SANTA CRUZ, August 3, 2014— As Montreal Canadiens fans held their collective breath, hoping for a miracle, the clock ran out on the possibility of the team reaching an agreement with defenseman PK Subban on a new contract. The two sides then met with a league arbitrator, who will decide on a dollar amount for a one year contract.
In an off season in which arbitration hearings have been the exception rather than the rule, Subban’s case is relevant in that he is perhaps one of the league’s brightest stars, and the epitome of a franchise player. His speed, skill, and attention to detail are complimented by his infectious passion for the game.
After four seasons in the NHL, Subban has established himself among the better defensemen in the league, and has shown an ability to elevate his game in the postseason. Beloved in Montreal, despised everywhere else, he has become the superstar Canadiens fans have been pining for since the departure of Jose Theodore.
While Montreal benefitted from Subban’s services at the relative bargain of $3.75 million last year, the player and his agent are seeking a hefty raise. Prior to arbitration, the two sides engaged in brief contract talks, but they remained several million dollars apart. Typically, the club will lowball, trying to cut the legs out from under their player, while the player and their agent will ask for the moon. Arbitrators will usually come down somewhere in the middle, creating an uneasy peace and leaving the two sides with a full season to come to a more amicable, long term agreement.
The salary comparables for defensemen have been destroyed by Shea Webber’s outrageous contract with the Nashville Predators, who paid him $14 million last season. It appears as though Subban’s camp is seeking money similar to the $6.7 million LA Kings defenseman Drew Doughty is making. As special a player as Shea Webber is, there is no doubt that Nashville vastly overpaid to keep him. To use his salary as a gauge for Subban, or anybody else, is insane.
By Webber’s standards, Doughty could be considered underpaid, but most hockey people understand that Webber’s contract is an anomaly, rather than an accurate barometer of what a top defenseman is worth.
Drew Doughty has already won two Stanley Cups with the Kings, and is an anchor in LA’s leadership structure. Subban projects to be a very similar player, and his team is a legitimate contender in the eastern conference, but the Canadiens are in a tough spot. Had Montreal managed to overcome the Rangers in the eastern conference and advanced to the Stanley Cup finals, surely Subban would have been one of the main reasons. In that case, the Canadiens could feel justified in locking him up with a back-loaded, long term deal.
While Subban, and his game, have matured over the last four seasons, he is still a gambler and somewhat of a hot shot. The Canadiens want him to develop more of a leadership role with the team, possibly even taking on the captaincy in the near future. The unfortunate math is that Subban’s entry level deal expired after a season where the Canadiens may still not be one hundred percent sold on what they really have in their young star.
PK Subban is on the cusp of becoming an elite NHL player, but he is not there yet. Whatever the arbitrator awards, it will be up to him this season to prove he can be the player Montreal believes he can become. If he has a break out year, the Canadiens will have to open their wallets for him. If they choose not to do so, every other team in the league will be lining up with open wallets in hand.
Subban’s demeanor this season, as much as his play on the ice, will go a long way in determining the ultimate length of his stay in Montreal. Canadiens fans can only hope that the arbitration process does not sour his relationship with the club to a point where a mutually beneficial deal cannot be reached before he hits the free agent market next summer.