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P.K. Subban, Canadiens fail to reach deal, go to arbitration

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

P.K. Subban... (USATSI)
P.K. Subban and the Canadiens failed to reach a deal ahead of Friday's arbitration hearing. (USATSI)

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The Montreal Canadiens and restricted free agent defenseman P.K. Subban failed to reach an agreement on a new contract ahead of Friday's arbitration hearing, and are going forward with the hearing according to the Canadian Press. The two sides will be able to negotiate a settlement before the arbitration ruling, which must come within 48 hours of the hearing, is in according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.

The decision on Subban's salary for next season is in the hands of the arbitrator now. The 25-year-old defenseman spoke with reporters after the lengthy arbitration hearing.

Ahead of the arbitration, Subban reportedly asked for an award of $8.5 million. The Habs countered with a request for a one-year award of $5.25 million.

Though those were the parameters set for arbitration, Subban's agent Don Meehan said earlier this week that the long-term negotiation was in a “different venue,” meaning that the arbitration numbers had little bearing on the long-term conversation.

Meehan told Sportsnet's Chris Johnston after the hearing that there are no plans to continue negotiations a long-term contract with the Canadiens before the arbitrator reaches a decision.

Now that it's made it to this point, Montreal has put itself in a position to damage the relationship between their biggest star and the club. It's part of the business, which Subban probably understands, but having gone through a hard negotiation last time around and then not getting a deal in before arbitration seems a rather questionable trend for the Habs. It also sends a strange message to one of the team's two biggest stars.

Considering Subban already went with a team-friendly bridge deal in his last negotiation, won the Norris Trophy in 2012-13 and finished second on the team in scoring both seasons over that deal, there would be a lot more urgency to get something long term done. On top of that, the Habs left $11.6 million in cap space for next season, so they had to be prepared to offer Subban something sizable.

It's hard to fathom Habs GM Marc Bergevin standing in a room making a case for why Subban should make $5.25 million next season, and he may not be taking a hard line on that price at all, but still, that's the number that is known publicly.

The arbitration process is not often an arena in which star players end up, but it has happened before.

Should no deal be struck before the arbitration ruling, there's a good chance Subban will receive an arbitration award higher than that of Shea Weber, who in 2011 was awarded a $7.5 million after he took the Predators to an arbitration hearing. Subban's pre-arbitration season was actually better than Weber's in terms of production, plus Subban led his team to the Eastern Conference Final.

For all the items that can be argued in arbitration, Subban's case shouldn't be terribly hard to make for the arbitration award to be closer to his ask than the Canadiens'.

This is the path the Canadiens set themselves on with Subban after the two sides had to settle on a two-year bridge deal heading into the 2012-13 season. The defenseman sat out the first six games of the season as a deal had not been reached in time for him to join the team at the start of the year. The two-year, $5.75 million coming out of Subban's cheap entry-level deal was certainly team-friendly considering the extreme value they got out of two seasons of Subban at an annual average of $2.875 million.

All Subban did over the span of his bridge deal was win the Norris Trophy in 2012-13 and, up as the highest scoring defenseman over the last two seasons and lead the team to the cusp of the Stanley Cup Final. In 124 games, the Toronto native put up 91 points, three more than last season's Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith had over the same span. Both years, Subban finished second on the Habs in scoring, while leading the team in points in the playoffs in each year.

Bridge deals can be good for teams if they aren't entirely sure what they have, but Subban is making the Habs pay, literally, for not getting something longer term done the last time.

Restricted free agency can be a bit of a burden. If Subban had the leverage of unrestricted free agency, this deal probably gets made long ago. But the Habs decided to play with fire a bit and see just how cheap they could get Subban for.

Restricted free agent or not, the fact that the Canadiens, one of the richest teams in the NHL with cap space to spare, would haggle for so long with their best player flies in the face of logic. Between Subban and Carey Price, Montreal has two tremendous cornerstone players to build the rest of the team around. And as good as Price was last season, there's a good argument that Subban was more valuable to his team.

At just 25 years old, Subban is already probably among the six or seven best defensemen in the game today and should only get better. With each passing year, Subban is that much tougher to play against, that much smarter and that much more effective in all facets of the game.

There aren't many players like him in the league -- one that combines skill, speed and brute physicality -- so for Montreal to drag their feet and Subban through the arbitration hearing is woeful asset management on behalf of the Canadiens' front office.

Every team in the league would do what they had to do to get the deal that is the most cap-friendly they can. There's nothing wrong with that. But going through two hardline negotiations with one of the best players the franchise has seen over the last decade despite gobs of revenue and after already having gone through the trouble of keeping cap space free makes little sense.

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