P.K. Subban's arbitration hearing ended ominously for the Montreal Canadiens. The star defenseman's reaction likely means it's time for Habs fans to panic.
Okay, Habs fans. Feel free to press the panic button now.
That last-minute resolution of the long simmering contract dispute between the Canadiens and star defenseman P.K. Subban that we all expected early on Friday morning? It didn't happen. Instead, the two sides opted to air out their differences in front of an independent arbitrator, a process that ensures that the 2013 Norris Trophy winner will be in bleu, blanc et rouge for the 2014–15 season.
But at what cost?
It isn't the salary that really matters at this point. Given Subban's resume, and the assumption that the arbitrator is seemingly more rational than Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, the blueliner is going to get paid. A lot. Probably something north of $7 million per year.
But even that kind of money might not be enough to repair whatever damage was caused over the course of today's hearing. We don't know yet what was said behind closed doors, but whatever it was, it sounds like it cut deep.
"It's been an educational process for me," a subdued Subban told reporters as he left the room.
Not too hard to crack that code, is it? You don't value the "educational process" after a courteous exchange of ideas. It's the blanket you console yourself with after you've just been crushed.
"I will move on and get ready for the season," he said, evoking less someone who feels valued and respected than someone left to pick up the pieces.
No one expects arbitration to be friendly. It's all business. It's about trying to extract, or save, as many dollars as possible, any way possible. There's a ruthless element to it, which makes it something that both teams and players strive to avoid. You can't undo the damage once it has been done. As former NHLer Jeff O'Neill tweeted today about his own arbitration experience, "First thought walking out? I never want to play for that team again."
It's hard to believe that Bergevin let things get this far. Then again, it's been hard to comprehend Bergevin's approach with Subban all along. The last round of negotiations between the two ended with Subban settling for a low-dollar bridge contract back in 2013. Sure, Bergevin saved some cap space, always a feather in any GM's cap. But if he had taken a macro view he could have had the star defenseman locked up long term for as little as $6 million per season.
A steal, right? Unless, of course, Bergevin isn't all that interested in hitching himself to Subban.
And that's what it feels like, doesn't it? The benchings. The criticism of his play. The trade rumors. Demanding that he prove himself and then, when he does, telling him it's still not enough by low-balling him again. Subban may love Montreal, but the organization isn't looking for anything serious.
That's a tough idea for fans to swallow, especially those who see Subban as one of the game's most dynamic talents. But that's not a universal view. There are those who feel that as sublime as he is with the puck, he's equally reckless without it. That's he really fun, but not someone you give a ring to. Maybe Bergevin is one of those who just can't get past those reservations.
Not that that the GM was giving away his position after the hearing. "I have nothing to say," he told the media, passing on a chance to spike the football.
There's still time for the two sides to come to an agreement. Under the CBA, they're allowed to continue bargaining up to the point when the arbitrator hands down a ruling, which must be within 48 hours of the hearing. But the fact that no talks are currently scheduled suggests a lack of urgency on the part of at least one of the parties. And after hearing his terse statements, it's a good bet that Subban is the one shutting things down.
And who can blame him? This has to be absolutely crushing. Subban made it clear throughout this process that he's committed to this club, that it means something to him to play for the Montreal Canadiens.
You have to wonder if he still feels that way. Or if he ever could again.
At this point, it's a good bet he accepts whatever the arbitrator decides, puts his head down and plays the good soldier. And then next summer, he'll take another one-year deal for the 2015–16 season, just long enough to get him to unrestricted free agency.
Maybe then he'll find someone who appreciates him.