There’s no denying that P.K. Subban has been the Habs’ top defenceman in
recent years. He knows it, his agent knows it, and the team knows it.
With that in mind, one would likely think that putting together Subban’s
arbitration case would be simple. Despite his strong play, he likely is
going to have a hard time making his case. In fact, his success may make
things more challenging when it comes to their pending hearing.
Salary arbitration is all about comparables. The team submits a list of
comparables who conveniently have low salaries. Meanwhile, the agent
submits a list of players whose salaries are on the higher scale. This is
why you always see a wide gap between the two numbers (as we just saw with Lars
Eller). Both sides know their numbers are largely unrealistic and that the
true value lies around the middle but alas, that’s the way the ‘game’ is played.
When it comes to comparable players to Subban from Montreal’s perspective,
the Habs have quite a few options to choose from. They can go with top
or high point getters, whichever makes their case better. Some of the
names that spring to mind are:
Drew Doughty (LA), $7 M per year for 8 years
Oliver Ekman-Larsson (ARI), $5.5 M per year for 6 years
Erik Karlsson (OTT), $6.5 M per year for 7 years
Duncan Keith (CHI), $5.538 M for 13 years
Alex Pietrangelo (STL), $6.5 M per year for 7 years
All of these players play top minutes (top-20 in
TOI among blueliners last year) and are among the top
point-producing defencemen over the past couple of seasons. They also
conveniently have deals that are considerably cheaper than what most expect
Subban is worth, even if you add in the percentage that the salary cap has
increased since they signed. To be fair, these were all signed coming off
entry-level deals but there isn’t exactly a long list of big money blueliners
coming off bridge contracts (Mike Green and Brent Seabrook come to mind but
Green isn’t a good comparable while Seabrook’s deal is similar to the above; there’s one other prominent
name who will be noted shortly as well). It won’t be hard for Marc Bergevin and his team to find a list of cheap comparable
players to put their one year
arbitration submission together.
(You may be wondering why Ryan Suter, Kris Letang, and Brian Campbell,
among others, aren’t on this list. Contracts that were signed via
unrestricted free agency or at a UFA-eligible age, as theirs were, are not allowed to be presented as
comparables in an arbitration hearing.)
Subban and his agent also get to put their list of comparables together.
The problem is, most of the comparable players are ones that will help make
Montreal’s case and not Subban’s. In fact, there’s only one player who I
think could realistically be used to make his case. It’s someone who was
in this exact situation just a few years ago, Shea Weber.
In the 2011 offseason, Weber found himself coming off a somewhat similar
season statistically to Subban’s 2013-14 performance. Subban had more
points but Weber had more goals. Nashville submitted an offer of $4.75
million while Weber asked for $8.5 million. The arbitrator sided with
Weber for the most part, awarding an unprecedented $7.5 million contract for the
2011-12 campaign. One year later, he inked a long-term offer sheet that
sees him with a cap hit of roughly $7.85 million per year…which also happens
to fall below what many expect Subban will get on his next contract.
In 2011-12, the salary cap was $64.3 million while today it sits at $69
million, a 7.4% increase. If you up Weber’s $7.5 million award by that
percentage, the equivalent salary today is $8.055 million. Weber’s career
trajectory up to his massive award is also quite similar to that of Subban’s
aside from the latter having a Norris Trophy. Asking for much more than
what Nashville had to pay their top defenceman, the adjusted value of the
highest ever contract awarded in arbitration, is where the challenge lies.
If I had to guess where each side will submit their one year numbers (which
the Canadiens will elect over a two year term), I suspect the numbers may surprise
you. I expect Montreal’s submission will be in the mid-to-high $6 million
range as that’s where the average from their comparable players will likely
fall. They know he’s worth more than that but in the arbitration game,
teams always aim low. As for Subban, he’ll likely submit a number in the
low $9 million range or just below that. It’s a number
that sits a bit higher than what Weber was seeking three years ago with the goal
of realistically settling at somewhere a little above $8 million for 2014-15.
It’s important to note that these submissions, much like the ones we saw for
Eller recently, are one year offers only. Don’t make the mistake of
assuming that whatever figure the Habs submit is what they’re offering Subban on
a long-term pact. That number, whatever it may be (depending on the length
of the deal being discussed), will be much higher. Keep this in mind if
you’re considering accusing management of lowballing him as this will not be the
case. Conversely, don’t misconstrue Subban’s number as one that he’d
necessarily be willing to sign for on an eight year term. His asking price
on a long-term pact will exceed whatever is submitted for the arbitration
Can Subban and his agent make enough of a case to set an entirely new
precedent when the comparables are pretty much all in Montreal’s favour?
He has faced a lot of hurdles along the way during his career, here comes
another one. If he and the Habs can’t come to terms on a long-term deal
within the next week, we’ll soon find out if he can overcome this particular
challenge as well and set a new benchmark for an arbitration award.