Dear Mr Bergevin,
I'll admit to being one of your tougher critics since you became the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens.
You've made many admirable moves to improve your roster; removing diminishing assets and replacing theme with better players, at the same time without appreciable cost to the franchise. Yet, at times you've mystified myself and others with your over-reliance and overpayment of non-core or even fringe roster elements while being stingy with your stars.
You've spoken at length on many occasions about wanting to build the team through the draft. You've given many opportunities for young players to earn their place with the team and spoken of the importance of the team to build around its young core.
You've shown you appreciate the value of Trevor Timmins, one of the top amateur scouts in the NHL, by both extending him and promoting him since you took over the team. You gave commitment and term to Max Pacioretty and Carey Price within months of taking on the job, acknowledging that they were key elements of the team's future.
You've adapted to mistakes you made with the roster and made adjustments. Your off-season until August 1 was considered to be good, if not great, by many.
But now you have shocked the hockey world far and wide, while putting your 29 opponents in other NHL offices in a state of great delight that you may force one of the best defencemen in the game to the free agent market in 2016. Your egregious mishandling of the situation has shaken the faith the Canadiens fanbase has placed in you to its core, and if you do not resolve it, you may never recover it, or your reputation in the league at large.
You have decided to engage in brinksmanship with the best defencemen that has played for the Montreal Canadiens since the days of Chris Chelios. Chelios was foolishly lost for a poor return by Serge Savard nearly a quarter of a century ago, but you Mr. Bergevin are not likely to have any Stanley Cups to protect your legacy if you go down this road. Your name is most likely going to be talked about in the same breath as Rejean Houle, the man who instigated the Roy trade first by installing a head coach who thought his job was to humble Patrick Roy and allowing the situation to fester until Roy publicly demanded a trade.
You and Rejean Houle are not far apart on that first count right now. Michel Therrien has never shown the greatest confidence in Subban, whether it is keeping him out of penalty-killing scenarios unless he is forced to do by other defencemen being in the box, or needing to be practically interrogated by the media to compliment him on a regular basis. Therrien will spin excuses about why he won't 'trust' Subban with the penalty kill, talking about wanting to rest a renowned fitness freak and prime-age athlete while he contradicts himself on a nightly basis.
While he finds the need to rest Subban from having to play strenuous penalty kills, he decides to give a 35-year old Andrei Markov's twice surgically-reconstructed knee an ongoing endurance trial in such a situation. While I would not say Therrien truly hates or even heavily dislikes Subban, he clearly does not think of Subban what the hockey world at large does, that he is an elite defencemen that only a handful of his peers can truly match against.
Two years ago you were steadfast in the bargaining process with Subban to take a bridge deal on a measure of 'prove yourself' in order to earn the big contract with term. Well, after a Norris trophy win in the first year of the contract and gaining great fame as a playoff superstar this year, what's left to prove?
You had no problem extending Alexei Emelin, a player with 105 games of NHL experience coming off ACL/MCL reconstructive surgery to a four-year, 4.1 M per year deal with a full no-trade clause in the first two years of the contract before he ever played a game post-surgery. What had Emelin proven to that point other that he can hit other players and that he wasn't very good playing on his off side? He's scored fewer points in his career than PK Subban had assists just last season.
You were perfectly comfortable with extending Travis Moen, a 4th-line forward just coming off a rather serious concussion to a four-year extension at 1.85 M per year as he was going into his 30s. He played just four games in the playoffs this past year.
You were more than happy to give Brandon Prust, another 4th-line forward a most generous contract of 2.5 M per season, who since arriving in Montreal has missed 31% of his games and was a ghost in the post-season due to ongoing injury issues.
Yet despite overpaying players that were largely forgettable (or regrettable) in their contributions this year, you decide to take a hard line with the player who aside from Carey Price, was the most instrumental in your playoff success this year and has been your best skater since you took over the team. I must ask, what do you think you are going to win here? You've already had Subban at a discount for two years but now the time has come to pay the man.
P.K. Subban is a very respectful young man with a great deal of patience for all the criticisms he has taken in his career thus far. He could have been far less diplomatic about the racist remarks directed towards him during the Boston series this past year but he took the high road. He's used to outside criticism, but how long do you think you can try to talk down to a very intelligent young man who works for you, and tell him he isn't worth what many teams would be willing to pay him if he were a free agent at this very moment?
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He's given all he has to give to your team and you seem dead-set to either undervalue him, or stand on an absurd point of principle about what the maximum is you are willing to pay one of your players.
I have unfortunate news for you, Mr. Bergevin, the salary cap is only going up. Projections hold that the influx of cash simply from the new TV deal with Rogers will take it to 75 million in 2015. How long until it goes to 80 million or more? I am sure you intend to establish bridge contracts with both Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher in order to maintain your cap integrity for as long as you can.
If Galchenyuk becomes the star you hope him to be, will you be able to tell him when the salary cap is over 80 million dollars that you will not pay him what other star players will certainly be drawing, which is almost assuredly above the 8, 9 or even 10 million dollar mark? Any perceived over payment to Subban now will be well within the range of star defencemen salary within a year or two and you get to keep a uniquely talented defencemen that you could spend 15 years trying to replace and fail to do so.
I have often debated whether your apprenticeship with the Chicago Blackhawks taught you the appropriate lessons to running a top-flight hockey club. You were a part of the organization when both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews signed five-year extensions worth 6.3M per year immediately upon hitting their first period of restricted free agency.
You missed on this opportunity with Subban, who could still have been under contract for 3 more seasons at a similar or even lower amount potentially and avoided such drama as you are putting the organization through now. Surely you noticed what the Blackhawks just paid Kane and Toews. There's no way to avoid it, superstars are going to be paid at the very top of the market. Yet despite coming from an organization that values it's star players and decides to pay them what it takes to keep them, you seek to find economies with your stars while overpaying the bottom third of your lineup.
If you find yourself forced to trade PK Subban, you will lose the trade and you know it.
No general manager has ever had a running conflict with a star player and successfully dealt him in a trade that can be called a win or even a draw. If he walks as a free agent, you will find yourself the most reviled man in Montreal since Rejean Houle except you won't able to even point to some weak trade chips you got in return to try and claim a moral victory.
The future of the Canadiens is entirely in your hands right now. You can either try to repair your relationship with the best defencemen the organization has seen in 25 years, or you can let it fall apart and become the new Rejean Houle.
Not everything can go exactly to your designs. Sometimes you will have to bend more than you would like to and if that means paying P.K. Subban 9 M per season or more, than that is a sacrifice you may need to make on the road to a Stanley Cup.
It certainly beats watching him lift one in another team's jersey if you go down the road you are currently on.
Just ask yourself, what do the Montreal Canadiens look like without P.K. Subban?
Do you agree with Robert's position? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.