Call of the Wilde: P.K. Subban deserves better
Published Friday, August 1, 2014 9:18PM EDT
The first time I discovered P.K. Subban's character, he was doing a PSA for a hybrid car. What stands out on that day was how patient and kind he was with everyone. Take after take he adlibbed the entire PSA. The producers were not particularly organized to be honest with you, but P.K. never complained. Take 40 and he was still smiling and kept saying “One more time? Okay, sure! No problem.” I kept thinking, “I would have blown up 20 takes ago.” He was so kind to everyone, including me who waited in the wings and then requested an interview when I am not even sure he knew that someone from the media would be there overlooking him and judging his performance in front of the camera. He was a gentleman to everyone from start to finish on that Sunday morning after a Saturday night game. Not the way I would have wanted to start my only day off that week.
The second time I got to see P.K. Subban, the outside the rink experience, he was a big star by then, doing a live weather hit during our supper news. By this time, everyone and I mean everyone wanted a little piece of him, was a little enamored of him, was certainly impressed by his larger than life charisma. Again, he was kind, open and enthusiastic with everyone. I was in charge of helping him to be comfortable at the station by being a face he knew. By minute two, I knew my services were not needed. He was patient learning from Lori Graham and happy to be involved. He even volunteered to do sports for me, but my boss wasn’t comfortable that we could handle it production-wise on such short notice. Point is, he was thrilled to be a part of it and wanted to help us in every way he could to make the experience worth it for us.
Why do I tell you all of this in the midst of a difficult hockey negotiation?
Because Le Club de Hockey Canadiens, there’s a reason P.K. Subban is so popular all over this city and one of the most beloved athletes to come along in the last 20 years: He is always kind whenever he walks around this province. He is good to people. He has character. He’s an ambassador. When you meet P.K. Subban on the streets, you immediately want to be wearing his jersey with the 76 on the back. He makes you feel good about yourself to have met him. I know. I have seen the wide smiles many times.
This is why Subban perhaps signing a one-year deal instead of eight and inching his way out of this town is so hard for Montrealers to fathom. He’s not just a hockey player here. He’s part of the fabric of Montreal. The biggest star here since Celine Dion bolted for Vegas.
However, being a great guy doesn’t lead to a great contract. Great play does. So let’s see how much the Habs love this player and see if it is not nearly enough.
They tried to trade him to Tampa Bay for a guy with a ridiculously inflated salary, Vincent Lecavalier, but thank God for Habs fans the league vetoed the deal. He won the Norris Trophy in 2013 but then in the next season he got benched in many games and had his ice time systematically cut in others. He had a hard time ever getting praise from his coach, with questions like “What did you think of PK tonight?” answered with “Good, but Price was great. Carey was…” followed by 30 seconds on Carey Price. Subban even got called out on the Habs own show 24CH by his head coach. He was told to prove himself after he got a low offer from the Habs in a bridge contract and he did with a Norris and a remarkable playoff the next year where he dominated. He knew from a negotiating point of view when he took that bridge deal that he still was four years from UFA status still so he swallowed hard and got to work so this day would not happen again, yet here we are.
Marc Bergevin has been an excellent GM. He’s been an excellent negotiator. On trades unloading deteriorating assets like Cole and Briere, it was a head scratcher how Bergevin was able to pull off getting an extra draft pick each time. He’s forced some players to take well less than their worth on the market like Max Pacioretty and we have wondered how he did it. Bergevin is very very good at what he does. But not this time.
Unless, we have an 11th hour agreement for a long term deal, the arbitrator will, before Sunday at 1 p.m., rule on a one-year salary compensation for Subban. This doesn’t seem like a terrible thing. There is another season after this one for the Habs to keep trying, but how much is too much for Subban? Would we hold it against him if after all of the benchings, public criticism by his coach and low-balled contracts, if he finally listened to his agent or his friends or his family when they say “The team doesn’t appreciate you, you can go somewhere else,” and he actually does? Bergevin is rolling the dice here and he needs them to come up 11.
Subban has tough skin. You have to in the public eye. He actually relishes it and is at his best during it. Shawn Thornton would like that water back inside that bottle. The Bruins would like that laughter and taunting back. But I wonder at a certain point if he finally stops saying he wants to be a lifelong Montreal Canadiens player. He already took crap money on a bridge deal. He did it around the time that young guys like Taylor Hall were getting big money while being far, far away from their UFA status. He saw what Hall got and he let Bergevin win.
I am not in the negotiating room and I cannot tell you definitely that the amounts I am about to quote you are 100 per cent the exact numbers. However, I have culled together sources and have worked hard on this to be as accurate as I can short of Subban telling me the numbers himself. With that said, I can with reasonably certainty tell you that the Subban camp has moved down to the $8.5 million neighborhood. The Habs will not budge from the area of $7 million. Originally, I did not believe that Subban would move lower than $9 million. He is not looking for a home run here, but he deserves a double or a triple. He already took a sacrifice for the team two years ago to prove himself, which he did.
The argument Subban is worth the same or less money than Weber or Doughty is not valid because they signed their deals long ago. The long past is not the barometer for the future in a contract negotiation. Subban is not signing a deal for the seasons 2006 to 2014. He’s signing them for the years 2014 to 2022. Those players like Doughty signed their contracts before Rogers Sportsnet lost its collective mind and changed the NHL revenue stream into a revenue river. The near future, long future and near past is the barometer on a contract, not the long past, so the Toews and Kane $10.5 million number is the most recent and most applicable. They are among the best forwards in the game. Subban is among the best defenceman and he is still willing to settle for $2 million less than those players.
Bergevin can still get this done. He can still make amends. The clock strikes 12 very soon, and after it does the world changes for Subban and the Habs. Subban has then only one season until his freedom. On that day, it might just be that Subban says for the first time “I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough learning experiences.” I would not blame him one bit if he said that. In fact, if I was P.K. Subban I would have said it long ago.
Bergevin is a great GM, but on this one someone needs to take him for a nice long walk in the Old Port.