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Jamming the Crease: P.K Subban contract panic; more notes

P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens' looming arbitration battle headline today's NHL news and notes.

Tuesday night, journalist Renaud Lavoie sent the faithful into a frenzy when he said negotiations between the Montreal Canadiens and star defenseman P.K. Subban were not going well with Friday's arbitration deadline fast approaching.

Now we know what he was talking about.

According to Ken Campbell of The Hockey News, the Canadiens submitted an offer of $5.25 million on a one-year contract. Subban's camp countered with a request for $8.5 million.

Three million bucks is no small difference of opinion, certainly enough to suggest that a potentially damaging confrontation before the arbitrator is a legitimate possibility. But is it really time for Habs fans to panic?

First, a little context: an award of $5.25 million would slot Subban in as the NHL's 24th-best paid defenseman, behind Marc Staal but ahead of Paul Martin. Subban's request would give him the league's third-most lucrative contract for a blueliner, trailing only Shea Weber (whose $14 million payday can be traced to Philadelphia's front-loaded offer sheet) and Ryan Suter, who rolled up the truck as the premier free-agent defender last summer.

Which of those extremes would be easier to build a supporting case for? One that paints him as a solid but unspectacular defender, or one that recognizes him as a Norris Trophy winner, an Olympic gold medalist and the man who carried the Canadiens on his back to a playoff upset over the hated Boston Bruins?

Not exactly a tough call, that one. If anything, it suggests Subban might have lowballed himself with that request.

Then again, he's only looking after one restricted free agent season should it get to arbitration. But that won't happen. Neither side wants to go through that painful process once, let alone risk it happening again next summer when Subban could sign an offer sheet from an opposing club (the Bruins will have a lot of cap space) or elect a one-year award that would set him up for unrestricted free agency at age 27.

Montreal GM Marc Bergevin knows he's not getting Subban for anything close to his offer, but he can't play these cards any other way. He's just using the system, and with more than 36 hours to go there's still plenty of time to exchange real numbers ahead of arbitration. The deal he really wants, and the one Subban really wants, is still there to be had with direct negotiation. In the end, it'll be surprising if the two don't agree on a deal linking them for at least five years with an annual average value of at least $9 million.

You know, eight years and $76 million has a nice ring to it...

In Need of assistants

One has to admire Michel Therrien's willingness to let bygones be bygones. Back in May, Therrien went off on Dan Lacroix after he caught the New York Rangers assistant coach "spying" on a Canadiens practice in the midst of the Eastern Conference Finals. A couple of months later, Therrien handpicked Lacroix to join him behind Montreal's bench. Wednesday's announcement may have been a bit of a surprise in light of that incident, but it's a savvy move by the Habs. If there's one area where the team needs a significant upgrade its in their possession time. Lacroix worked under Guy Boucher in Hamilton (AHL) and Tampa Bay before joining the Rangers, three situations where there was a clear emphasis on possession. Ultimately it all comes down to the guys on the ice, but his background suggests Lacroix might bring something to the table that could really benefit the Canadiens. It was thought that the Sabres were also circling Lacroix before deciding to go with Bryan Trottier Tuesday night.

The Habs also brought Rob Ramage on board to replace the recently departed Patrice Brisebois in the team's player development department. Ramage spent 18 years in the league, but is best remembered now for his involvement in the 2007 death of his friend, Keith Magnuson. Ramage was convicted of impaired driving causing death and served 10 months behind bars before being paroled in 2011. He spent the past two seasons doing scouting work for the St. Louis Blues and speaking to teens about the dangers of drinking and driving. Say what you want about the sentence, but the man did his time. Good to see him getting another chance to get his life in order and make a positive impact on the game and young players.

Hayes strays

Robert Murray, the agent for Hobey Baker finalist Kevin Hayes, confirmed the worst fears of Blackhawks fans Tuesday, saying his client is unlikely to sign with Chicago and will shop himself on the open market. Tough loss for the 'Hawks but undoubtedly the smart play for the kid, who gains his freedom by virtue of not signing within four years of being selected 24th back in 2010. There's no direct path to the NHL this season or any time soon with a Chicago team that's loaded up front and at 22 he's ready to step up and prove himself. Hayes is free to sign with any team on Aug. 16.

Money won't be the issue—he's limited to the $925,000 maximum entry-level deal—so his focus will be on opportunity. The Boston College grad is thought to have the Bruins, Penguins, Avalanche, Rangers and Flames among his suitors. One scout told this morning that he felt Hayes was not yet ready for full-time NHL employment, but could develop into a solid top-six option in time. But there may be teams out there that are more bullish on his immediate potential. It's a disappointing turn, but all's not lost for the Blackhawks. They'll be compensated with the 24th pick in the second round of next year's draft if Hayes signs elsewhere.

Bargain shopping

One scout tells the Maple Leafs got themselves a bargain in winger Daniel Winnik. "He's the sort of player that can help a team win playoff games," he said, adding that Winnik can buy some space for skilled teammates with his physical presence. It's unfair to expect him to match the career-best 30 points he recorded last season in Anaheim. Then again he did manage to put up that total while playing less than 10 minutes on the power play all year, and 17 of his 24 helpers were first assists, proving an ability to create scoring chances despite limited opportunity. And if the offense goes south, no worries. He's a solid penalty killer, a determined checker and a reliable player without the puck. For a one-year, $1.3 million commitment, Winnik is a value add.

As I wrote this morning in Top Line, I'm not sure where Peter Mueller fits on a St. Louis front line that already has 13 forwards on one-way deals, along with Vladimir Tarasenko and NHL-ready winger Dmitrij Jaskin, but at least he gets what he wanted: a chance to prove he's healthy enough to be a significant player in the NHL. An old scouting report from his draft season raved about Mueller, calling him “a shifty skater with excellent vision [and] hockey sense” and praising his “NHL-caliber hands.” A series of concussions curtailed his career, but he got it back on track with a 24-goal season in the Swiss league. The two-way deal he signed means he could be sent to the AHL if he doesn't crack the lineup in camp, although he'd have to clear waivers first. It'd be nice to see him click with the Blues though if for no other reason than the chance to see him team up with T.J. Oshie in the shootout. He's always been clutch performer one-on-one.


A discussion with a scout about the lack of development shown by 2012 pick Mathew Dumba led to other recent first rounders whose prospects have dimmed since being selected. Among the names he dropped: Michael McCarron (Montreal, 2013), Radek Faksa (Dallas, 2012), Slater Koekkoek (Tampa Bay, 2012) and Tyler Biggs (Toronto, 2011).