fandom of Montrealers, it’s a roll of the dice that you can afford. According to Jean-Francois Chaumont of La Journale de Montreal, Bergevin was quoted as saying: “Mon intention est de signer P.K. avant le camp, […] C’est mon but depuis le premier jour de mon arrivée en poste, même si ce n’est pas ­arrivé avant la fin de la dernière ­convention. In other words, “It’s my intention to sign PK before training camp. It’s been my goal since my first day on the job, even if we couldn’t get a contract signed before the last CBA expired.”

One way or the other, Subban will be under contract this season. With the right offer, this negotiation could result in controlling Subban’s foreseeable future at a relative discount.

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