Habs, Subban contract stalemate turns very personal | Hockey | CBC Sports

NHLHabs, Subban contract stalemate turns very personal

Posted: Friday, August 1, 2014 | 05:33 PM

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No matter which salary figure the arbitrator decides, the contract stalemate between Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban and GM Marc Bergevin is now very personal. (Getty Images)
No matter which salary figure the arbitrator decides, the contract stalemate between Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban and GM Marc Bergevin is now very personal. (Getty Images)

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No matter which salary figure the arbitrator picks, the contract stalemate between Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban and GM Marc Bergevin is now very personal.
This is my best guess as to what happened over the last 24-48 hours: The Montreal Canadiens (as reported by Sportsnet's Chris Johnston) made an eight-year offer to P.K. Subban.

Was it their best financial offer? Maybe not, but there was certainly room to move.

Whatever the case, the Canadiens were hopeful it would close the deal.

It didn't, despite one final negotiation session prior to Friday's 9 a.m. ET arbitration hearing in downtown Toronto.

There is a reason none (of the other 20-plus players) who filed for this process went through with it. (Vladimir Sobotka did not show up at his, having already signed with the KHL.) It can be a very hard thing, to hear someone say why you don't deserve to make what your agent says you should - $8.5 million in Subban's case.

The NHL hires a law firm (BCF, based in Montreal) to argue these cases for its teams. The problem with this, one NHL executive said Friday, is that the firm is pretty good at it.

Why is that bad?

Because the lawyer can undress your player, then go back to his/her manicure. (I hope my lawyer friends read this.) The team has to deal with the fallout, and it can be painful. I'm not sure what Subban was told during his hearing, but I would bet it was something like this:

"We are not going to argue that PK is a dynamic offensive player who our fans love. But, he has defensive deficiencies and is not in the same class as Shea Weber, who was given a record $7.5 million award three years ago. He is not in the same class as Drew Doughty, who makes $7 million. But, if you want to tell us he is worth $6.5 million like Erik Karlsson, we can accept that."

Lawyers are lawyers

Everyone tries to keep it professional, but it's hard. Lawyers are lawyers, they do this for a living, trying to be as dispassionate as possible. But for players -- like Subban and Habs GM Marc Bergevin -- this is harder. It's not what they are trained to do. It feels very personal.

It's why you should avoid arbitration.

Subban walked out and didn't look like himself. Neither did Bergevin. The Montreal GM hates it when contract talks become public. He doesn't like to talk about them, whether to reporters, or even in a room of 20 people, like the hearing. From what I understand about his negotiations, when things get tight, he likes it between himself and the agent. That's it.

This is not his comfort zone. 

"I will move on [from today] and get ready for the season," Subban said. Bergevin didn't want to talk. For the first time, I think there was real uncertainty about the future.

The two sides can continue to negotiate until the ruling comes down (Sunday afternoon ET at the latest), but, when the hearing ended, there was nothing scheduled. That can change, of course.

The Canadiens realize now that Subban wants more than they would like to offer. They have a value, he believes he has a higher value -- and is probably right when it comes to the open market. Is it because they want him to take a discount? Or, is it because they still have doubts about his game? Whatever the case, they now know this is going to cost them more than they wanted, or expected.

It's not the end of the world if Subban plays next year under an arbitration award. Montreal can sign him to a new deal after Jan. 1, 2015. Everyone can go back to their corners and calm down. But the Canadiens have to know by next summer. They simply cannot allow Subban to start the 2015-16 season without a long-term deal.

Subban can decide to accept Montreal's offer, but, as we move closer to his UFA status, history says that's unlikely.

Montreal has four choices now. It can accept the award and sit for a while. It can offer Subban eight years at what he wants. It can offer him a four-year deal at $34-$38 million and say, "Worst comes to worst, you hit the market again at age 29 with a higher cap." Or it trades him.

Next move is the Canadiens'.

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