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Marc Bergevin's decision to sign P.K. Subban to a bridge deal back in January of 2013 was met with a lot of criticism. It certainly saved them money in the short-term but how much would it cost them in the long run? Now that Subban has inked a new eight year deal with the team, we can now attempt to determine just how much going that route back then cost the Habs.
To do that, we have to compare his actual deals with some 'What if' contracts, ones that would have been signed back in January of 2013 and whenever that one expired. We all know what the actual contracts are/were. Two years ago, it was a two year, $5.75 M deal for a cap hit of $2.875 M. Now, he'll be playing on an eight year, $72 M pact for a cap hit of $9 M. Figuring out the non-bridge deal that could have been two years ago is a little more challenging.
There were a variety of reports at the time that had Subban asking anywhere from 4-6 years and anywhere from $4 to $6 M per season. There's no way to prove what's right and wrong so let's meet in the middle here and suggest an approximate deal of five years, and $25 M (a cap hit of $5 M). That's the easy one to figure out.
That five year deal takes us to the end of the 2016-17 season where Subban would have been unrestricted. It's likely that he would have been seeking a max-term contract. Had he re-signed before July 1 with the Habs, that would have meant eight years. Had he tested the market, the max would have been seven. For the sake of this exercise, let's assume he tests the market which means a seven year pact. How much would that be worth?
This offseason, the salary cap jumped roughly 7.3%. If that were to continue for each year leading into the 2017 offseason, the salary cap would jump up to $74.04 M in 2015-16, $79.4 M in 2016-17, and $85.2 million in the 2017 offseason, a cool $16 million more than it stands today. It also must be considered that there are no RFA years to lower the cap hit as there are in Subban's recently-signed deal.
Presently, top players are getting somewhere between 11-13% of the salary cap. (Subban falls in right at that 13% mark.) That percentage is expected to increase as big money deals become more and more prevalent in years to come as a result of the expected increase in the upper limit; it's not crazy to think that some of the top pending free agents will get closer to 15%. So between the current and expected rates, we have a range of 11-15%. Again, let's meet in the middle and go with 13%. 13% of $85.2 million works out to just over $11 million, which happens to coincide with the highest salary in Subban's contract and what some are forecasting the top UFA salaries to be in a few years.
So with that all in mind, let's assume his hypothetical UFA contract in the 2017 offseason to be seven years, $77 million (for an AAV of $11 million). Now that we have both sets of contracts (Actual and 'What if'), we can compare and find out which route was more beneficial.
At the end of the day, it looks as if the Habs may very well have saved a bit of money along the way. Now to be fair, saving money only means something if you make the right moves with it and it's fair to suggest that they didn't make the most of their savings the last couple of years. The next three seasons is where they're really going to pay for the bridge deal as it's going to cost them roughly $4 million per year. After that though, they start to save some money again. We can only hope that those savings are put to better use in future years.
Let's throw one more point to ponder out there, just in case you haven't had enough of the hypotheticals already. In the summer of 2022, Subban will be 33 years old. What type of money could he be seeking then? It's far too early to speculate as that contract will be signed under a new CBA so instead I'll simply ask, can he get more than $11 million? Given the fact he'll likely be seeking a medium-to-long term deal (where the money will be lower in the back years), he may have a hard time reaching that. If so, there may very well still be some future savings by going the route they did.
Giving P.K. Subban a bridge deal coming out of the lockout was met with a lot of criticism and many thought it would come back to haunt the team later. Even if you tweak the 'What if' numbers a bit, it's not going to skew the end result to the point where going with the two year deal coming off his entry-level contract would have been considered extremely costly in the long run. At the end of the day, it doesn't appear as if giving Subban the bridge deal cost them much of anything at all.
(Note: There are some who would have wanted the Habs to sign him to a long-term deal before the lockout where there were no limits on term. Given that there weren't reports at the time that Subban was seeking such a deal plus the difficulty in hypothesizing a salary on that contract, that option wasn't considered for the purpose of this exercise.)