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Monday, January 28, 2013
Debate: Did Habs GM win Subban signing?

By Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun go toe-to-toe over the signing of RFA defenseman P.K. Subban of the Canadiens.

BURNSIDE: And just like that, P.K. Subban is back in the Montreal Canadiens’ fold after signing a two-year deal worth $5.75 million. That’s not $5.75 million a year, that’s a total over the two years. In today’s NHL, that’s downright bargain basement and in the short term it’s hard not to figure that rookie Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, faced with his first personnel crisis, held firm on an important asset and didn’t commit to a term he didn’t want and didn’t commit to a salary cap he didn’t want. Of course, getting Subban under contract and back on the ice is just the first shoe dropping in what promises to be an ongoing saga with Subban. How does this deal, one that Subban clearly wasn’t anticipating at the outset of negotiations, affect future negotiations? What are the chances Bergevin can lock Subban up long-term before Subban becomes an unrestricted free agent? Will it matter if the Habs win their first Stanley Cup since 1993? OK, I threw in the Stanley Cup win question just for fun. So, what’s your take, my friend?

LEBRUN: Scotty, the way the deal is broken down, it’s $2 million for this season (prorated over 44 games) and $3.75 million next season. And that’s key for Subban, who gets the bulk of his cash in a full 82-game season next season. It’s also important because it makes his qualifying offer higher than his average salary. In the end, though, no other way to look at this than Bergevin showing incredible resiliency in his first real test as a young GM in a pressure cooker of a town. With the Habs starting strong at 3-1-0, most notably their power play going really well at 27.3 percent, it gave Bergevin leverage. Subban knew he wasn’t going to be able to outwait Bergevin.

"I think at this point it was the right decision for me to make," Subban said on a conference call with media Monday night.

And I would also give a lot of credit to veteran agent Don Meehan of Newport Sports. He’s a deal-maker; he knows from his years and years in the business when it’s time to end a contract stalemate. He senses the right time to fight and the right time to negotiate. My guess is Meehan’s input/advice for Subban -- along with that of Mark Guy, Subban's other agent -- was to take the two-year deal and realize that he’ll make more money with more term next time around. Which he will.

BURNSIDE: I think it’s going to be fascinating to watch Subban’s progression through the rest of this lockout-shortened season and then through next season. The assumption is that Subban’s payday is coming, just a little later than he’d hoped for. But with Andrei Markov back and playing like the Andrei Markov of old (his four goals lead all NHL defensemen) and with Raphael Diaz proving himself to be an NHL-caliber puck mover on the blue line, Subban is going to have to earn top-four minutes. He has the tools but he also has shown himself to be a little immature. We saw Drew Doughty miss training camp last season as he waited to come to terms with the L.A. Kings and it took him a long time to get into a groove, mostly because he was trying to do too much. Subban will have to resist that temptation as he begins the process of proving he’s an elite defenseman worthy of the big payday he thought he was going to get this time around.

LEBRUN: At the end of the day, even though Subban would not admit it Monday on the call with media, he has to be bitter at some level. No question, he would have wanted another NHL team to step up with an offer sheet. Subban wanted a long-term deal but Bergevin never deviated from two years. And I think the reason for that is that while Subban is a polarizing figure with that team, and Bergevin has heard all the stories both positive and negative with regard to Subban, this is about the new Habs GM wanting to make up his own mind on the talented defenseman. He’s got about a year and a half now to do just that, see him up close every day and decide once and for all next time around if the Habs want him around long-term. Of course, the Canadiens have to also hope Subban himself will want to stick around.