By Sean Garland, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

(Photo by Getty Images)
(Photo by Getty Images)

MONTREAL, QC. — As you would expect, P.K. Subban has been quiet on the details of his contract negotiations with the Montreal Canadiens, yet his actions speak volumes about a new deal getting done. One thing is guaranteed; at 25 years of age, Subban is going to be a very, very rich young man.

“I’ll answer one question about the negotiation: It’s been kept pretty quiet the whole time and it’s going to remain that way until a deal’s done.” — P.K. Subban, July 26, 2014

Without a doubt, P.K. Subban will be a Hab for a while. On Toronto’s Breakfast Television, Subban said, “Obviously I remain adamant on remaining in Montreal and being a Montreal Canadien, and not just for a long time but hopefully for the rest of my career, and be a lifer there.”

The Montreal Canadiens see a sound defenseman developing and maturing into the face of their franchise. Subban loves the city and is a key figure whose warm personality often appears in many high profile events throughout Montreal. Subban and the Habs most probably have agreed to a maximum seven year deal, as both sides want a long-term relationship. The only issue at hand is money, which is why the out-spoken Subban is suddenly keeping his lips sealed.

Refusing to discuss the terms of the contract negotiations means that the player is respecting the team’s wishes to keep talks private and also prevents the player from being scrutinized by fans and the media alike. Thanks to a salary cap system and websites such as capgeek.com, which allow the fans to access the business side of hockey, eyeballs aren’t just watching the player’s on-ice performance but their piggy banks, too.

Take for example the time when former Canadiens GM Bob Gainey acquired Scott Gomez from the New York Rangers in a 2009 trade. Initially, Habs fans were skeptical. Gomez was earning an absurd amount of money for a fifty-something point player who was being run out of Gotham by a bunch of disgruntled New Yorkers. Still, Habs fans were optimistic when the team signed Gomez’s friend Brian Gionta a few days later that a new team culture was being instilled in the dressing room.

In his first season in Montreal, Gomez and his salary were scrutinized throughout the year although he put up 59 points, one more than his previous year with the Rangers. The Habs’ dramatic off-season changes paid off and the club reached the Eastern Conference finals with Gomez putting up 14 points in 19 playoff games. The next season, however, the same criticisms that ushered Gomez out of the Big Apple quickly followed him to Montreal. Gomez’s production dropped dramatically, scoring only 38-points. The man’s salary never changed, however, and fans wanted more from someone who was earning $7.5-million per season. Things only got worse and the next season Gomez became a black eye to the organization, their highest paid player playing on the team’s fourth line. The Canadiens used an amnesty buy-out and relieved themselves of their salary cap headache.

Scott Gomez has become an important example of the NHL’s salary cap system. A risk versus reward relationship; players seek to obtain high dollar figures from teams who are willing to invest for financial and organizational success. However their stock may rise or fall in terms of their on-ice performance, the payments are fixed. Therefore, the long-term risk teams were once willing to take just isn’t sensible anymore since player careers have become so unpredictable. The money is available to players for fewer years, though most of them prefer to have more security.

Still, there are deals being reached in which the team has no choice but to give the player what they want. Offer sheets, for example, hinder a team’s chances of having the advantage in contract discussions with their restricted free agents. Being forced to match an external team’s offer gives the player exactly what he wants: a long-term deal with a significant cap hit.

Remember the Edmonton Oilers offering Thomas Vanek a seven year, $50-million dollar offer sheet in 2007 and ultimately forcing the Buffalo Sabres to match? How about the deal Shea Weber inked with the Nashville Predators in 2012, courtesy of the Philadelphia Flyers and their 14 year, $110-million dollar contract offer? Those ludicrous contracts are somewhat responsible for the lockout of 2012 and have caused even more financial problems for those teams who are forced to pay up.

Unrestricted free agents are just as spoiled by hockey clubs. Every July 1st, the floodgates open as teams open their wallets in an effort to outbid one another. For all the shame he has faced in the latter part of his career, Gomez has made a fortune. According to capgeek.com, of Gomez’s $62,804,000 total earnings to date, the majority has come from the $51.5-million, seven year contract signed on July 1st 2007. Only two seasons later, he became the property of the Montreal Canadiens and now is considered one of the team’s biggest mistakes in most recent history.

(Photo by Getty Images)
(Photo by Getty Images)

Current Habs general manager Marc Bergevin does not want to cost his organization anymore mistakes. Bergevin wants to build the Canadiens through the draft, unlike his predecessors who sacrificed long-term prospects for short-term fixes. The Habs are starting to see the benefits of developing their prospects in the form of Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Carey Price and P.K. Subban.  Subban, who filled for salary arbitration along with Lars Eller on July 7th, has helped the Habs avoid dealing with any offer sheets from rival NHL clubs. (Eller signed a 4-year, $14M deal earlier this week.) In taking this action, Subban has shown that he is a team player, not wanting to force the Habs into a precarious financial predicament. Subban has shown maturity and wants nothing more than to reach an agreement that is fair for both parties.

If anything, the nearing arbitration date has only set a deadline for a deal to be struck. Surely, Bergevin and the Habs won’t be satisfied with only a one or two year contract, and neither will Subban. While there’s little risk with Subban, his performance in the future is hardly assured. What if, heaven forbid, Subban becomes plagued by injuries or his season statistics don’t match up to his high dollar figure? These are some of the questions that the Habs front office is mulling over.

Subban just wants his fair desserts, a yearly salary that encompasses his importance to the greatest franchise in all of sports. Subban wants to be a Hab for life, but the Canadiens can’t afford to allow him to break their bank. An arbitrator is likely going to see a similar situation to Shea Weber’s case from 2007, where he was awarded a record $7.5-million dollar contract. Considering the current salary cap and the money Weber earns now, Subban will likely win in court.

The dilemma facing the Habs’ front office is whether or not to give Subban a contract in the neighbourhood of either Jonathan Toews or Phil Kessel, who earn on average $10.5 and $8-million a year respectively. Certainly, Subban must be thinking his value is worth at least those figures, if not more. The Canadiens, on the other hand, are facing the challenge of controlling contract negotiations that could become the precedent of franchise player salaries, similar to the ripple effects the Gomez contract had on the 2007 free agent signings. Not wanting to create another cap hit conundrum, Bergevin and Subban are close to shaking hands, but the money has to make sense for both sides before either one will talk.