There are some signings that a general manager makes that don’t need a tremendous amount of discussion with his team owner. If Marc Bergevin wants to throw $850,000 at Manny Malhotra, we’re sure Geoff Molson wasn't burning the midnight oil going over faceoff stats from the AHL Charlotte Checkers.
But P.K. Subban is going to make $72 million over the next eight years as an employee of the Montreal Canadiens. That Molson would take an active role in those negotiations is understandable, logical and in the end not all that out of line with what’s expected from an NHL team owner that doubles as the franchise’s president.
Ted Leonsis negotiated Alex Ovechkin’s 2008 contract. Jeff Vanderbeek was active in the New Jersey Devils’ acquisition and subsequent contract debacle with Ilya Kovalchuk. Ed Snider was an aggressive catalyst for the Flyers acquiring Ilya Bryzgalov, even if he’s revised his role a bit in the aftermath.
And so it goes with many, many NHL owners. And so it went with Molson, who was the final word on the when and "how much" for P.K. Subban’s contract.
Unfortunately for Molson and the Canadiens, this is being portrayed as some type of power struggle. Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette writes that “it was indeed Molson who overruled GM Marc Bergevin, when it appeared that the club might be saddled with a single-year arbitration contract and a disgruntled star.”
It was Molson’s call to sign P.K. long-term and it was exactly right. Which doesn’t mean Bergevin was wrong. Both men were doing their jobs: Bergevin’s task is to make an evaluation based on his salary cap and his evaluation of a player’s performance. Molson has to take the wider view and consider factors like fan-base reaction that really aren’t Bergevin’s problem.
This notion from Todd has been spun in some circles as an indication that Molson and his GM aren't on the same page.
The idea that there’s a power struggle between a general manager fighting for a short-term deal and an owner stomping all over him to hand Subban a long-term deal is a juicy one; because any inkling that an activist owner and his stubborn GM aren’t getting along, or that the GM has been reduced to puppet status, is especially sexy when it involves hockey’s most sacrosanct franchise.
But the problem with that idea is …
1. It relies on a theory that Bergevin didn’t want to lock Subban up long-term (he did) and that the arbitration process wasn't something the team was simply leveraging against Subban in the hopes of getting a favorable deal (it didn’t financially; it did in buying up extra UFA years).
2. That Molson didn’t endorse the team’s hard-line approach with its star player, despite having taken an active role in player personnel since 2012.
3. That Molson didn’t have the final call in these talks regardless of the timing or circumstances. Subban was in constant contact with him throughout the process, and clearly something in the dynamic changed after the arbitration hearing. Bergevin could advise and consent; only Molson was going to cut the check.
Which, again, should be rather obvious when dealing with a star like Subban and an owner like Molson. Perhaps he pulled the trigger on the deal a little sooner than his general manager hoped he would, especially with Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher up for new deals soon.
But in the end, Geoff Molson’s the guy who buys the bullets.