For the second time in 2014, the Montreal Canadiens are about to show us what they really think of P.K. Subban.
Far and away the most prominent player involved in the arbitration process this summer, Subban’s hearing is scheduled to take place Friday morning. The Canadiens are offering $5.25 million on a one-year deal, while Subban—who accounted for a cap hit of $2.875 last season—is asking for $8.5 million.
What arbitration hearings really seem to accomplish is the establishment of a hard deadline that drives the negotiation process. It’s hard to imagine either Subban or the Habs are overly excited at the prospect of having someone else decide the terms of their relationship, so it’s time for both parties to put their cards on the table and demonstrate what they truly think—just like Montreal did when the 2014 playoffs began.
During the 2013-14 regular season, Canadiens coach Michel Therrien refused to treat Subban like a clear No. 1 defenceman. To that end, 35-year-old Andrei Markov averaged more ice time per game than Subban, who was coming off a Norris Trophy-winning season in 2013. Subban, 25, was also benched on a couple occasions after making defensive miscues the coach deemed unforgivable.
Then the playoffs arrived.
Once Montreal started playing its second season, Subban’s ice time per 60 minutes jumped significantly to over 26 minutes, making him the most-used Hab by a fair margin. The result was brilliant play from the blueliner, who led the Canadiens with 14 points in 17 post-season contests. The message sure seemed to be something along the lines of: “OK, kid, now that things really matter, we’re going to drop the posturing and let you play.”
Now it’s time for Montreal to forgo the gamesmanship and pay.
Because of the aforementioned tough-love approach the coaching staff has taken with Subban at times and because his last negotiation resulted in a brief holdout before a team-friendly, two-year deal was signed, there’s always a seed of doubt when assessing No. 76’s future in Montreal.
That no deal has been struck yet makes speculation easier to spread, though Habs GM Marc Bergevin could well just be doing his due diligence in trying to ink Subban for as palatable a number as possible. When push comes to shove, however, does anybody doubt the best outcome for Montreal is a maximum-term deal that locks up the young superstar?
Of course, that can’t come at any cost, but even if Subban’s demands push up to $9 million per on an eight-year pact, aren’t the financially flush Habs better off shelling out than scrounging around for a doomed plan to replace their best skater?
As has been pointed out numerous times during this dance, while the team held the upper hand during the last round of negotiations, Subban has the leverage now because the salary cap is expected to rise in coming years and the free agent market is famously bereft of top-level talent.
As Subban’s arbitration hearing draws closer, the Canadiens should be thinking long and hard about dropping the charade and acknowledging what everyone else seems to know.
Things sure worked out well that last time they took that approach.