Jun 15, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban poses with the Norris Trophy during the first intermission of game two of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

The P.K Subban Bridge Contract: Huge Miscalculation or Stroke of Genius?

Is it October yet? Firmly in the dog days of summer, the Canadiens have had themselves a relatively quiet summer. Adding mustachioed face-puncher extraordinaire George Parros and tiny Habs killer Daniel Briere, the Canadiens stayed the course as the salary cap fell sharply to $64.3 million. Next summer, with its projected salary cap increase back to around the $70 million mark, should be more far more exciting harrowing for Canadiens fans everywhere with P.K Subban, Lars Eller, Andrei Markov, Brian Gionta, Alexei Emelin, Francis Bouillon, and Raphael Diaz as the marquee free agents on the team.

Which brings me to one of the major questions that will hang over the 2013-2013 Montreal Canadiens: the contract status of 2013 Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban. His contract, signed after a short holdout at the beginning of last season, was a 2-year deal for an incredibly reasonable $5.75 (split as $2,000,000 in 2012-2013, and the remaining $3.75 million in 2013-2014). Coming off a season where he put up 36 points in 81 games, played about 24 minutes a game and was used as the top d-man in Markov‘s absence, it was widely assumed that Subban would be expecting a massive raise and a likely long-term commitment from the Canadiens. Some pointed to the contract signed by Drew Doughty as a comparable (he also held out prior to the beginning of the 2011 season, they shared the same agent, and he was nominated for the Norris in 2010). Doughty ended up signing a massive 8 year, $56 million contract with the L.A. Kings, with an cap hit of $7 million. At the time of his contract, Doughty had already put up a 60 point season and was well on his way to becoming a franchise D-man. In 2013, John Carlson was often viewed as a comparable for Subban – and he ended up signing a 6-year deal with the Washington Capitals with an AAV of $3.96. Regardless of what player comparable you think was closer to Subban‘s situation, the general consensus was that Subban would be locked up long-term.

Colour me as the first one to be surprised when the terms of Subban‘s deal were announced. An entirely reasonable “prove me” type contract that only carried a cap hit of $2.8 for 2 years.Looking at the list of cap hit comparables on Capgeek, Subban is arguably providing the best value to his team while allowing the Canadiens some breathing room while the salary cap is falling. With his contract expiring next offseason and the salary cap projected to rise back up to at least $70 million, the large expiring contracts should give ample room for Bergevin to open his chequebook to his franchise d-man. In terms of a cap management perspective, this can’t be seen as anything but a good thing for the team. For personnel development, it reinforces the idea that no one is bigger than the team by having all its young players (notably, Pacioretty) sign similar 2-year bridge contracts.

So why does the title of this blog present this contract as either a stroke of genius or a miscalculation on part of the Canadiens? While signing Subban on the cheap for 2 years bought some salary cap maneuvering time and gives Subban incentive to prove himself as a key piece on this team, it also runs the risk of costing much more the long-run if Subban has an elite-level couple of seasons.

Subban’s lockout shortened season was one that made Canadiens fans very, very happy. Scoring 38 points in 48 games, with 7 PPG, and finishing as a +12, Subban cemented his position as an elite d-man. Though not at all an advanced stats expert by any stretch, I’ve done some summer reading of other blogs/writers who’ve delved into the advanced stats that support Subban’s status as an elite player. There are lots of great websites and Habs blogs out there, but 2 notables are Boucher Scouting, who have their 2012-2013 Report Card up for the Canadiens players, and Habs Eyes on the Prize, who have a fantastic post written by Andrew Berkshire assessing some of the data on Subban‘s performance, role on the team and his regular D partners. In short, the data supports Subban as a dominant possession player who scores a ton of his points on the power play. He did score 4 points in 5 games in the playoffs and was one of the few players to actually show up against Ottawa. He was rewarded with a Norris Trophy, recognizing him as the NHL’s best defenceman. His season couldn’t have gone any better from a personal standpoint.

What does this mean for his next contract? Hopefully, there was no irreparable damage to the relationship between the Canadiens and Subban‘s camp – but assuming that his performance in 2013-2014 continues to trend upwards, he will be looking at an absolutely massive raise. Obviously we have the benefit of hindsight, but would it have been more prudent to lock him up to a longer term in 2012, where his salary demands could theoretically have been smaller, and avoid a negotiation so soon? If he could have been locked up for John Carlson money last summer, would it have been worth it instead of probably looking at between a $6-8 million cap hit now? Is he now at a Doughty level? Erik Karlsson? Zach Bogosian? The upcoming contract of Alex Pietrangelo should be an interesting comparable as well. While the bridge contract seemed like a fantastic idea at the time, I’m now wondering if it will end up costing an addition 2-3$ million per year than it could have last season.

While we’ll never know what was on the table last season, the Canadiens and Subban will be something to watch for this season. Whatever the contract ends up being, one thing is clear: Subban is an elite hockey player and is legitimately a part of the future right now and moving forward. Hopefully, it doesn’t become a distraction and both sides can settle on a long-term deal to keep Subban in the fold for a very long time.






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