P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens finally ended their lengthy contract standoff earlier this week, when he signed a two-year, $5.875 million deal.
That Subban, who reportedly sought a long-term deal worth over $5 million per season, agreed to a shorter term and fewer dollars following months of stalemate with Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin caught many observers by surprise.
Media consensus is Subban “blinked”, but quite frankly, he really didn’t have a better option. The 23-year-old was coming out of an entry-level contract, with no arbitration rights, and no rival club pitching him an expensive offer sheet.
Subban could have signed with a KHL team, where he would’ve gotten a deal for the same term but double, perhaps triple what the Canadiens offered, but he had no interest in going to Russia. He could’ve demanded a trade to a club willing to pay him bigger bucks, but Subban wanted to remain a Hab.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, were doing fine in Subban’s absence, rattling off a 3-1 record in their opening week of the season, so Bergevin wasn’t feeling pressured by his club’s performance to offer up a larger contract to his wayward blueliner.
Had Subban sat out much longer, he risked falling further out of game shape, not to mention missing more paydays. Being a game analyst with Sportsnet and doing commercials are good gigs, but they don’t pay as well as being a rising young star on the Montreal Canadiens.
Bergevin earned plaudits from the NHL punditry, and probably from a number of his management peers, for maintaining the hard line with Subban and his agent.
A number of teams in recent years have re-signed comparable RFA players to longer, more expensive contracts, so it was considered a notable achievement by the Habs rookie GM getting Subban inked to a lesser deal
Subban’s situation was similar to that of New York Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto, whom the Blueshirts also re-signed to a two-year deal worth slightly less ($2.55 million per season). One notable difference is Subban got a lot more in the second season ($3.75 million) than Del Zotto ($2.9 million).
That will be beneficial to the Habs blueliner for his qualifying offer at the end of next season, when he’ll again become a restricted free agent, unless he and the Habs agree to a new contract beforehand.
The salary variance of Subban’s contract might present our first loophole in the new NHL CBA. As per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, the new 35%/50% percent salary variance rule only applies to front-loaded contracts, not backloaded deals like Subban’s.
It’s believed Bergevin and the Subban camp could start negotiations this summer on a new deal, but given how they just wrapped up talks on this deal, I’m not so sure Subban and his agent, Don Meehan, will be keen to return so soon to the bargaining table.
My guess is the duo might wait until the spring or summer of 2014, when Subban’s got this season and next under his belt.
By next summer, Subban will be 25, with arbitration rights, and only two years away from qualifying for unrestricted free agency. The expectation is he’ll once again seek a lucrative, long-term deal. If he develops into the superstar he’s projected to become, Subban could command considerably more than the rumored $5 million per season he sought this season.
Subban’s current deal undoubtedly favor the Canadiens, and it’s to Bergevin’s credit he held the line to get what he wanted.
Next season’s NHL salary cap is going to drop to $64.3 million, and prior to re-signing Subban, the Canadiens had over $53 million invested in 16 players for 2013-14, giving them around $11 million in available space.
Had Bergevin inked Subban to a $5 million per season deal, it would’ve eaten up almost half the Habs cap space. Bergevin could free up more space by using his remaining compliance buyout this summer – and he still might – but that still wouldn’t have left him as much wiggle room as he would’ve preferred.
Getting Subban under contract for $2.875 million per season means Bergevin now has just over $56 million invested in 17 players, giving him roughly $8.8 million in cap space to re-sign some key role players and replace others. If, as expected, he uses his remaining compliance buyout, that space could increase to as much as $13 million, depending on which player (Tomas Kaberle?) gets bought out.
Where things get interesting, however, is the summer of 2014. It’s going to cost Bergevin more, probably a lot more, to get Subban re-signed then. If the young defenseman blossoms into a superstar, Subban could command between $6 – $7 million per season on a six-seven year term.
Some critics suggest that’s where Bergevin got it wrong, that by not getting Subban locked up long-term now for $4.5-$5 million per season, it could cost considerably more next year to get him under contract.
Setting aside the obvious need to get Subban under a more affordable deal in the short-term, this situation is a gamble Bergevin evidently believes is worth taking.
If Subban does turn into an All-Star, Norris-contending defenseman by the end of next season, it will definitely prove expensive to re-sign him, but the Habs will have more available cap space by then.
It’s uncertain how much the salary cap for 2014-15 will increase. Some critics speculate it won’t go up by much, but I’m guessing such fears are unfounded. Fans are already flocking back to the NHL post-lockout, and by next season, the lockout will be a distant memory. It wouldn’t surprise me if the cap ceiling rose to $68 million for 2014-15.
Assuming, however, revenue remains flat for 2013-14 and the cap remains at $64.3 million (according to James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail, it can never go below that level over the life of this CBA), the Canadiens would have around $33 million committed to 10 players, leaving them over $30 million in cap space.
If Tomas Kaberle isn’t bought out before then, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent, so his salary comes off the books. So too does Andrei Markov’s $5.75 million and Brian Gionta’s $5 million. If Bergevin hopes to re-sign the latter two, it’ll definitely cost less to retain Gionta, while Markov’s salary will depend on his health and performance.
Of course, the Canadiens will have more than 10 players under contract for ’14-’15 by the summer of 2014. Backup Peter Budaj will be re-signed or replaced, Alexei Emelin ($2 million) and Raphael Diaz ($1.25 million) will likely be under new contracts with large salaries, and of course there are others who’ll be re-signed or replaced.
Still, the Canadiens should be in better position to re-sign Subban to a lengthy, expensive contract by next summer than they would’ve by this summer.
The possibility also exists there could be lingering bitterness by Subban and his agent over being forced into accepting this short-term deal, which could affect their next round of negotiations with the club. Bergevin could also decide not to meet the blueliner’s salary demands next time, forcing arbitration which would result in a two-year contract, and likely ensure Subban departs via unrestricted free agency after that.
Then again, things could go swimmingly, Subban and Bergevin happily shake hands next summer on a new, seven-year deal and everybody’s happy.
Again, it’s a gamble Bergevin and the Canadiens are willing to take. Time will tell if it ultimately works to their advantage, and how long Subban remains a Hab.