Posts tagged ‘Habs’

May 2, 2014

Habs-Bruins Game 1, Round 2: A Man Possessed

by Jacob Saltiel



At times like these, one wonders how a Bruins fan processes a game like last night’s. Watching your team control the game for two straight periods into overtime, getting open looks on the other team’s goalie, outhitting the opposition, and all but shutting down every Canadien except PK Subban and the unguardable Rene Bourque, can you even feel bad about your team’s play? Of course not. There is one thing to be very nervous about though, and that’s Carey Price’s glorious display.

The playoffs are a tricky thing for statisticians. Jonah Keri, of, makes the point that once the playoffs begin in MLB, he throws away his stats, since postseason series’ are comparatively short compared to the regular season, and just a few abnormal performances in either direction by key players can skew a mediocre team to victory and a good team to defeat. So it is with NHL goaltending in particular. Many a hockey fan will dread the familiar disaster that is an opponent’s goaltender finding a groove where nothing short of a bulldozer can push the puck past him.

Distressingly for Bruins fans, Price seems to have made a deal with the devil signed in blood, making a series of preposterous stops last night. Statheads will talk about elevated PDOs and unsustainable Fenwicks, indicating that the Canadiens are definitely screwed, and they might be right. For Bruins fans, they’d better hope that those numbers regress to the mean before the end of the series. For Habs fans, they’d better hope more players than Price, Subban, Bourque, Eller, and Plekanec show up in Games 2-7.

What’s Next?

The Bruins will probably come back in game 2 with a similar gameplan. If they play the same way in game 2 as they did in game 1, they could conceivably win by several goals with the only difference being pucks bouncing differently. The Bruins, recognizing that playoff nightmare that is a goaltender possessed by the daemon Mammon, will probably adjust their gameplan slightly to start running Price’s crease, camping in his line of sight, and crossing themselves before every shift. Bob McKenzie on TSN points out how all three Bruins goals occurred when Price couldn’t see the puck. The Bruins can’t do too much about Price playing the pucks he can see, but they can try and knock him out of his comfort zone and pray he doesn’t gain the ability to swivel his head 360 degrees around his neck.

The Canadiens, on the other hand, had better be ready to defend their goaltender. While Francis Bouillon scored a goal, Therrien might consider dropping him for Jarred Tinordi (Legend). I can hear you reading this and protesting some combination of:

1) Bouillon scored!

2) He’s experienced and tries hard!

3) Don’t tinker with a winning lineup!

But 1) Bouillon probably won’t score in any hockey league for another 6 months. 2) He’s also 5″8 , old, and these are professional athletes- they all try hard or they wouldn’t be here. 3) The Canadiens might have won that game on the scoreboard, but if you think this lineup doesn’t need some tinkering with, you’re still drunk from last night.

As the Bruins start hitting more, the Canadiens will need to respond, and playing Weaver and Bouillon at the same time- no matter how tough those two are or how great a story Bouillon- leaves the Canadiens at a serious size mismatch against forwards like Carl Soderberg, Milan Lucic, Daniel Paille, Jarome Iginla, etc… etc…

Therrien also really needs to do something about his best line being Eller, Bourque, and whoever skated with them since it’s unclear if any other Habs forwards touched the puck last night. Leaving aside the question of how Bourque can be objectively mediocre for 166 games over the last 3 seasons and then become the Prairies’ answer to Alexander Ovechkin, the Canadiens can’t win too many games without better performances from other forwards.

Travis Moen returned to the lineup, replacing the more-deserving Bournival. The arguments for including Moen are similar to the arguments for including Bouillon, but Bournival is good with the puck, a heck of a lot faster, and a better passer than TraMoen. As much as toughness will be an issue for the Canadiens in their crease, they need to take back the possession game, and Bournival can help do that.

That’s a relatively minor issue compared to the struggles of the top two lines. Desharnais seems like the only member of the topline who either gets the puck or harasses the Bruins D. Despite facing harder competition, Vanek and Pacioretty need to show something, even if it’s just physical play, to distract the Bruins from hoarding the puck.

Meanwhile, there was an interesting stat on RDS showing Krejci’s 1st round points, 23, and how only 1 goal from that number came against the Canadiens, since Plekanec has consistently shut him down. If Krejci didn’t score last night, it has less to do with being shutdown by forwards than by bad puck luck and Price’s play. If Plekanec and Gallagher aren’t going to score, they’d better get that puck and make life hard for the Bruins forwards tomorrow afternoon.


The media will now shift from discussing hatred and depth to ghosts and history. Despite Price being very much a creature of flesh and blood and some substance, the story will become about haunted goalposts and goaltenders of playoffs past stifling the Bruins. While the media hires exorcists to serve as panelists on their in-game talkshows, the Bruins will bring the hate back by beating the Canadiens down if they can’t put the puck in the net. As discussed above, Therrien’s got some adjustments to make for the real live players on his roster, since trusting in ghosts isn’t exactly a 21st century coaching strategy. It’s cute to imagine a team meeting around the campfire with each player passing a flashlight around and taking turns telling stories of their favourite playoff caper against the Bruins. But that won’t cut it, especially given the rumours that Subban, for all his sound and fury, gets the heebie-jeebies from ghosts.

Look, while it’s fun watching TD Garden fans pull out their hair as the Bruins throw holy water on Price in an attempt to rid him of the demons possessing him- CHECK THOSE WATER BOTTLES, REFS!- you have to hope that the Canadiens will start passing around the locker room whatever dietary supplement Bourque’s been snacking on.


If Apple plays that iPhone 5 ad with the god-awful cover of the Pixies’ Gigantic one more time, I’m going to start vomiting uncontrollably and speaking in deviltongues. MERCY, PLEASE!

May 1, 2014

Hello Darkness My Old Friend: Canadiens v. Bruins, Playoffs Round 2

by Jacob Saltiel

Tampa Bay Lightning v Montreal Canadiens - Game Four

Flambeau Field Returns!

If you want to read the stats and history behind the upcoming series, I recommend you click here, here, here, or here.

Why should you read this piece, then? To identify your media narratives before the puck drops- that’s why!

There’s a couple of dominant themes developing before puckdrop:

1) Depth. The pundits would have you believe that, like Wu-Tang Rapper Raekwon, this series “got deep like a N.A.V.Y. Seal”.

2) Hatred. These teams don’t like each other. How the media ever dredged up some controversy between these teams is a mystery.

Away we go then.

Too Greedily, Too Deep

The story goes that the Canadiens beat the Lightning because they had more depth, as in, they had more NHL-quality players. Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper made the unlikely decision to drop half of his blueline between game 1 and 2, partially because of injury and partially because he wanted to play as many 6″6 stiffs as possible. Meanwhile, the Tampa 4th line included Cedric Paquette, who has played all of 2 and a half weeks in his NHL career and was in the QMJHL last month, and an assorted young players including Richard Panik, Nikita Kucherov, and J.T. Brown. In goal, the Lightning were forced to start a backup who’s save percentage was 30 points lower than the starter.

As for the Habs squaring off against this plucky group of Bolts, several habitual underachievers stepped up. Rene Bourque played out of his mind for 4 straight games. Bourque played hockey with Alex Ovechkin’s stats. Lars Eller, who has tantalized on previous occasions but mostly struggled in the regular season, is currently tied for the team lead in playoff scoring with 5, when he only scored 26 all year. For reference, that’s nearly 20% of his production over 77 regular season games into 4 playoff games. Dale Weise also emerged as a serviceable 4th liner. Post-deadline trade, he’d been more “Dale Weise he on our team?” than OT hero, but no matter. Also, Mike Weaver and Francis Bouillon played bottom-pair defence minutes, and didn’t completely kill the Canadiens. If they had, it wouldn’t have been Weaver’s fault as much as Bouillon’s, though.

This deep Canadiens team will now face off against the Bruins, a team that has, since 2011, won the Stanley Cup and returned to the finals behind- get this- a deep roster. Unlike the Lightning who were running with several youngsters, the Bruins have experienced NHLers at almost every position. If not for injuries to Chris Kelly, Dennis Seidenberg, and Adam McQuaid, there’d be very few rookies or sophomores on this team. Justin Florek, who nobody’s heard of, plays wing on a 3rd line centred by the 6″3 Carl Soderberg who scored 48 points, which would have ranked 5 on the Habs. On defence, the Bruins are rotating Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski, and Corey Potter on their bottom pair, which doesn’t hurt them so much since Chara will play half the game anyway.

So, for fans expecting the Habs depth players to run rampant on the Bruins the way it did against the Lightning, it’s highly unlikely. Vanek, Pacioretty, and Desharnais need to be more effective than they were in the 1st round, but against defensive beasts Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. Against the Bruins, the Canadiens will test the commentators depth theory.

It’s not that the Canadiens have no chance, but like the last regular season meeting between these teams, the games will be tight, and goals will be as hard to come by for 1st liners as for 4th liners.



Did you know that these teams don’t like each other? Well, they do. This time, they extra-double hate each other because they’re meeting in the 2nd, rather than the 1st round. Actually, these teams could meet at a Chuck-E-Cheese for a child’s birthday party and Brad Marchand might still knee cross someone in the ballpit as Lucic hacks them with a pool noodle in a different type of ballpit.

If you’re a Habs fan, it’s pretty obvious why the Habs might hate the Bruins. Barely a year goes by without some Bruins player trying to murder a Canadien in a hockey game. If that doesn’t get you pissed off, the Bruins’ inexplicable inferiority complex, where they complain that the refs are out to get them, that every team but them dives, and that every hit thrown by any opponent deserves retribution and then condemnation in the media, certainly should. I mean, between Chara, Marchand, Lucic, and the unjustifiably appreciated Shawn Thornton- who was benched for most of last year’s playoffs- the Bruins have divers and cheapshotters aplenty to choose from.

Now, the Canadiens aren’t completely innocent either. Subban is generally hated around the league because he’s insanely good, talks trash, isn’t afraid to embellish a bit, and throws the occasional massive open-ice hit. Emelin has also created his own peculiar irritating brand. Emelin’s disliked because he hits at every opportunity and he hits his opponents extremely hard. Never mind that almost all of those hits are clean and within the rules. And especially pay no attention to the fact that he cannot fight owing to a metal plate in his face. Chara, in particular, has attacked Emelin more than once for playing the damned game. That’s the NHL in 2014, though, throw a clean hit and prepare to be punched in the face. Repeatedly.

Aside from those two obvious offenders, the Canadiens are a relatively innocuous bunch. Daniel Briere bothers his opponents by hacking them behind the play and diving occasionally, while Tomas Plekanec’s defence seems to harass opponents into ill-fated trashtalking. Brandon Prust plays a tough game, but he doesn’t seem big enough to hurt anyone.

Really, this hatred thing boils down to the fact that the Canadiens have beaten the Bruins in unlikely circumstances the past couple of seasons, from wicked comebacks to games they clearly should have lost but didn’t while the Bruins resort to whining and smashing people when they can’t beat them within the rules.

Look, the reporters can report on these teams hating each other- somebody ring Pulitzer!- or they can do some real on the ground reportage to find out just how much fans will hate TSN’s commercials by the end of the playoffs. Penelope Cruz selling Nespresso with like six extra e’s? That Scottish guy selling Scott’s lawn turf? Please god just stop.

Let’s just see the puck drop so we can let the players tell the story.


January 18, 2013

More Grit, But Will There Be More Wins? – Montreal Canadiens Season Preview

by Jacob Saltiel
Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens

One of these is not like the others…

The Montreal Canadiens (2012)-2013

Last year, Montreal’s biggest problem was two-fold, but limited mainly to the forwards: scoring and grit. Defensively, the Canadiens were one of the better teams in the conference and had an elite penalty kill.

What to expect from the team this year? This post will cover three and a half items:

1. Observations from the intra-squad scrimmage.

2. The Coaching and Special Teams.

3. The Forwards

4. The Defence and a Conclusion.

So let’s get to it!

1. Observations from the Intra-Squad Scrimmage

Bob Gainey’s Stare had eyes in the stands Thursday night watching some fairly disjointed hockey.

Some observations:

Gorges played his usual game. At some points, it looked like he might get hurt from playing so hard, particularly when he cut across the net to break up a Pacioretty rush, piling himself, Price, Pacioretty, and Markov onto one another and dislodging the net. It would have been a good play, if not for the fact that the heap of humanity in the blue ice represented more than $20m of the Habs’ salary cap and 4 of the team’s core players.

Rene Bourque turned on the jets, made a little dangle, then roofed a puck back-hand on Budaj. Let’s see him do that about 20 times this season.

– Markov’s passing terrifies his opponents, who spent all night giving him room and trying to limit his passing angle instead of forechecking him.

Galchenyuk (who survived the cuts Friday morning) barely got onto the puck all night. Near the end of the 2nd period, he implicated himself in the play a couple of times, but never looked confident with the puck, nor could he get open for Lars Eller to dish to him. In 5 games, he’s back on the bus.

-Speaking of Eller, he looked great. Using his size, reach, and speed to battle for pucks and get around defenders, if he can do this against actual NHL teams, he’ll have a fantastic year.

-The ColeDesharnais-Pacioretty line looks to be in mid-season form, even if they were competing against half of an NHL team.

Brendan Gallagher (who also survived the cuts Friday morning) plays a pesky game. Several times he dug right into the goalie crease, and spent much of the game harassing players up and down the ice.

– Gritty players, like Armstrong, Moen, White, and Prust didn’t particularly stand out, which is a good thing. If they had, you’d be reading a post on the terribly unlucky injury to Markov in a pre-season intra-squad scrimmage.

2. Therrien Returns, Windows Rattle

It’s difficult to tell what effect a coach has on a team from the fan’s perspective. You can depend on this though: if the team skates around as if controlled by children playing NHL 2012, the coach is extremely bad.

One area in which one can most easily perceive the effect of coaching is special teams, since special teams require discipline and creativity from the coaching staff to succeed.

The young Michel Therrien had more in common with an active volcano than a professorial director of X’s and O’s. In Pittsburgh, his finals runner-up performance was probably overshadowed by a broadside he fired at his own team in the media.

Regardless of what kind of coach Therrien is, let’s see where he has work to do this upcoming year.

Since Kirk Muller showed up and through the Martin years, the Canadiens have alternated between having an elite (top5) powerplay or an elite penalty kill. All statistics are from

In 2007-2008, the Canadiens led the NHL in powerplay goals (90) and % (24.1). Ignoring powerplay % as a stat, since goals determine the outcome of games and there are no trophies for efficient use of powerplay time, let’s look at each year since:

2008-2009: 36 goals, 4th

2009-2010: 32 goals, 5th

2010-2011: 28 goals, 7th

2011-2012: 18, 24th (Muller left the organization before this season)

For a team that wins a lot of close games because they don’t score a ton of goals, that drop in powerplay production hurt.

Over the same time, the penalty kill has allowed this many goals per season:

2007-2008: 28, 8th

2008-2009: 37, 20th

2009-2010: 27, 12th

2010-2011: 24, 10th  (1st in PK%!)

2011-2012: 18, 5th (2 in PK%!)

Highlighting the disparity between % and rank in goals allowed shows just how penalty-prone the Canadiens are as a team. While the penalty kill itself is in good shape, what the Canadiens really need to do is to take fewer penalties, and hence let in fewer goals on penalty kill.

The return of Markov gives Therrien an extra weapon to improve the powerplay, especially if he can get the parts around him, Kaberle, and eventually Subban to work cohesively.

On the penalty kill, the greatest improvement might cause in scaring the holy hell out of his players to cut down on their penalty minutes, giving penalty killers Plekanec and Gorges more time at 5-on-5. Last year the Canadiens spent 521 minutes and 26 seconds killing penalties. That was the most time spenton the PK in the entire league and, were the penalties strung together consecutively, represents 8.6 entire games in the box. That’s more than 10% of the season down a player, and that needs to change.

3. Up front the Canadiens didn’t have enough scoring outside of the excellent top-line of PaciorettyDesharnaisCole, and Plekanec. The bottom-two lines were composed of either young, over-matched offensive players (PalushajLeblancEller), or cheap players without easily definable NHL skills (NokelainenBlundenDarche) and the ineffective Rene Bourque. Taken together, the third and fourth lines were neither capable of producing consistent offence, checking the other team’s top lines effectively, nor even intimidating the other team with hitting. This placed undue strain on the top-2 lines to score, defend, play special teams, and more or less win the games on their own.

The return of White and Moen from injuries, along with the additions of Prust and Armstrong* easily address this problem. With a 3rd and 4th line that can contribute defence and grit, there should be more productive seasons for players like Eller while lightening the minutes-load on the top-line and Plekanec.

Having said that, Cole has a history of injuries and losing him for any length of time could hurt the team’s already poor offence, and Plekanec and Gionta still need another player to line up with who can score goals and open up space for them.

4. Backend

The defence was covered largely in The Thin Blue Line: Canadiens D, 2013but here’s a verdict:

The team doesn’t score enough to run and gun, therefore they’ll be in the business of grinding out close games. To do that, they’ll need to dramatically cut down on penalties, and capitalize on their powerplay opportunities to prop up their even-strength scoring.

In short, if Markov can run the powerplay again and Subban signs a flarning contract and improves his overall game, the Canadiens might be able to win just enough games to get in to the playoffs as a 6, 7, or 8 seed, but if there’s any regression from the top-2 lines in the form of mediocre play or injury and if the Habs continue to take hours of penalty minutes… well, you saw what happened last year.


*Although Armstrong’s a candidate for reinjuring himself, since he seems to be made out of papier-mache.

January 16, 2013

Get Back on the Bus: Galchenyuk Should Play Junior This Year

by Jacob Saltiel

It’s nice here and all…
from Backhand Shelf at

Regardless of Galchenyuk’s performance in training camp, he should not play for the Montreal Canadiens this year. This has nothing to do with whether or not he’s talented enough to play at this level or if there’s space on the team for him.

Gaston Therrien of writes:

“IL Y A UNE PLACE À MONTRÉAL POUR ALEX GALCHENYUK – Maintenant, c’est à lui de la perdre. À partir du moment où la direction du Canadien a décidé de tasser Scott Gomez, on a pratiquement fait une place pour le plus récent choix de première ronde de l’organisation.”

or, in English:

“THERE’S ROOM IN MONTREAL FOR ALEX GALCHENYUK: At this point, it’s his to lose. From the moment Canadiens’ management dumped Scott Gomez, they practically created a spot on the team for the organization’s most recent 1st round pick.”

That’s all well and good, but there is the  matter of service time and free agency to consider. The only justification for keeping Galchenyuk in the lineup this year is if Bergevin seriously believes that he will make the difference between lifting the Cup and not.

How’s that? you may ask. Burning a year on Galchenyuk’s rookie contract when the team is not close to contending for a championship* is short-sighted.

But, but… He’s got great stickhandling and shooting!  Gaston Therrien reports as much in the same article:

“Galchenyuk démontre de la rapidité, un bon contrôle de rondelle et une certaine implication physique. Il ne semble pas nerveux et s’adapte assez bien à toutes sortes de situations.”


“Galchenyuk’s demonstrated quickness, good puck control, and a physical dimension. He doesn’t seem nervous and has adapted well enough to all sorts of situations.”

Great! Excellent! Which is exactly why the Canadiens should aim to keep control of those skills for as long as possible.

This is a shortened season, and one in which the chances of injury might be higher to a slightly compressed schedule. As G. Therrien notes: “il ne faut pas oublier que [Galchenyuk] n’a presque pas joué depuis un an” or, “it should not be forgotten that [Galchenyuk] almost missed an entire year”. Let’s say Galchenyuk sticks with the big club beyond the rookie-trial limit**, if he gets injured or struggles badly, the team will still have lost a year of control, bringing him one year closer to restricted free agency and unrestricted free agency.

Now, you may not find that significant, but then look at the Subban contract situation right now and ask yourself if it might be good to hang onto those cheap, entry-level years as long as possible. If a player succeeds in his first contract, the new CBA does nothing to limit their ability to cash in Drew Doughty-style for their second contract.

Ask yourself again if for 48 games in a madcap season if it’s worth it. If Bergevin keeps Galchenyuk on the team this year, then he has confidence in this team to win it all. Alternatively, stashing Galchenyuk in the minors, where he can continue to dominate the OHL, probably won’t hamper his development. More importantly, when the Canadiens clear Gomez and one of Kaberle or Bourque from their salary cap this summer, they’ll be able to add more talent or complementary pieces in free agency.

Depending on how the Subban negotiations finally conclude, there may not even be space in the team’s salary cap this year to accomodate Galchenyuk. Currently, the Canadiens are at 61.8/70.2 of the cap without Subban. If Subban’s next contract carries a cap hit of, say, $4m/yr, the Habs will be at 65.8/70.2. Galchenyuk’s rookie salary can vary anywhere from $1m to close to $4m, depending on how he performs. If he plays well, he might cost around $2.5m, pushing the Habs to 68.3/70.2 on the cap. This could hamstring Bergevin’s ability to make in-season trades, and more importantly pay his call-ups from Hamilton when injuries hit. Last year the Devils couldn’t dress enough players for some games because of this form of cap mismanagement. Is that really worth it?

Would you rather gamble with Galchenyuk this season, or start him on the Habs next year, potentially surrounded with more talented players in a year? With the right additions in free agency and the advancement of other prospects, the Habs might actually contend next season.

That’s the season fans should hope to see him in the red, white, and blue.


*Contention means winning the Stanley Cup, not making the playoffs. Getting in as an 8-seed to get trampled by the Penguins, Rangers, or anyone else from the Atlantic division should not be an organizational goal. Yes, the Kings won as an 8-seed last year, but their situation is not similar to the Canadiens.

**6 Games this year.

January 15, 2013

Here’s Your Money Now Go Away: The Canadiens and Compliance Buyouts

by Jacob Saltiel

Why won’t Bergevin return my calls?

Gomez we know about. The Canadiens will still have another compliance buy-out to use after the season, and unless Kaberle or Bourque retire, they might be strong candidates to be paid to play hockey badly somewhere else.

Who should it be? While many may hope that Kaberle is given the golden handshake next, due to his propensity to go into anaphylaxis when asked to play his position competently, Bourque will actually be a much better player to expunge from the salary record. Unless, of course, he can show something (anything!) this season.

Having covered Kaberle’s contribution to the Canadiens here, let’s examine Bourque’s.

Rene Bourque: To Play or Not to Play, That is the Question

The Habs desperately need a big winger who can score and play on the 2nd line with Plekanec. Prior to last season, Bourque had scored 27 goals a season for two straight years. Bourque also stands at 6″2 and weighs over 200lbs. After East-Rivering Cammalleri last season, it looked like the Habs might have located a player who could do just that.

Wow, did that ever not happen. After arriving in Montreal, Bourque scored 5 goals in 38 games, and gave hope to all the casual fans in the city that they could one day fumble passes directed at them by Plekanec. All this despite playing the 6th most minutes per game for Habs forwards at 17:49/g.

This season, that 2nd line wing spot is still tantalizingly available, and those goals need scoring more than ever if the Canadiens are going to make the playoffs this year. If Bourque can play like last year was a horrible dream that he’s awaken from, then Kaberle’s as good as gone. Otherwise? Not so much.

Heres why:

Rene Bourque is signed until 2016. 

Think about that. Think about 4 more seasons of watching him make children cry and grown men curse with his lackadaisical play, and even if- even if!- Kaberle’s cap hit is nearly a million more than his, Bourque’s 3.33m/year salary lasts far longer than Kaberle’s.  The only players signed for longer than Bourque on the Habs today are Pacioretty, Gorges, and Price. Bourque, 31, doesn’t play with the grit or have the defensive awareness to play on the 3rd or 4th lines, and will essentially be a handicap on the team’s spending until 2016.

2016.  Four more years. That’s a long time.

It comes down to what the team thinks will be more valuable: Kaberle’s expiring 4.25m contract in 2013-2014 as a trade chip or Bourque’s contribution to the team as a 2nd-line scorer.

Whether or not Bourque can improve his play from last year, it may still be worthwhile to buy-out his contract since he’ll be 35 at its conclusion. Unless Bourque lights up the league during the shortened season and shows some hitherto unseen-at least in these parts- spring in his skateboot, Bergevin would be wise to keep and then attempt to trade Kaberle’s contract to a team facing a cap crunch next year. The cap drops next year, and it’s unclear what the cap will be the year after that since it’s tied to the new revenue split. It’s entirely conceivable that some teams could make use of an expiring $4.25 million contract. Buying-out Gomez and Bourque will still save the Canadiens approximately $10.5 million in cap space anyway. Do you know what any team does not want in a situation in which the salary cap can come down? Being tied into 4-years of a player who can’t contribute.

Buying out Kaberle would save the team less than a million dollars more, which wouldn’t be worth taking their chances with Bourque for 3 more years beyond Kaberle’s departure.

January 8, 2013

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

by Jacob Saltiel

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

Coming out of the lockout, the first article 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:


“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”


“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…”

“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.”

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.