Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is likely to move closer to signing or trading restricted free-agent defenceman P.K. Subban as the team’s losses mount this season.
Thing is, it’s still early in the lockout-shortened 48-game season and the Canadiens won two of their first three games. So …
“At this point, you have to remain optimistic [and realize] it is a business, and a lot of things can happen,” Subban, 23, told the Gazette newspaper in Montreal this week. “I hope [a trade] is not the case. I want to play for the Canadiens.
“I want to help the team. With the young players we have in the organization right now, we still have a great opportunity to win.”
Subban is one of five notable restricted free agents who remain unsigned after centre Jamie Benn and the Dallas Stars hammered out a five-year, $26.25-million US deal Thursday. Forwards Linus Omark (Edmonton), Ryan O’Reilly (Colorado), Alexander Radulov (Nashville) and Nikita Filatov (Ottawa) are the others.
Restricted free agents are players who have completed their entry-level contracts but are under 27 years of age or haven’t reached seven years of NHL service. Teams with RFAs have the first chance to match another team’s offer.
Subban’s agent, Don Meehan, said he expects to speak with Bergevin about his client before week’s end. It’s believed they are at least $2.5-$3 million per year apart.
Some people believe Subban should accept a contract similar to that of New York Rangers blue-liner Michael Del Zotto, who signed for two years and $5.1 million prior to the recent six-day training camp. Others would say Subban is more valuable.
Unlike Del Zotto, Subban is the top defenceman on his team, having led Montreal rearguards in average ice time last season (24 minutes, 18 seconds).
O’Reilly has returned to the United States after playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Russia during the recent NHL lockout, but only to get a suspected ankle injury examined.
According to the Denver Post, the Avalanche have offered the strong two-way centre a pair of contracts: one for five years and $17 million, and the other for two years and $7 million.
O’Reilly, 21, topped Colorado with 55 points (18 goals) last season.
Omark: Perhaps Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland will come calling after his Edmonton counterpart Steve Tambellini was unsuccessful in moving the 25-year-old left-winger over the summer. Omark finished third in Swiss league scoring with 13 goals and 46 points in 34 games, and clicked with Red Wings teammates Henrik Zetterberg and Damien Brunner on EV Zug’s top line during the lockout.
Radulov: Following a brief return to the Nashville Predators late last season for the likely purpose of just burning off the final year of his entry-level contract, the 25-year-old Russian forward signed a four-year deal said to be north of $9 million with CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League on July 2. Drafted 15th overall by Nashville in 2004, Radulov reportedly was barred from a game earlier this month and told to practice with CSKA’s "B" squad after violating disciplinary rules.
Filatov: The underachieving winger bolted the Ottawa Senators last May to sign a two-year contract with the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev. Ottawa took a small gamble on the 22-year-old Filatov in June 2011, sending a third-round draft pick to Columbus. Filatov, who posted 14 points over parts of four NHL seasons, was drafted ahead of Buffalo’s Cody Hodgson, Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson and the Rangers' Del Zotto.
Sykora, Arnott top UFAs
On the unrestricted free agent front, Petr Sykora and former New Jersey teammate Jason Arnott are among the more attractive forwards still available along with defenceman Chris Campoli, whom Montreal didn’t retain after he missed nearly half of last season with a hamstring injury.
Unrestricted free agents are players without a contract who are 27 or older or have seven years in the NHL.
Sykora, 36, remains unsigned after reports suggested he had a deal on the table from an NHL club. He had 21 goals and 44 points in 82 contests for New Jersey last season.
The 37-year-old Arnott had his name linked to Toronto before the season began. He isn’t the offensive force of years past but he managed 17 goals and 34 points with the St. Louis Blues a year ago.
While forwards Kristian Huselius and Tom Kostopoulos are still looking for NHL work, veteran forward Brian Rolston said earlier this month that retirement is more than likely.
Rolston, who turns 40 on Feb. 21, played well for the Boston Bruins last season (15 points in 21 contests) after being acquired at the trade deadline. He has 342 goals and 761 points in 1,256 NHL regular-season games.
Kostopoulos on Thursday signed an American Hockey League tryout agreement with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
The 34-year-old veteran of 10 NHL seasons had 12 points and was a minus-15 in 81 games for the Calgary Flames last season.