By Allan Muir
Ultimately, every negotiation comes down to leverage.
In the contract battle between P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens, the Habs had all the cards. No surprise then that GM Marc Bergevin got almost exactly the deal he wanted when he signed the RFA defender Monday night for two years at $5.75 million.
Not $5.75 million per year. $5.75 million, total.
That's a steal.
And that's why Bergevin is walking around like a boss.
"I think at this point it was the right decision for me to make," a subdued Subban said on a conference call Monday night.
At some point today, he came to the realization it was the only decision he could make. He wasn't going to sit out the season and no team was going to swoop in and goose the pot with an offer sheet. It was settle or stay home.
So he made the deal. And that's really at that matters in the big picture. Subban will be back playing for Les Glorieux, possibly Wednesday against the Senators but more likely Saturday against the Sabres. It won't be long before contract talk fades and power plays and ice time and winning streaks and the things that really matter about hockey come back into focus.
But for now, it's impossible to ignore Bergevin's performance. The Subban imbroglio provided the first real challenge for Montreal's rookie GM and he aced it in a way that would have made Sam Pollock proud. Faced with a marketplace inflated by other teams routinely overpaying for potential in second contracts, he managed to stare down one of his marquee stars. With the Canadiens on a 3-1-0 roll to start the season and the blueline performing well in his absence, Subban had no choice but to accept the deal that was essentially the one Bergevin had on the table all along.
While that offer was widely derided as being out of touch, it was Bergevin's prerogative to make a deal he could live with. It's his team now, and that means the tenure of everybody acquired before he arrived is up for review. This contract not only protects the team's bottom line, but it gives him a short-term out if he decides Subban and his oversized persona aren't a good fit for his vision for the franchise.
One of the game's great personalities, Bergevin already had plenty of admirers around the league. But after this precedent setter, he won't have to worry about paying for drinks at GM meetings any time soon.
From Subban's perspective, it was a defeat, but not a total loss. According to capgeek.com, the first year of the deal pays him $2 million, pro rated. That's key because he loses less of the overall value than he would have if the total had been split evenly over the term. The $3.75 million payment in year two then sets him up for the splashy payday of his next deal.
Of course, that begs the important question: will that contract be with the Habs?
Subban's probably feeling a bit underappreciated right now, but that will pass. Two years is a long way down the road for a kid who is just 23. Any hurt feelings that come out of this process are likely to be, if not exactly forgotten, then at least forgiven as just business.