The good news for the Montreal Canadiens is that P.K. Subban loves them. Dearly. Whenever he speaks about wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge it’s like hearing a kid getting a chance to wear the pinstripes after growing up in the Bronx sleeping under a Jeter poster
To wit, from his conversation with Ken Dryden recently, Subban said:
“Playing with the Montreal Canadiens, there’s so much history. I have an opportunity to bring back a feeling to a city that is so hungry for it. This is the greatest organization in hockey. I want to keep the legacy going.”
In essence, Subban speaks about playing for the Canadiens like the Canadiens wish every free agent thinks about playing for the Canadiens, even if the vast majority don’t want that spotlight and scrutiny.
Subban? He craves it. He cherishes it. That unyielding combination of no-filter honesty, charisma and occasional impetuousness are a perfect cocktail for surviving in that market, combined with his loyalty to his teammates.
That’s where the balance gets tricky for Subban. Contract negotiations are, essentially, a personal personnel decision. What he asks for dictates what the Canadiens spend on others. What he asks for can also dictate whether Subban is on the ice with the Habs, off the ice in talks or – hockey gods forbid – on another team.
That latter scenario never seemed that likely, given that Montreal would have matched any offer sheet, and now it’s pretty much off the table as Subban elected for salary arbitration while the sides continue to work on a new deal.
But why the hell would Subban sign a new deal at this juncture?
Let’s start with arbitration. As Ken Campbell of THN notes:
It won’t be difficult to figure out how much Subban will be seeking in arbitration. His comparables statistically and in terms of career development are players such as Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Doughty earns $7 million a year, Karlsson and Pietrangelo $6.5 million each and Ekman-Larsson $5.5 million. So anywhere north of $6 million would be a reasonable assumption.
So let’s say the Canadiens and Subban avoid the nastiness of arbitration with their own 2-year deal for $6.6 million annually, because Subban has every right to ask for somewhere between Karlsson and Doughty and the Habs have every right to meet him in the middle.
Assuming Subban is still Subban for the next two years, the contract that follows boggles the mind. Every player is on the table. It’s not just about what defensemen make – as a UFA squarely in his prime, Subban can write a ticket that compares to the NHL’s other star players in his age bracket.
By Summer 2016, the following players will have new contracts: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Steven Stamkos, provided things don’t go sideways in Tampa and he signs there. All three will crack the $10 million cap hit ceiling, or at least are expected to as the cap rises. The idea that Subban could join them might seem outlandish now; maybe less so if he adds another Norris to the trophy case.
So yes, his filing for arbitration is good news because it means he’ll be a Hab for the next two seasons, in theory. And yes, this does buy the Canadiens some time to sign him long term. And yes, it’s clear that Subban and Montreal have a mutual affinity.
But the longer this goes, the larger the price tag gets for PK. And while the Canadiens are a cap friendly team due to having so many young players playing key roles, that'll change in the next three seasons.