TORONTO — P.K. Subban will soon have a contract to play next season for the Montreal Canadiens, though not the way either side wanted it to happen.
Unable to hammer out a deal, Subban and the Habs went to arbitration Friday morning. As participants left, it was all too clear the hearing didn’t go particularly well.
Subban emerged from a meeting room at a downtown Toronto hotel and was measured in his comments but shied way from discussing what was said behind closed doors. He called it “an educational process.”
“There’s dialogue and discussion and decisions were made today in relations to both of our positions and ultimately we have to live with those decisions and move on from here,” Subban said. “I know that obviously the arbitration process is over. It is in the hands of the arbitrator now.”
The independent arbitrator, who heard arguments from the two sides, has up to 48 hours to render a decision on how much Subban will make on a one-year contract. Subban’s camp and the team can continue to negotiate until that ruling, but the apparent tone of the hearing made that seem unlikely.
Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin left the hotel telling reporters: “I have nothing to say guys, so don’t ask me. No comment.”
Subban’s agent, Don Meehan, also declined comment.
Subban, the Habs’ 25-year-old franchise defenceman, did the talking for himself. Wearing a grey suit, the likable superstar answered questions for three minutes after the meeting, which lasted for roughly four hours, but was unwilling to shed any light on what was discussed.
This was the first true NHL arbitration hearing for a restricted free agent since Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators went through it in 2011 and was awarded US$7.5 million, the highest amount determined through this process. Earlier this off-season, the St. Louis Blues took Vladimir Sobotka to arbitration to keep his rights after he decided to sign in the KHL.
Arbitration cases are so rare because a team often criticizes a player as part of its argument for a lower salary. Subban wouldn’t say whether what he figured the Habs thought of him changed as a result of the hearing.
Throughout his comments, Subban attempted to shift the focus away from arbitration and on to hockey.
“At the end of the day, it’s been an educational process for me, and I’ll continue to say that because it has been,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot. Like I said, I’m just excited now to continue to move forward, and that’s all you can do from here is just move forward, move on and get ready for the season.”
Subban, who had 10 goals and 43 assists in 82 regular-season games last season, would be a restricted free agent again next summer if he and the Habs don’t agree to a long-term deal before then. If that happens, it’s entirely possible Montreal elects to take him to arbitration again.
Asked if he was still open to negotiating a long-term deal with the Habs, Subban said: “I think that’s kind of a discussion for a later date. It’s not a discussion for today, obviously.”
Subban’s camp reportedly sought US$8.5 million through arbitration, while the team requested $5.25 million. The arbitrator is not restricted to picking one of those numbers.
After signing a two-year, so-called “bridge” contract just after the lockout ended in January of 2013, Subban made $3.75 million this past season and counted $2.875 million against the salary cap. He won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and made Canada’s Olympic team in 2014.
Subban, who could be eligible for unrestricted free agency in 2016, said nothing about arbitration really surprised him.
“Just the whole process is different,” the Toronto native said. “I’ve never been through this process before. To have to go through it now, obviously, I’ve been through many different processes before in my career, but I’ve ultimately come out of it stronger and ready to continue to get better and that’s my motivation as a player is to get better.”