It really felt as though everything happened yesterday didn’t it?
First, the Canadiens announced that Alex Galchenyuk would remain in Montreal for the rest of the season. This was interesting news if not unexpected. With the expected month-long absence to Max Pacioretty due to an emergency appendectomy, Montreal faced a serious lack of options in terms of forwards if they sent Galchenyuk back to junior. Further to the point, there is a good case to be made for the view that despite the fact that Galchenyuk missed almost his entire age 17 season to injury, he really had very little left to learn in Junior hockey after he torched the OHL for 80+ points as a 16 year old playing beside Nail Yakupov for the Sarnia Sting. I’m not entirely sold on the idea, but given the confluence of factors working in Galchenyuk’s favor, the decision is justifiable on many levels.
The other piece of news released yesterday was perhaps even more important to the club’s immediate future. It was announced that PK Subban had signed a two year contract for $5.75M for an annual cap hit of $2.85M. Frankly, I was shocked when I saw the term and figure associated with the deal. The fact that PK Subban makes barely more than Alexi Emelin, and substantially less than Tomas Kaberle is surprising enough, but the fact that Montreal chose NOT to lock up an important piece of their franchise in a long-term deal is definitely surprising, if not concerning.
It may be splitting hairs (and really, as a fan I am over-joyed that the Habs got a good deal), but I’m actually reasonably concerned about the plan for the 2014-15 season. Bergevin’s best opportunity to score a longer-term deal with a low cap hit for PK Subban just passed. At the end of this current two year pact, Montreal’s best defenseman is going to be much more expensive. The question is – how much more expensive? For as much as people who wanted PK to sign a cheap deal used Michael Del Zotto as a comparable – his peers actually include some of the highest paid young players in the game.
The danger of course is that PK starts to be recognized as similar in value to other highly paid defenders like Drew Doughty, Dion Phaneuf, Erik Karlsson, and Mike Green. Each of those players costs his team more than $6M in cap space per season. Although Subban is not considered “elite” just yet, one could easily make the case that he is already more valuable as a defender than Green and Phanuef, while being a more versatile player than Karlsson and has the potential to be nearly as good as Doughty. That would certainly be a slam-dunk arbitration case – especially if Subban continues to improve over the next two years. He’d be a valuable defender entering the prime of his career looking to cash in as much as possible.
So what if Marc Bergevin had done what most in the hockey world expected, and offered PK Subban a contract similar to Victor Hedman? Tampa locked up a future cornerstone of their franchise to a 5 year $20M contract with an annual cap hit of $4M. Yes, it is an overpay in comparison to PK’s deal for this year and next, but if PK makes north of $6M on his next deal, their savings will be at least $6M versus over the length of the deal versus the $2.3M Montreal will save in space for the next two seasons.
Ultimately, it all looks as though Bergevin’s main goal was to save himself capspace in the short-term versus space in 2014-15. Is he thinking that the young defenders in the AHL currently will be cheap – so there is little need to worry about PK? Is he thinking that there will be salary freeing up with the departure of Brian Gionta, Andrei Markov, and Tomas Kaberle? Only Bergevin knows at this point. To me it seems as though Montreal is gambling that either PK doesn’t reach the level of play that he seems to already play at, or they feel it is better to pay players what they are actually worth, rather than what they could be worth – even if it means missing out on savings that other teams are always looking for.
*EDIT -I wanted to link to Elliotte Freidman’s piece which deals with the PK contract. I can buy that Bergevin & PK are working on something bigger and that this contract simply delays the larger contract by a few months – but why the delay? And why the secrecy? And why not just structure a longer deal with those specific parameters? Curious.. but worth the read.
What do you guys think?