To the dismay of Bruins fans, and to the detriment of the team itself, P.K. Subban will remain a Montreal Canadien through the year 2022. And while the contract is signed, and Subban will say all the right things about the organization, the fans, and the city having signed his new mega-deal, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from Subban’s not-so-perfect negotiations.
In the 25th hour, after the two sides had gone through an arbitration hearing, they struck an eight-year agreement, one that will make Subban the highest-paid defenseman in all of hockey. It’s a distinction of which Subban is certainly worthy, but in the days and even hours leading up to Montreal’s lucrative offer, things weren’t so picturesque.
Plenty of lessons can be learned from how the Canadiens nearly ruined their relationship with the face of the franchise.
The process of arbitration is one a team should avoid reaching at all costs. It’s a hearing that consists of a player and his representatives arguing for a value and term he feels he’s deserving of, while the team for which he plays and sacrifices, counters by putting forth all the reasons said player is worth less than what he perceives.
It’s an exercise that’s incredibly counter-intuitive toward building a strong relationship. It’s also something the Bruins fortunately won’t have to worry about for quite some time, but hopefully took notes on as Subban and Canadiens GM Mark Bergevin entered a proverbial stare down.
The Bruins have two restricted free agents left to sign: Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. Both players are not yet arbitration eligible, and there’s no reason to think the team will have any trouble signing either. But both are perfect fits for bridge contracts, which means the possibility of arbitration is only a few years away.
A bridge contract is something of a trial run. Teams give players bridge contracts when their entry-level deals expire rather than giving them longer term deals so the players can prove themselves. Krug and Smith fit that description to a T. Both have been steady contributors in their short Bruins careers, and in two years, if those numbers stay consistent, a long-term payday will be in order.
Subban is simply the latest to cash in on the tail end of a bridge deal, while the Canadiens allowed this situation to go way too far. Early indications had Subban asking for $8.5 million in arbitration, with the Canadiens countering with $5.25 million. Sure, there are plenty of highs and lows when it comes to contract negotiations, but the impressions made during those meetings can’t be undone.
Another break in the Subban arbitration hearing. P.K. did not look happy ... at all.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) August 1, 2014
Subban: "Decisions were made today in relations to both of our positions and ultimately we have to live with those decisions." #Habs— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) August 1, 2014
In reality, Bergevin would have been best-served giving Subban the contract he deserved and avoiding arbitration altogether. The Bruins will have a few decisions to make next summer, with the likes of David Krejci, Carl Soderberg, Johnny Boychuck, and Adam McQuaid set to hit free agency. Of that group, whomever the Bruins decide they want to keep around, it will behoove them to engage in negotiations sooner rather than later.
The Bruins won’t have to worry about a messy arbitration process with their 2015 free agents, but with the salary cap set to go up again, much like was the case with Subban, the longer the Bruins wait to initiate serious talks, the more the player will begin to ponder how much he can make on the open market.
That’s not to say the Bruins are dragging their feet in that regard, but if there’s anything Boston—or the rest of the league for that matter—can learn from this latest Subban episode, it’s that damage can be done when negotiations are put off or mishandled, and the clock is always ticking when it comes to finding a new deal.