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P.K. Subban faces hardball from Marc Bergevin, Montreal Canadiens

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Montreal Canadiens at Boston Bruins
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May 10, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban (76) looks on during warm-ups prior to game five of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Boston Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

When a player follows the contractual rights established in the CBA – evoking a no-trade clause, for example – the hockey world gets split up into to two camps: Those who malign that player’s character for putting his own wants and needs above that of the team; and those who logically understand that it was his team and his League that bestowed those rights upon him. 

The same apparently holds for general managers. Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin is being portrayed as something between a feckless oaf and a shortsighted idiot for allowed P.K. Subban’s case to get to arbitration, following a two-year bridge contract he handed him in lieu of a longer-term deal that would gobbled up a year of unrestricted free agency. The two sides left the hearing on Friday frustrated, and a long-teram solution to the problem seemed unlikely. 

But let’s look at what Bergevin’s managed to do in his negotiations with Subban:

- Kept his cap hit at $2.875 million for the last two seasons with that bridge contract, avoiding a potential cap calamity in 2013-14 when the ceiling dropped to $64.3 million.

- Kept him with two RFA years remaining at the end of that contract, which means two more cracks at short-term deals or a long-term extension, with arbitration in his hip pocket. (Although P.K. filed this time.)

- Managed to avoid handing out an elephantine contract before its time, with both Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk coming off their rookie deals next summer.

From a nuts-and-bolts, taking what the CBA gives you perspective, what Bergevin’s done here so far is fine. And barring a miracle in which the sides decide on a long-term deal, he’ll save even more on Subban for next season when the arbitration ruling comes down, as well as in the long run. (Andrew Berkshire has done some great analysis on that last point.)

Look at this way: a five-year contract signed in 2012 would have included one UFA year, which would have inflated the cap hit. A long-term deal signed now would included several, which would be like taking a tire pump to his cap hit for these next two RFA seasons, for no legitimate reason -- Subban's going to, in theory, sign long-term before his UFA status anyway. Instead, Bergevin saves money and cap space, potentially for the next two seasons.

But good business isn’t always good employee relations, and the palpable fear is that the nickel-and-diming of P.K. Subban, by one of the most cash-rich teams in professional sports, is the economic equivalent of a Shawn Thornton squirt to the face.

Via Eric Engles (warning: HockeyBuzz post):

This isn't about 8.5, or 8.75, or 9. This is about Subban, Molson and Bergevin sitting at a press conference that highlights the respect the Canadiens have for what Subban means to their organization. This is about putting a label on what Subban's already proven in Montreal--that he's one of their two best players, and that unequivocally, he's a respected leader in the dressing room.

I maintain, Subban wants fair value, but really, he wants to be respected. That's why he's willing to go long when he could easily skate to arbitration, pick up as much as $8.5M next season, and be up for an even bigger contract at this time next year. 

Bob McKenzie’s another guy wondering what happens if Subban doesn’t feel the love from the Habs:

My uneducated opinion from afar: MTL likes, maybe really likes, Subban but doesn't LOVE him. And you have to LOVE someone at 8 x $8-9 million-plus per.

More importantly, I guess, IF Subban doesn't feel the love from MTL, how eager is he to re-up there for eight years? Gonna be interesting.

No kidding.

So we have a three-pronged issue here:

1. Bergevin’s frugal management of his asset during his RFA years.

2. Whether or not the Canadiens truly believe in Subban as an 8-year, $8-million a year player (or more).

3. P.K. Subban’s faith that if he was an unrestricted free agent, he’d get 8-year, $8-million a year (or more) as soon as TSN and Sportsnet sign on for the 2016 free-agent frenzy.

If Subban and Don Meehan want to get all boo-boo-faced over the Habs’ pressing the RFA card or their arbitration arguments in bringing his asking price down, so be it. They should know it’s a business as much as the Habs do.

The only thing that should, in theory, matter is what Geoff Molson and Marc Bergevin offer when the power shifts to Subban as an unrestricted free agent. Because they’re idiots if they allow a star player – who’s both in the top five at his position and willing to put up with the pressure, spotlight and nonsense that comes with playing for Les Habitants – eventually skate away.

Play all the hardball you want. But when the times comes, the Habs better groove one down the middle of the plate like their name is Adam Wainwright and Subban is Derek Jeter.

 

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