It probably shouldn't have gotten to this point, but here P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens are. The most-storied franchise in hockey history and the best player on its roster have concluded what was likely an ugly, heated arbitration hearing on Friday, and now they'll wait up to 48 hours for the arbitrator to make a decision.
The Habs reportedly asked for an award of $5.25 million on a one-year contract, while Subban's side asked for $8.5 million. The arbitrator will likely come down somewhere in the middle. Subban and the team have the ability to negotiate now that the hearing is complete, and if they come to terms on a contract before the ruling is decided, they can sign it and the arbitrator's ruling won't matter.
But that doesn't seem likely. Subban's agent, Don Meehan, said after the hearing that he has no interest in negotiating a long-term deal with the Canadiens right now. And everybody walked out of the hearing visibly angry, which doesn't bode well for long-term relations between Subban and his team.
Arbitration can irreparably damage relationships
Another break in the Subban arbitration hearing. P.K. did not look happy ... at all.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) August 1, 2014
Subban: "It's been an educational process for me."— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) August 1, 2014
Subban: "Decisions were made today in relations to both of our positions and ultimately we have to live with those decisions." #Habs— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) August 1, 2014
There is obviously time for cooler heads to prevail but none of the principles left the Subban hearing in good spirits.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) August 1, 2014
This is what arbitration does. It makes enemies out of teams and their own players. In Subban's case, it's making enemies out of the Canadiens and their best player.
Put yourself in the shoes of Subban, or any player that's ever been to arbitration. You come to the table and make your case for why you're worth what you think you're worth. Your team clearly doesn't agree, or you would already have a contract and you'd be out enjoying your summer. The team then sits down and mounts the evidence against you, using everything in its power to make the case for why you're not worth what you say you're worth.
It gets ugly. It hurts feelings. And while it's a business and largely this is not personal, it's hard for the player not to take it personally. It damages relationships.
I've been to arbitration. First thought walking out >>>> I never want to play for that team again.— Jeff O'Neill (@odognine2) August 1, 2014
Worth it for teams to handle star players this way?
If you ask Andrew Berkshire from Habs Eyes On The Prize, who has been pretty reasonable about the team's stance throughout Subban's contract talks, it's gotten way out of hand and never should have gone to arbitration.
We've been fairly calm about the process at EOTP, understanding that it's important for Marc Bergevin to be a tough negotiator and get Subban under contract for as good a deal as possible, but it's impossible to see this as anything other than a gigantic failure.
You don't play around with the future of your franchise over a few dollars, and that's exactly what this looks like. There is really no excuse for letting it get this far, and yet here we are.
"A few dollars" does equal "a few million dollars." But when it's a player many believe to be one of the best defensemen in the NHL? One who's already won the Norris Trophy at age 25, and without a doubt makes his team much, much better in the 25 minutes a night he plays?
Maybe the Canadiens truly don't believe that Subban is an elite, franchise-defining defenseman. They're just wrong.
Thus, the money that might be saved by taking Subban to a potentially relationship-killing arbitration hearing seems like nothing compared what they get by just giving him what he deserves.
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So what happens next?
We now await the arbitrator's ruling. It'll likely be a one- or two-year contract, and Subban will certainly be a Montreal Canadien in 2014-15. It's beyond that where things get complicated.
He's set to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2016, and the Canadiens are going to need to pay him top dollar sooner than later if they want to keep him long-term.
There's always the chance -- maybe even the likelihood -- that the passion of the arbitration hearing dissipates and the two sides put it behind them. But there's still the reality that the Canadiens obviously do not believe Subban is worth $7 million a year or more. There are definitely teams in the league that would be willing to pay him that and much more.
Marc Bergevin has a decision to make, and he needs to do it relatively soon.
The longer Subban goes without a new long-term contract in MTL, logic suggests the odds increase of him going to UFA or being traded.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) August 1, 2014
If that long-term deal doesn't happen sooner than later, we could see an increasingly unhappy P.K. Subban in bleu, blanc et rouge. A P.K. Subban pissed off about the wounds opened up during an ugly arbitration hearing; a P.K. Subban who might demand a trade. Or a P.K. Subban who decides it's in his best interest to test the UFA market in two summers from now.