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Pros and cons of Subban filing for arbitration

Jul 5, 2014, 6:50 PM EDT

P.K. Subban AP

Once again, it seems like the Montreal Canadiens and P.K. Subban are having at least a bit of trouble hashing out a new contract, with the latest development being that the star blueliner filed for salary arbitration on Saturday.

For some, that might be cause for heightened blood pressure if not the sounding of various alarms. The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell lays out a few reasons why this doesn’t have to be such a bad thing, though.

First, it is certain Subban will not be embroiled in a contract dispute with the Canadiens and will be in training camp the day it opens in September. Second, it protects the Canadiens from having another team submit an offer sheet on Subban. And finally, if it goes all the way to arbitration, it ensures that Subban will be neither overpaid nor underpaid.

If – and it’s a big if – Subban’s case actually makes it to a hearing (which will take place sometime between July 20 and August 4), the two sides would hammer out either a one or two-year deal.

The interesting part about a two-year deal is that it would cover the final two seasons of Subban’s restricted free agent status. He’s 25 right now and will get his first chance of being UFA-eligible in the summer of 2016.

Settling for a two-year deal would be a short-term win, yet it could very well prove costly in the future.

Peak years, peak prices

By just about any measure, Subban is distinguishing himself as one of the best defensemen in the NHL, and he’s really hitting the meat of his prime years right now.

While his Norris Trophy-winning 2012-13 season likely represents his best work so far, Subban set career-highs in games played, time on ice, assists (43) and points (53) last season. He already has 43 postseason games under his belt, with this past playoff run drawing the most attention (though, honestly, his numbers look good in every postseason so far).

At his age, he’s in that prime area of peak athleticism and increasing understanding of the game. It’s not out of the question for Subban to grab another Norris Trophy between now and the 2016 offseason, and even if that fails, for him to lock up a couple All-Star nods (remember those?) and strong playoff performances to drive up his value that much more.

source: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

When you add a salary cap ceiling likely to climb – slowly or not – the price for a player like Subban could be that much higher in 2016. That’s especially true if the Habs go through the often-awkward process of explaining why he’s not worth as much as he believes in salary arbitration. In a league where teams often get “hometown discounts” with players they develop, there’s a tight rope to walk between being tough negotiators and estranging your most important assets.

Besides, big extensions for players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane could only raise the ceiling for other stars, even if they play different positions.

Walking a tricky line

The Canadiens can breathe a sigh of relief that Subban won’t receive any challenging offer sheets this summer, and maybe none at all assuming that a two-year deal is reached.

Still, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin might be wise to strike up a lengthier extension (thus avoiding arbitration and/or shorter contracts) to eat up a few UFA years rather than risking the future for an easier short-term pact.

They effectively “won” a nerve-wracking game of contract chicken by signing Subban to a two-year, $5.75 million deal in the early moments of the 2012-13 season, but at some point, the leverage will lean Subban’s way instead. It might be smarter to foster some goodwill now with a longer contract (and also put off a potentially mammoth deal that could come if Montreal goes the “bridge deal” route once again).

***

What kind of deal would you try to strike up with Subban if you were in Bergevin’s shoes? Would you let it get to arbitration? It’s not an easy situation, yet at least Canadiens fans know that the star will likely remain in Montreal for at least the next season or two.

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