Marc Bergevin is an idiot... Or not

I like Ryan Lambert a lot. He's a good writer and an even better troll, but a bad article is a bad article.

Ryan Lambert, @twolinepass on twitter, is famous across the hockey interwebs for being the primo troll of the land. At no time is this more evident than any international competition, where the American Lambert gets Canadians in a tizzy far too easily.

Aside from being excellent at making Canada angry, Lambert is a pretty solid writer. He's a contributor to Puck Daddy, Backhand Shelf, and other high quality sites. Backhand Shelf is where his most recent article was written, where Lambert asserts "The Habs got their guy but did so in the stupidest way possible".

I think there are arguments to be made that the Subban contract was handled poorly, hell, I made them a few times over the last few weeks, but Lambert's article fails here. Let's go through it and see though.

Last night P.K. Subban signed a new contract with Montreal that will pay him $2 million pro-rated this season and $3.75 million next season. Two years, $2.875 against the cap.

In the immediate aftermath of the team announcing the deal, everyone came out in full support of Marc Bergevin, who had to make his first tough decision as Habs GM in not bending to Subban’s demands for a five-year deal. "He stuck to his guns," they said with approving nods. Indeed, he didn’t want to look "weak" after saying he wanted a two-year deal and nothing besides, and thus this is what he got. For all the sitting out, Subban only pulled an additional $250,000 from the two years, $5.5 million he rejected in August. Chump change for of one of the richest organizations in hockey.

As many have pointed out, the money Subban got was Mike Del Zotto money, and there can’t be too many people in hockey who think Mike Del Zotto is as good a defenseman as PK Subban. So in that regard, yes, Bergevin "won" by "sticking to his guns" with this deal. Subban lost because he didn’t cash in at anywhere near the amount he wanted.

The offer was actually $5M over two years in August, but that doesn't really matter here. What matters is the structure of the deal. Originally the Canadiens had offered P.K. $2.5M over both years according to multiple reports. While it's true that Subban only gained an extra 750K over the course of the deal, his salary in the second year jumped by $1.25M heading into his next chance to renegotiate. As an RFA, this sets a higher minimum for his qualifying offer, and a higher baseline should he have to go into arbitration. This deal is much better for Subban's camp than the original offer.

But if we look a little farther up the road, this is a not-very-bright move by a guy who’s only just now trying to prove himself in his new job. But in reality, the new Subban contract is only a win if you think the NHL stops existing after next season.

Because here’s the thing: Yeah, the Habs are paying $2.875 million for PK Subban against the cap for the next two seasons. That doesn’t even matter so much this year because the Habs had the cap space and then some to get the deal done, and even less next year because Scott Gomez comes off the books.

I'm guessing Ryan hasn't taken a long look at the Habs' cap situation next year because Gomez coming off the books doesn't give them too much room to play around. In fact his contract is nearly the same amount that the cap is scheduled to go down. The Canadiens have all their impact players signed for next season, but if they want to grab a free agent in the summer, Subban's low cap hit offers them a lot more maneuverability this offseason than a long term deal would have.

But after that, when Subban’s up for a new deal in the summer of 2014? Andrei Markov is off the books too. As is Tomas Kaberle. As is Brian Gionta, who, captain or not, will be 36 at that point and not worth anywhere near the $5 million a season cap hit he currently carries. It will be a radically different NHL, too, with a lower salary cap that likely won’t have gone up all that much after coming down so heavily this summer.

The first four sentences here all work heavily in Bergevin's favour, while the fifth sentence is pure speculation. The cap is guaranteed to go down next season, but for that drop to last is extremely unlikely. As soon as the lockout ended we heard people cautioning that fans wouldn't come back, yet the NHL has seen the highest TV ratings since 2002, and all indications are that outside of Phoenix, attendance is where it was expected to be before the lockout. The combination of likely growth with a full season and inflation means a virtual guarantee that the cap goes up.

So how, exactly, does Bergevin win here? It seems to me that Subban’s deal is designed specifically to fit him under the cap next season, and is therefore opening the team to significant risk that probably isn’t worth anywhere near the trouble. Subban is currently 23. He’ll be in the prime of his career this season and next. Maybe the team thinks his 50 percent drop in goal production between his rookie and sophomore years is an indicator of things to come — and surely the only way to tell with that is to wait and see — but again, huge risk to take. The likelihood, based on his age and development path, is that Subban continues to mature into a very, very good NHL defenseman, and those don’t come cheap. Especially when Bergevin’s neat little two-year deal gets him right up to the point of what Shea Weber saw last summer.

It’s perhaps unfair to compare him to Weber, because Weber is among the elitest of the league’s elite defensemen and his deal was signed under the old collective bargaining agreement (and under threat of offer sheet from a desperate, big-market team, no less). But nonetheless, what do you suppose a defenseman who’s, let’s say, even top-30 in the league who just went through his age-24 and -25 years on an improving team with good young talent in the pipeline commands when he’s looking for a team to buy up several years of unrestricted free agency? What about if that team is also going to be in the market for some defensemen to carry heavy minutes with Markov and Kaberle’s contracts expiring?

Do you think it will be less or more on a per-annum basis against the cap than what Bergevin could have signed Subban for with that five-year deal the player wanted today? Here’s a clue for you: It’s going to be more. Probably by a lot. I’m not saying Subban’s going to pull league max or anything even resembling it. He probably won’t even get Erik Karlsson’s $6.5 million. But I wouldn’t think $5.5-6 million a year will be out of the question.

Well first of all, Kaberle doesn't play heavy minutes. Second, the Canadiens have a plethora of solid prospects at defense that are likely to carry at least some of the load of expiring contracts. It's tough to know whether or not Markov will be back 2 years from now, but if he is it'll likely be at a reduced salary, which opens up more cap space.

As for what Subban's next contract will be, if $5.5-6M is what we're talking, I don't see any way that Bergevin screwed up here. Personally I think Subban will be asking for a lot more than that in two years, but the Habs have cap space to burn. But let's go with Lambert's numbers. Let's go with the max and say that Subban gets $6M a year on his next contract.

If Bergevin had gone long term with Subban, what is the expected savings against the cap? Considering the calibre of defenseman Subban is, I find it unlikely that he would have accepted under $5M/year over a max 8 year contract. Comparing that to his current deal plus a 6 year deal at $6M a year, you're getting a difference of just $1.75M in total salary in favour of the initial long term deal.

However with that little bit of extra added value long term, you lose the immediate cap flexibility that Bergevin has created, and you also only buy 4 UFA years. If the Canadiens decide to lock Subban up for a max 8 year contract after his current deal. they buy two extra UFA years as well. Not a bad situation.

This is a deal that both sides seem to have lost, somehow. Subban doesn’t get nearly the money or years he should have. James Mirtle quoted an anonymous player agent as calling it "bizarre." Bergevin, meanwhile, puts a Band-Aid on a PR bullet wound, ensuring that whether it’s through arbitration or a normal negotiation, Subban is going to get paid a lot more against the cap than he would have with a reasonable longer-term deal today. And man, he really better hope it’s not through arbitration, because Don Meehan will only have to whisper the name "Tyler Myers" to make everyone on the other side of the table start weeping openly.

Myers makes $5.5M against the cap, is that really a salary figure the Habs would be afraid to pay Subban long term? I doubt it.

And here’s the really weird part: The Habs aren’t going to be good this year or next. Like, not at all. They’ll probably improve over last year’s lottery finish, sure, but when it comes to being competitive? They’re not all that close. Subban will be able to prey on that in two summers as well. If they want to keep the improving band together, someone’s gotta pay the best defenseman. This is all phenomenally shortsighted, isn’t it?

That's all well and good to say, but I don't see any impenetrable logic behind it. The Habs were bad last year so a lot of people have written them off, yet two years ago they were one of the better teams in the East without Andrei Markov and Max Pacioretty. To write them off just because seems a little shortsighted, doesn't it?

I guess a franchise goaltender, a franchise defenseman and a newly drafted franchise center mean the Habs are destined for mediocrity. They really should just give up now and not worry about getting the max out of the prime years of players like Carey Price. No sense in trying to ice the most competitive team possible, right? Lambert has already said they're not close to being competitive, so done deal.

So yes, Bergevin stuck to his guns, and he will pay through the nose for doing so. That’s not all that smart to me. But hey, at least the fans won’t chant "We want PK!" at every game now. That’s gotta be worth the extra headaches and money this deal will carry down the line.

I'm not sure I agree that this deal creates headaches. If anything it creates a standard for all the young Canadiens players, especially for Alex Galchenyuk. It fits in with Pacioretty, Price, Josh Gorges, and Lars Eller's deals. It sends the message that it doesn't matter who you are, you get the bridge deal before you get the big payday. It's funny how getting a guy who's probably worth $6M a season now for $2.875M is somehow being twisted into a bad deal.

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