When Nashville matched that offer sheet for Shea Weber, effectively inking him to a 14-year contract, I had this mental image of Paul Holmgren in his office.

There he is, on Capgeek, scanning the list of un-signed restricted free agents. “Kulikov, Petrecki, Del Zotto… no, these don’t seem like my jam. Wait! Is PK Subban any good?”

Holmgren then called up his top scout to confirm that, yes, PK Subban was real good. “What is his agent’s name?”

I guessed that Holmgren might use some of the funds that he had set aside for Weber to use on Subban, the pernicious face of the Montreal Canadiens. Unlike Weber, Subban is only 23 but, like Weber, the addition would help out a group that lost Matt Carle this summer and is unlikely to see the return of Chris Pronger.

But none of this happened.

In fact, it doesn’t seem like Montreal has too much interest in signing Subban either. There was a report that went out Wednesday afternoon from RDS that suggested the Montreal Canadiens had offered the free agent two years and $5.5M. That’s $5.5M total, not per year.

This has enough of a “crazy enough to be true” aspect to it that I immediately indicted Habs’ management for undervaluing the player that ought to be their star player. Perhaps it isn’t true that the team offered Subban $5.5M over two years. Perhaps it is. The important thing is that it didn’t seem like it was outside the realm of Marc Bergevin and his new staff, who have yet to show me that they’re anything more than a few of the “boys on the bus” that don’t really apply any creative or pragmatic thinking and overvalue the same thing.

This is the group that handed out contracts to both Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust on July 1. The fear of every Toronto Maple Leaf fan manifested itself in Montreal somehow, and the Canadiens have yet to plug the holes they created by dealing rentals at last year’s deadline.

I’m a fan of PK Subban. I’ve written about him a couple of times in this space, here and here, defending his play. He puts up real good possession numbers which is a rarity when it comes to young defencemen. On a team as un-coordinated with puck possession as the Montreal Canadiens, particularly in the second half, Subban held strong.

He led his team in both relative Corsi and Corsi On, while playing against the second highest quality of competition (him and Josh Gorges did the heavy lifting by a long-shot) and, like most Montreal players, was forced to start way more shifts in the defensive than the offensive zone. I don’t like to use +/- numbers because they often tell the wrong story, but if you look at player numbers with and without Subban, you see that Erik Cole was +22 while on the ice with Subban, Max Pacioretty was +15, Tomas Plekanec was -1 and David Desharnais was +22. Without, the four were, respectively -8, -9, -11 and -7.

Not too often do players border on elite without their team recognizing it. Particularly Bergevin, who made it the focus of his offseason to re-sign Carey Price. He comes from the Chicago system where the team was successful for four seasons playing with outstanding skaters and mediocre goaltending. Bergevin’s goal ought to be to match the Chicago model, not do the exact opposite.

This is the last chance the Habs may have to sign Pernell Karl to a long-term deal, one that runs for more than six years, covering all of Subban’s prime years and the first few of free agency. I think it makes more sense to lock up the defenceman long term than the goalie and ought to have been Bergevin’s priority; a goalie is a goalie, and in six years, the odds that Price will still be considered one of the top goalies in the NHL is slim.

I think the case is legitimate. Carey Price’s financial future is secure, while Subban is still without a contract and we’ve made it all the way to August. Subban didn’t have a terrific season offensively last year, but he helped out his teammates doing what he does best: the little things, which is an odd thing to expect out of a primetime, spotlight guy who sells a lot of jerseys.

Not often does a team undervalue its own superstar.

Comments (14)

  1. PK is in the same boat as Doughty before him and Carey Price before that. Carey signed in early September two years ago and Doughty was a few days into camp if I remember correctly..

    Not to say PK is as good as either of those two yet – but he’s vastly better than what most other defenders his age are., and worth more than the typical RFA contract would pay. Still – he’s not Shea Weber or Drew Doughty – guys who the case is so obvious that they should be the top paid player on the team. That is part of the problem – and exactly why both sides are going to have convincing numbers/ arguments to back up their case.

    How do you value Subban’s contribution to the Canadiens? There are periods of the last two seasons in which he has played nearly 30 minutes per night. At other points he’s been a healthy scratch.

    If there is going to be a long term deal – PK is going to want elite money. Especially if the team is going to pay big bucks for worthless guys like Kaberle. That is why a 2 year deal like Carey Price just finished might make more sense by the team’s standpoint. Be more conservative for two years and pay him whatever he’s worth at the end of the RFA contract to avoid a huge mistake (like Jay Bo).

    If it were me – I’d lock him up long-term. I see too much positive in his game to worry. But there would be a lot of risk involved in overpaying his remaining RFA years to lock up the beginning of his UFA years. And what if they extend the RFA rules under the new CBA? He wouldn’t be a UFA for 6 more years.. Lots to think about.

    • Do I really have to correct that misconception again?

      He’s been a healthy scratch once since he established himself as a top defenseman in January of 2011. It was widely derided as a mistake by a new coach that didn’t know what he was doing and effectively forfeited the game.

      It looks to me that Montreal is trying to give him the same two year deal they gave Price after his ELC and sign him to the big deal at 25, 2 years from UFA status. 2 years from now is also when they are scheduled to have a boatload of cap space due to expiring contracts.

      • Anyone who has watched PK’s career (and I’ve probably missed a total of 5 of his 160 games) knows it hasn’t been all smooth sailing.

        There have been long periods of time where he hasn’t played up to his capability. There have been long stretches where he has surpassed what anyone could have reasonably expected.

        Should he have been scratched? I wouldn’t have done it although I certainly remember a LOT of people within the media and blogosphere calling for him to sit at various points during the last season.

        Still, that was hardly the point I was making at all. The larger point was that his career thus far has had peaks and valleys – which is what will make his negotiations difficult to navigate. His point production could be elite in years to come – and yet there have been notable struggles at times as well.

        I’m a huge fan of his. I think he’ll be worth it – but reality is that a case can be made for both a long term big money deal, and a short term conservative one.

        • zak Lasty year was his second year. He’s only gonna get better.; Maybe Cary should should talk with him. Show somw leadership.

  2. Calling Subban a superstar shows how much that term has been devalued.

    • Still – Look at Doughty’s stats and his. Side by side they are remarkably similar with either player having a slight edge in differing categories. Doughty is clearly a superstar. That is not to say PK is the same – but you could easily make a case for him. This is part of the difficulty in assessing his value. He’s in between.

  3. “It looks to me that Montreal is trying to give him the same two year deal they gave Price after his ELC and sign him to the big deal at 25, 2 years from UFA status.” – Stephan Cooper

    Bingo. I agree 100%. Thing is, this is a tougher situation with the CBA set to expire. The uncertainty leaves so many possibilities.

    PK could easily sign the 2 year deal, but where would that leave him for his UFA status when the CBA is settled?

    Or he could sign a long term deal, say 10 year deal. But I can’t see the Habs justifiably give him big money right now. On the other hand would be PK sign for an average of $4.5 (hypothetical number), and miss out on cashing in, in a few years when he becomes a superstar?

    Catch 22 my friends,

  4. One thing the Flyers attempted to do with the Weber offer sheet which has exactly zero chance of working with Montreal: bullying the other team financially with an insanely front-loaded contract.
    The Canadiens clear profits in the same range as the Predators’ entire yearly revenues, there is no way 25M of salary over 12 months would be a financial problem. Holmgren obviously knows this so he couldn’t even try to bludgeon them into letting go of Subban. Any offer would have been matched by Montreal unless it was absolutely batshit insane… there was no point for him.
    Also, I guess you wouldn’t necessarily want one of the richest teams in the league eyeing your RFAs because you pissed them off…

  5. I can see the logic in this approach in a vacuum. The waiting game got the Capitals Alzner on a steal of a contract and has worked wonders for Sather as well. Like you said, logic breaks down when you consider Price, but I think Price has more leverage. Montreal has Beaulieu coming up and if Markov is healthy he’s solid..not much but after trading Halak I think the implicit message was that price was the man.

  6. If Subban is willing to sign long term at a point where his value is artificially low, as it is right now, the right thing to do for the Habs would be to jump on it and get a big discount on a true #1 D-man (with upside, no less!) for several years.

    I don’t know if the report of the Habs lowballing Subban so much are true. I’ve not been very impressed by Bergevin, but it seems to be out of character for him; his signings so far don’t suggest he’s in the habit of lowballing anyone.

  7. Compare Subban’s offer with similar RFA contracts signed by players who have recently cashed in:
    Ryan Suter 4 years @ $3,500,000
    Brent Seabrook 3 years @ $3,500,000
    Shea Weber 3 years @ $4,500,000
    Dion Pheneuf 6 years @ $6,500,000
    Brent Seabrooke 3 years @ $3,500,000
    Brent Burns 4 years @ $3,550,000
    Duncan Keith 4 years @ 1,475,000
    Matt Carke 4 years @ $3,437,500

    btw Carey Price signed the same 2 year $5.5 million deal then signed long term. He will average $4.625 million for the 4 years after his ELC. Subban could do the same if he continues to develop. I think his current offer is perhaps slightly low but definitely not an insult.

  8. Sitting on the sidelines is not doing Subban any good. If the team wants to play him this season they need to sign him soon. Maybe Subban should just give Montreal an ultimatum. Sign me now, or I’ll go to the KHL and ride out the next two years there. Montreal would have to trade his rights then but would not receive market value. This is a strange situation and I think it will hurt the team in the end. Why you would want to play hardball with one of your best young players is beyond me. Bergevin has lost a lot of credibility with me for this fiasco and after the circus that was last season this has the potential to blow up and create another black eye for this team.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *