Habs are Playing a Dangerous Game with PK Subban
The season is one week old and the Montreal Canadiens remain locked in a bitter contract dispute with their star restricted free agent defenceman P.K. Subban.
Saturday morning, rumors surfaced from Darren Dreger at TSN, and from Renaud Lavoie of RDS (two very well respected journalists) that Montreal’s General Manager Marc Bergevin was offering Subban a 2 year deal between $5 million and $5.2 million (ie $2.5-2.6 million AAV). Subban and agent Don Meehan are meeting this weekend to discuss the offer, and their options going forward.
Meanwhile, Subban is reportedly looking for a much longer term deal, and for a lot more money as well. Bob McKenzie had previously reported that the Canadiens and Subban were approximately $3 million apart in their offers, meaning that Subban is looking for upwards of $5.5 million per season.
Last season, Subban averaged over 24 minutes per game for the Canadiens, which was the most on the team, and played against almost every opponent’s top line. Further, he led the Canadiens in scoring by a defenceman, was part of the number two-ranked penalty killing unit in the NHL, and was a plus nine on the year.
There is little doubt that PK Subban was Montreal’s number one defenceman last season, and one of the few bright spots on a team that finished in 28th place in the NHL.
The Canadiens appear to want to give Subban the same contract that the Rangers recently gave their restricted free agent defenceman, Michael Del Zotto. However, as we can see in an analysis of their play indicates that Del Zotto does not play the same number of minutes as Subban. He does not face the same level of competition, and in the instances that he does face his opponent’s top line, he does not have the same success as Subban.
Other recent RFA defencemen who re-signed after coming off of their RFA deals include John Carlson (6 years, $3,966,667 AAV) ; Cam Fowler (5 years, 4 million AAV), Victor Hedman (5 years, 4 million AAV), and Tyler Myers (7 years, $5.5 million AAV) . PK’s offensive and defensive statistics compare very favourably to each of these players, and in fact when quality of competition, as well as the offensive and defensive metrics are looked at, Subban appears to grade out the best of all of these defenders.
For this reason, I believe that while Subban might have to take less than the $5.5 million he is seeking, I do believe that he is worth up to $4 million per season on a short-term deal and $5 million on a long-term deal that includes buying UFA years.
Many have also made the argument that Subban should accept the short term, low money, “bridge contract” coming out of his entry level contract as this appears to be the Montreal Canadiens policy in their dealings with Carey Price in 2010 and Max Paciroretty in 2011. This would allow Subban to cash-in two years from now. However, one must recognize that these three situations are extremely different. As shown above, Subban has already proven that he is capable of playing big minutes, against top opponents and succeeding in that role, while still leading his team in points.
Meanwhile in 2010, Carey Price, who while still a very promising goaltender, was coming off a season where he quite simply did not play very well, and was beaten out by Jaroslav Halak for the Canadiens’ number one goaltending job. There were a lot of questions surrounding Price and his ability to be a number 1 NHL goalie at the time.
In 2011 Max Pacioretty was coming off a very serious neck injury and concussion. He also had 20 career goals and 49 career points. Compare this to Subban’s 21 career goals and 76 career points (as a defenceman, no less) and we can clearly see that Subban was ahead of Price and Pacioretty at the point they signed “bridge deals”. The situations are just not comparable.
Now at 2-1 on the season, and with Andrei Markov in fine form, many fans and even some press have stated that Subban’s value drops with every good result the Canadiens have. This is foolish thinking for several reasons.
This is a contract negotiation, not a roller coaster ride at Six Flags. Subban’s value did not increase by $100,000 per season because the Canadiens lost to the Leafs last Saturday, or drop by $200,000 per season because of victories over the Panthers and Capitals. Nor should it have.
First off, it will take a much longer evaluation to gauge the strength of this team and there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that P.K. Subban is a talented defenceman who would make the team better. No matter how good or how bad your team is playing, management should always be looking at improving the club in both the short and long term. Now if we go by the theory, if the Canadiens struggle, then bringing Subban back into the lineup to help them becomes a priority.
Now let’s imagine the converse; the Habs continue to win and look like a serious playoff team. In such a scenario, wouldn’t most teams be looking to add a player who will make them better at the trade deadline? So why wouldn’t the Habs want to sign Subban to a deal, and bring him into the lineup. It would be adding a top defenceman to the team, without giving up any assets. The team should always be looking to get better, and for that reason the record with Subban out of the lineup is nearly irrelevant in determining his worth.
Now keeping Subban on the sidelines does not make sense for Montreal. Sure, Andrei Markov is playing great right now, and looks every bit to be playing the part of the number one defenceman on the team. A healthy Markov probably is even better than Subban, and would remain the number 1 defenceman even with Subban in the lineup. However, wouldn’t the team be better to have them both? We must also consider the fact that Markov has a long history of injuries here, and is one hit away from another long-term knee injury.
Another aspect that hasn’t been explored is how much Subban has improved in his defensive game, and how much he has learned from stay at home defencemen like Hal Gill and Josh Gorges. As noted above, he has become a shut down defender at the NHL game. PK has never really had an offensive mentor in the NHL on a full time basis, and it really is no surprise that his Points Per Game were much higher in the second half of last season over the first half, following Montreal’s acquisition of Tomas Kaberle.
Subban’s offensive game, while very good, is still a little raw. He certainly has all the skills, and 21 goals and 76 points in two NHL seasons is certainly nothing to scoff at, however his raw skill level (skating, powerful shot, passing ability) suggests that he could produce even more. Due to Markov’s injury problems, the Canadiens have rarely had #79 and #76 both in the lineup at the same time. Markov is such an intelligent point producer, that I believe Subban could become even better from watching him play on a regular basis and being tutored by Markov in practice. He’s shown the desire and willingness to improve over his NHL career, and could certainly learn a lot from Markov.
Many, including Bob McKenzie, have speculated that this impasse will eventually end up with the Canadiens trading Subban. I feel that this would be a massive mistake for the organization.
Firstly, teams rarely, if ever, receive value in a trade for a player that is holding out. If a trade becomes a necessity, the Canadiens are in a position of weakness as they are the team that must move their disgruntled player. Other teams will know this and will not offer full value.
Secondly, as shown above, the $2.5 million is below market value for what Subban brings. Given that Bergevin seems to be undervaluing PK’s value to the team in contract negotiations, is anyone confident in his ability to value PK Subban’s value to the team in a trade negotiation? Or does he truly believe that this asset is equivalent to a Michael Del Zotto or Dmitri Kulikov?
It’s a danger that the Canadiens appear to be playing with a player who should be the cornerstone of their defence corps for years to come. Habs fans must hope that a smart resolution to this contract dispute comes, and comes quickly.