Last night PK Subban signed a new contract with Montreal that will pay him $2 million pro-rated this season and $3.75 million next season. Two years, $2.875 against the cap.
In the immediate aftermath of the team announcing the deal, everyone came out in full support of Marc Bergevin, who had to make his first tough decision as Habs GM in not bending to Subban’s demands for a five-year deal. “He stuck to his guns,” they said with approving nods. Indeed, he didn’t want to look “weak” after saying he wanted a two-year deal and nothing besides, and thus this is what he got. For all the sitting out, Subban only pulled an additional $250,000 from the two years, $5.5 million he rejected in August. Chump change for of one of the richest organizations in hockey.
As many have pointed out, the money Subban got was Mike Del Zotto money, and there can’t be too many people in hockey who think Mike Del Zotto is as good a defenseman as PK Subban. So in that regard, yes, Bergevin “won” by “sticking to his guns” with this deal. Subban lost because he didn’t cash in at anywhere near the amount he wanted.
But if we look a little farther up the road, this is a not-very-bright move by a guy who’s only just now trying to prove himself in his new job. But in reality, the new Subban contract is only a win if you think the NHL stops existing after next season.
Because here’s the thing: Yeah, the Habs are paying $2.875 million for PK Subban against the cap for the next two seasons. That doesn’t even matter so much this year because the Habs had the cap space and then some to get the deal done, and even less next year because Scott Gomez comes off the books.
But after that, when Subban’s up for a new deal in the summer of 2014? Andrei Markov is off the books too. As is Tomas Kaberle. As is Brian Gionta, who, captain or not, will be 36 at that point and not worth anywhere near the $5 million a season cap hit he currently carries. It will be a radically different NHL, too, with a lower salary cap that likely won’t have gone up all that much after coming down so heavily this summer.
So how, exactly, does Bergevin win here? It seems to me that Subban’s deal is designed specifically to fit him under the cap next season, and is therefore opening the team to significant risk that probably isn’t worth anywhere near the trouble. Subban is currently 23. He’ll be in the prime of his career this season and next. Maybe the team thinks his 50 percent drop in goal production between his rookie and sophomore years is an indicator of things to come — and surely the only way to tell with that is to wait and see — but again, huge risk to take. The likelihood, based on his age and development path, is that Subban continues to mature into a very, very good NHL defenseman, and those don’t come cheap. Especially when Bergevin’s neat little two-year deal gets him right up to the point of what Shea Weber saw last summer.
It’s perhaps unfair to compare him to Weber, because Weber is among the elitest of the league’s elite defensemen and his deal was signed under the old collective bargaining agreement (and under threat of offer sheet from a desperate, big-market team, no less). But nonetheless, what do you suppose a defenseman who’s, let’s say, even top-30 in the league who just went through his age-24 and -25 years on an improving team with good young talent in the pipeline commands when he’s looking for a team to buy up several years of unrestricted free agency? What about if that team is also going to be in the market for some defensemen to carry heavy minutes with Markov and Kaberle’s contracts expiring?
Do you think it will be less or more on a per-annum basis against the cap than what Bergevin could have signed Subban for with that five-year deal the player wanted today? Here’s a clue for you: It’s going to be more. Probably by a lot. I’m not saying Subban’s going to pull league max or anything even resembling it. He probably won’t even get Erik Karlsson’s $6.5 million. But I wouldn’t think $5.5-6 million a year will be out of the question.
This is a deal that both sides seem to have lost, somehow. Subban doesn’t get nearly the money or years he should have. James Mirtle quoted an anonymous player agent as calling it “bizarre.” Bergevin, meanwhile, puts a Band-Aid on a PR bullet wound, ensuring that whether it’s through arbitration or a normal negotiation, Subban is going to get paid a lot more against the cap than he would have with a reasonable longer-term deal today. And man, he really better hope it’s not through arbitration, because Don Meehan will only have to whisper the name “Tyler Myers” to make everyone on the other side of the table start weeping openly.
And here’s the really weird part: The Habs aren’t going to be good this year or next. Like, not at all. They’ll probably improve over last year’s lottery finish, sure, but when it comes to being competitive? They’re not all that close. Subban will be able to prey on that in two summers as well. If they want to keep the improving band together, someone’s gotta pay the best defenseman. This is all phenomenally shortsighted, isn’t it?
So yes, Bergevin stuck to his guns, and he will pay through the nose for doing so. That’s not all that smart to me. But hey, at least the fans won’t chant “We want PK!” at every game now. That’s gotta be worth the extra headaches and money this deal will carry down the line.