Entering the 2013-2014 NHL season, the Montreal Canadiens might not be walking into the Bell Centre with the Stanley Cup but one player will be walking in with hardware. That man of course being P.K. Subban, carrying the Norris trophy. Subban won that trophy only being paid $2M for the 2012-2013 shortened lockout season, a season he actually did not start immediately due to the negotiation of his contract. For the new season, Subban will be paid a meagre $3.75M, which is less than fellow defencemen Andrei Markov ($5.75M) and Josh Gorges ($3.9M). While much discussion goes into whether the bridge contract was the right idea, the real question is how much will Subban be looking after for his contract extension?
First we should look at exactly what the highest paid defencemen in the league are getting based on cap hit:
1. Shea Weber ($7.8M per season)
2. Ryan Suter ($7.5M per season)
3. Brian Campbell ($7.1M per season)
4. Drew Doughty ($7M per season)
5. Zdeno Chara ($6.9M per season)
I should note that Kris Letang is playing on the final year of his previous deal at $3.5M per season before his new extension kicks in to make him the third highest paid defenceman in the league with a $7.3M cap hit. What’s interesting about this list is that the only player of comparable age to Subban is Doughty and the only player in the top five (top six counting Letang) that is also a Norris trophy winner is Chara. You have to go a little farther down the list to find 2012 Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson who won his Norris on the original entry level contract before being paid $6.5M on the cap for seven seasons. To be fair, both Suter and Letang were finalists for the Norris trophy when Subban won the trophy. Of course, that does give his agent a reasonable argument to ask, “Why should Subban be paid less than the finalists?”
With the drama that occurred from the bridge contract (covered by Ben Kerr on January 27), many expect Subban to now point to the Norris trophy and say, “Pay me”. Subban would have every right to argue he left money on the table previous and now wants it back. Subban could push Bergevin to make him the highest paid player by cap hit in the National Hockey League. However, Bergevin wouldn’t exactly be forced to do so. While Weber’s contract is actually the money he agreed to with the Philedelphia Flyers on an offer sheet, it was also the Flyers agreeing to give up two first round draft picks, a second round draft pick and a third round draft pick for Weber. The same would be for Subban on anything under $8.4M. Once that number breaks the $8.4M threshold you are now playing with four first round draft picks. Territory nobody would touch. So if Subban wants to break the bank, Bergevin has to decide if his contract is worth it compared to draft picks a team would give. Problem is, one look at CapGeek shows you the only teams that could really break the bank for Subban are teams that would be potentially giving up top ten draft picks in the first round. Is Subban worth a Phil Kessel situation for a team?
Subban has also shown quite a lot of loyalty to the team and it’s believed that his original contract demand before accepting the bridge was around $5.5M. This would have been a fair number for Subban at the time and would have made him underpaid if he still won the Norris trophy. We could go all day on whether Subban would have been motivated as much with the $5.5M but there’s no point. This is about his next contract. Subban could look to the deals that were agreed upon by Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and leave a little money off the table on a long term deal to show loyalty to the team. I’d be talking a contract with a cap hit between $7M and $7.5M. Subban would still be respected as one of the highest paid defencemen in the league while also saving the Canadiens a couple hundred thousand on the cap. Those dollars go a long way in establishing team depth.
Finally, Subban could look to 2012 Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson and see that Karlsson is still received as the best player on the Senators despite being paid less than Jason Spezza. At $6.5M Subban would share highest paid honours with fellow cornerstone Carey Price and give the Canadiens the kind of flexibility needed to truly make their mark. It would also follow in line with the Chicago Blackhawks, who pay their two best players $6.3M a season in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. With Max Pacioretty already locked in a $4.5M cap hit for the next six seasons, Subban could show his commitment to the team by making it clear he wants to win in Montreal and the price isn’t a major concern. It would also ensure he could never be run out of the city because he costs the team too much in the long run. There would be no fear of Nathan Beaulieu having a breakout season and the team having to decide who could be kept.
These three scenarios present possibilities on how Subban and agent Don Meehan can discuss a contract with Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. Either Subban forces Bergevin’s hand and makes up for lost dollars on the bridge contract, compromises while still ensuring Subban’s name is among the highest paid in the league or positions himself as loyalty to the team and takes a contract similar to 2012 Norris winner Erik Karlsson. Regardless, I expect a deal to be made before the conclusion of the 2013-2014 NHL season and I expect it to be long term. Regardless of cap hit, Subban will deserve it.
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