Habs are Playing a Dangerous Game with PK Subban

By
Updated: January 27, 2013
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.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave your comments below. You can follow me on twitter @lastwordBkerr or follow the site @lastwordonsport

Main Photo credit: clydeorama via photopin cc

25 Comments

  1. john

    January 27, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Extremely well said,Bergevin will regret this loss (if it happens).
    At the same time PK needs to come down in his request,a higher’bridge
    ‘contract of 4-4.5 million for 2 years and both sides win .
    We are not even discussing the marketing value of PK for this organization here .

    Lets just get it done and move on…..

  2. Andrew in Montreal

    January 27, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Could not disagree with you more.

    4 million for a d-man:

    -who’s point shots are erratic
    -whom most players on the team cannot stand
    -who’s prone to defensive blunders
    -is an excessive ego maniac who lacks the humility ingredient found in most bonifide star players

    PKs minutes were THAT high – by default – with Markov out and a pretty sorry cast surrounding him.

    I’ll be happy when we trade his sorry ass outa here – but only after MB (plays his cards right) plays this out and gets a solid return for this idiot.

    • Ben Kerr

      January 27, 2013 at 10:49 am

      1) He has 21 goals in 2 NHL seasons…. great total for a defenceman. So his point shot can’t be that bad.

      2) Prone to defensive blunders? He was +9 playing against the best players in the league.

      3) Teamates can’t stand him, and he’s an egomaniac….. rumors and innuendo, and smear campaigns… nothing more. Not one player on the team has said, on the record, that they dislike Subban. NOT ONE! And to top it all off there are quite a few he gets along well with.

      And yes, maybe Subban’s minutes were high because Markov was hurt and there was a sorry cast of D last year. It doesn’t change the fact that he played those minutes, played them against the top players in the NHL, and played them at a +9 for the season. The facts are that he performed exceptionally well in those minutes.

      Don’t let those facts get in the way of calling him an idiot though.

      • Andrew in Montreal

        January 27, 2013 at 10:13 pm

        1) Fact: Subban finished last season with seven goals for an entire 82 game season… You think this total is Great? (as of tonight Markov has 4 in as many games). Del Zotto scored 10 and he got 2.5 million.

        2) The fact you contest (the fact) he IS prone to errors tells me you really live on another planet! +9 is good my friend but not GREAT.

        Good often is the enemy of the Best.

        3) You dispute this guy is an egomaniac?

        How many Habs had it out with him in practice last year?

        Do you really think the ones that don’t like him (and trust me there ARE several that don’t) are going to say so in public?

        Other players in the league though have come out (on record) and slammed him.

        He’s an obnoxious yapper who “turtles” when push comes to shove and That’s a Fact!

        Notwithstanding the guy’s talent – there are times when I feel his behaviour is questionable.

        Dude – you lose a lot of credibility when you suggest that his point shot isn’t erratic … The reality is he rarely hits the mark. 7 goals on the year (with all those minutes) does little to support your argument (as does denying he’s totally egocentric … but don’t let these facts get in the way of you calling him GREAT.

        • Ben Kerr

          January 27, 2013 at 11:12 pm

          1) Seven goals was 34th in the NHL among defencemen. Only 19 NHL defencemen scored 10 goals. Seven goals is pretty damn good, oh and another dman who had 7 last year? Ryan Suter.

          Again when you compare Subban to Del Zotto, you have completely ignored every other stat which says Subban is a far, far better defensive player.

          Does Subban’s shot miss the net? Of course it does. Find me the NHL defenceman who never has his point shot blocked or never misses the net.

          2) You are stuck on the +9 and ignore the context. Top minutes on the team, Top Opponents on every other team, Very good metrics in Corsi, Fenwick, Rel Corsi, and other advanced stats, Part of the #2 Penalty Kill in the NHL, and part of a 28th placed team that didn’t score a lot of goals.

          Is he Chara or Weber? No, of course not, but I’m not suggesting he get paid like them either.

          I am suggesting that both his offensive and defensive metrics, when assessed holistically, beat comparable RFA defencemen Victor Hedman, John Carlson, Cam Fowler, Michael Del Zotto, Tyler Myers and Dmitri Kulikov. He should be paid in accordance with the fact that he is the best of this group.

          3) He had as many fights in practice as Tomas Plekanec did last season. No one suggests that Plekanec is not well liked by teammates.

          Guys have fights in practice on every NHL team. In fact many teams will have best friends fight in practice. Thats the nature of competing in this high speed, high contact sport. It happens. Only the Montreal Media overhypes it.

          As for turtling. He’s had 4 fights a season, how many fights do you want your #1 defenceman to have? I guarantee you that the coaches don’t want to see him in the box cause he fought some random third liner. Worse still would be seeing his hand get hurt in a fight during a game.

          Your point that he “turtles” after saying he gets into fights in practice with teammates, doesn’t make a lot of sense. You are arguing out of both sides of your mouth here, and ruining all credibility.

          Like I said, in this sport fights are gonna happen, but the coaches would do everything possible to try to limit those numbers. Four fights per season, seems pretty fair for a player like Subban.

          As for players on other teams not liking him, I see that as a good thing, not a bad thing. A defenceman who gets under his opponents skill and gets them off their game is valuable, not a detriment.

          Clearly you don’t like the player and are using everything you can find against him…. you even called him an idiot in your first post. But the FACTS show your biases, and expose the fact you don’t know what you are talking about.

        • Junior

          January 28, 2013 at 12:06 pm

          Whoa on calling the guy an idiot…..he simply wants YEARS with his boyhood favorite team. Do you know him personally? Everyone hates him? Who cares about his personality, Crosby is the biggest baby in the league who ALOT of players dislike…he’s still a good hockey player. Anyway, bottom lione is this. You sit Weber, Trade Kaberle, INSERT SUBBAN AND THIS D is AWESOME!!! We’ve already lost McDonough and Streit….how many more goosd D men do we have to lose?????

  3. Jim Decker

    January 27, 2013 at 10:10 am

    An excellent article, agree totally that Subban should be offered at least $4 million for 1 to 2 years. He can be the future of this club, he can take them from mediocrity to the next level of being legitimate contenders. You only have to go back to the 2010 playoff run to see how his contribution was so important. C’mon MB, take the poker out and meet him halfway.

    Cheers
    Ginty (diehard Habs fan since 1958)

  4. Lovetts Magnatones

    January 27, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Excellent stuff. I always have enjoyed your analysis in the past and its good to see you have your own thing. Coherence and reason in the blogosphere!

  5. Bob Kyler

    January 27, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Great article….if the Habs want to play this game….they will lose and lose big….what message does this send not only to PK….but to all other young prospects…already in their system or on their radar….??? It is a foolish position to be taking and Bergevin will come out of this looking like an idiot….PK is young and very talented and has a great future…let’s hope it’s with the Habs.

  6. Jim

    January 27, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Another nice piece Ben. As I’ve said right along, there are very few players that can bring fans out of their seats. PK is a rare talent. Not sure what the strategy here is. All I know is I want that young man back on the ice soon.

  7. h .charlie

    January 27, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    no one ever lives up to there contacts. dont sign him to a long term deal .

  8. Shaun

    January 27, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    I agree with almost all of what you say. I do not believe that Markov is as frail as you think though. His time in the KHL was great towards giving him back his confidence. I also think he can play several more years at a high level given that his style doesn’t rely on physical areas that may decline. He’s a smart Dman. I do hope the team and PK find something that works as I love what he adds to the team and would like to see him stick around a long time.

    • Ben Kerr

      January 27, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      I hope Markov can stay healthy as well. He’s dynamic and one of the league’s most underrated defencemen.

      I merely said he is one hit away from another knee injury… which given the fact he’s had 3 reconstructions, is not exactly big news to anyone. It certainly is a concern IMO.

      • Boudje

        January 28, 2013 at 11:46 am

        To be fair, every single player in the league is one hit away from a serious injury. Reconstructive knee surgery has come a very long way in the last decade and I don’t believe that injuries like that will definitively slow down a player for the remainder of his career. Much like Tommy John surgery has come a long way for pitchers in baseball. See: Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson

        • Ben Kerr

          January 28, 2013 at 12:04 pm

          True, but there is a difference between a guy who is younger, and is on his first surgery.

          Vs a guy who is in his mid 30s and has had 3 major reconstruction surgeries.

          Medical technology is better, but nothing is perfect. I hope he holds up, but looking at his last 3 seasons, there must be some lingering doubt as compared to the average player who doesn’t have 2 major reconstruction surgeries on one knee, and one on the other knee…. plus numerous arthroscopic “clean up” procedures.

  9. Costa

    January 27, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    Best reflection on the PK Subban situation thus far. I wholeheartedly agree that his defensive game is underrated–as you intimate in your article–and that his offensive game is still a little raw. While he has a great one time shot on the PP (although this was effective when the Wiz was playing with him in 2010-2011) I find P.K. takes a little too much time with the puck. He has all the tools to be a PP quarterback, but needs to be a little quicker with his decision-making. He holds on to it for too long (before deciding to shoot or pass) and the opposing penalty killing unit gets into proper position to defend. For Subban to be more than just a shooter he needs to work on this part of his game. Defensively, although he makes bonehead decisions on occasion, I’m very impressed with how he matches up against opposing star players (just recall how he got under Crosby’s skin during the 2010 playoffs), and this is precisely what you need out of a top 2 defenseman. I agree Bergevin is playing a very dangerous game, and I also agree with the numbers you think he’s worth at this stage in his career.

    • Ben Kerr

      January 27, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      I definitely agree there is room for improvement in his offensive game, and I think you’ve identified a good issue with the time he takes with the puck. I also think he has too much windup in his shot, especially when not one timing it.

      I just see a guy who learned a ton about defence from Hal Gill and Josh Gorges, that I think he can still be coached and taught to use the great offensive tools he has in an efficient way. And who better to teach him than Andrei Markov? Get them on the ice together, please.

  10. Habsmandes

    January 27, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    I earlier thought that the quoted amount of 5-5.5 mil was for a per year offer.
    I have to agree that if is a total offer, PK should be making at least between 3 and 4 mil/yr. I’m ok with a 2yr contract though. I hope they come to an amicable resolution as a player who plays without being given at least a fair value will not have his heart in it.
    i would give him 3.7 mil/yr.

  11. Junior

    January 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Remember when the HABS drafted Carey Price instead of Anze Kopitar and everyone in Montreal cried? and whe they shipped Halak out of town instead Price and they whined some more? Oh and when Price mocked fans with the Patrick Roy stance and everyone said ‘get rid of him! he has a bad attitude!”……..WELL………..look at him now!! Carey Price is on FIRE! (let’s not make the same mistake with Subby, he’d be an awesome replacement to Kaberle or Weber right now….the difference between a good D and a playoff caliber D for years to come) Just saying:)

  12. CH Habs

    January 28, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Ben can you PLEASE get your article in the hand of one of the clowns on the RDS network. Even tho the information is available to them it seemed that they are stuck on bashing subban… they keep talking about a “bridge contract” this and that… without looking at any facts….

  13. BB Hockey

    January 28, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Good article Ben. While I agree with a number of your statements above (both in the article and replying to fans) I do believe there is a bias in your writing. To compare PK to Myers, Fowler and Hedman at this stage in the game is not a close comparison. One of the main reasons for that is that PK was not a first round pick, rightly or wrongly that does play into your first few contract negotiations. Also on one of your responses above you make reference to the 10 goal plateau for Defenceman, PK has met or exceed that mark once in his short career, Myers twice while also beating PK’s totals last season. All of Myers, Hedman and Fowler all went straight from juniors to the NHL while PK needed a years seasoning in the AHL. This is not to say PK is not a good defenceman or will not be at or above these players one day, I just don’t see it today, or see enough of it today to warrant a long term big contract. To your point about playing against the best, so do Myers, Fowler and Hedman. And I hope at this stage in PK’s career you were not trying to state that PK has passed Suter as far as skill level in the league?

    Where PK has Georges to help out, who does Fowler look too, Sourey? Hedman needs to look to the injury reserve sheet to find a tutor.

    PK needs to either sign a short term contract, come in and win the number one spot and get his pay day, or he will likely be moved. I cant see the Habs signing PK to a $4.5-$5 mil per season deal with the Habs for 4 or 5 year terms.

    The unfortunate part of this situation is both sides are stubborn, I cant see PK taking a short term deal with $3 mil per season money, and like I said above I cant see the Habs opening their wallet either. (I agree with your statement that you should not base your decision on wins and losses now, but the longer the Habs win games the less urgency they will feel to re-sign him).

    Finally on your point about value, yes if you must move a player because of a contract battle you will lose some value, but that value is only lost when the other side has nothing to lose. Take one of the (many) rumoured destinations for PK, the Detroit Red Wings, when you have D-men going down almost nightly and expectations have been to make the play-offs for so long you might actually find a trade partner who is equally as desperite. Now you are never going to get a #1 or #2 defenceman right now in return for PK (unless the other teams D have done something in their own back yard that makes that team have to trade a guy like that as well), but you can get a good group of prospects in return. If you can manage to find another 2-3 D of the future in a prospect or two along with a player that fills a glaring need now type of player in return for PK, it might be worth at least thinking about.

    You never want to lose good players, but Kessel held out and he ended up costing the Leafs the picks that landed Boston Seguin and Hamilton (and the Cup to boot over that period) so the trades dont always go badly.

    • Ben Kerr

      January 29, 2013 at 7:30 am

      When we are 4.5 years after draft day, the fact that someone is/was a first round pick in 2008 is near irrelevant. I don’t see Detroit asking Datsyuk to take a pay cut lower than guys drafted in the first round of his draft year, or Marty St. Louis paid as an undrafted player. Note I’m not saying that Subban is as good as those players, but the principle remains the same. At a certain point, it is your play on the ice and not your draft status that should determine your worth.

      When you look at all the stats, and the CBS article pulled them for Del Zotto and Subban… but if you look across the board at all the stats, both defensive and offensive, you can see that Subban is the best all-around player in that grouping.

  14. BB Hockey

    January 29, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Thanks Ben, I do understand that and now PK has signed for less than I think most expected, less than a $3 mil per season average for 2 years. Now I agree with you that the Habs may have won this battle, but when the two years are up Subban (if he continues his improved play) will want a big pay hike or he might just demand a trade.

    It will be interesting to see how much rust there is and if he will actually be able to regain his form in a shortened season where he has already missed camp and a number of games.
    Still for Habs fans this is a good short term out come.
    I would like to clarify my point about being a first rounder during the early parts of their career and their contracts, it is not the fact that Jiri Fisher (Det first round pick the same year Datsyuk was taken late in the 6th round) early on is necissarily projected to be a better player, or even on the ice he was not, its where the players first contract starts out is what I am getting at. Even up to 4 years after you are drafted you have Fisher who makes more (based on bonus’ and first contracts) to start the barganing process than say Datsyuk does. To bring this into context with this article, according to Capgeek Del Zotto’s first contract ended up working out to $1,087,500 a season whereas Subban’s ended up averaging out at $875,000 so even if Subban had signed the same contract this time around as Del Zotto, his salarie would have increased more than Del Zotto’s (in the end Subban will get about $300,000 more a season in salarie than Del Zotto)

    • Ben Kerr

      January 29, 2013 at 10:36 am

      On pure numbers PK is getting 300,000 K more per season.

      But… when you look at how the contract is structured, it actually works out to significantly more than that. By backloading the contract, Meehan has done a great job of getting his client more money.

      In year one (this year) he gets 2 million. This is the small number, in the lockout shortened season, where the salary will be pro rated, and subject to very high escrow amounts.

      In year two (next year) he gets 3.75 million. This is over the full season, and after the make whole provisions of the CBA kick in.

      In this way he’s taking home a lot more cash. The contract structure shows a smart agent at work.

      It also matters that its backloaded as his qualifying offer in 2014 will be a minimum of 3.75 million (Bergevin can’t offer less than this or PK becomes UFA), so that’s a good starting point in that negotiation for him as they have a bottom line for how low they can start the negotiation (and it can only go up from there).

  15. Doug

    February 10, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Great Article, Ben Kerr. I must say that I enjoy watching P.K. Subban play. He is a talented and exciting player to watch. Love his energy and enthusiasm.

    Very articulate. A skill that other NHL players should learn. Love the Habs and I also love the Leafs, but I must say when P.K. Subban is on the ice, I cannot be disturbed.

    I pray for those that dislike this talented young Canadian Defenceman. He has earned the right to play in the NHL.

    May God continue to Bless and Guide you P.K. Subban. When God is for you it does not matter what any one else thinks. Be safe.

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