As you all know by now, we do have a hockey season this year after the NHL and the Players Association finally reached common ground and struck a deal just in time to save a portion of the season. It would be pointless try to find out who won the war because, as in every war, the victims were exactly those who didn’t have the power to decide about going or not to war. In the end, this clash between Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr had no victorious side.
Now let’s focus on the small battles still being fought these last weeks. I mean those hard fought battles between team managers against players and their agents. As a fan, how happy would be to see that star player sitting out the first few weeks of the shortened season because he and his agent just can’t agree to the terms of a new contract with the team? Let’s not forget we have just come out of a major clash of the Titans featuring Bettman and Fehr. Yeah, I can imagine how happy you are.
So, let me discuss just a few facts on this subject. Team owners were adamant about contract maximum term and insisted for very long they shouldn’t sign any player for more than 5 years. What happens is that the season hadn’t even started when the New Jersey Devils signed Travis Zajac to an 8 years contract (precisely the new maximum term allowed) that will pay him an average 5.75 million a year. The Toronto Maple Leafs signed the injury-prone Joffrey Lupul to a 5 years extension for an average 5.25 million a year. Isn’t it funny how things go?
On the other hand, it’s really surprising that the New York Rangers managed to play by the book and sign the promising Michael Del Zotto to a transition contract paying him 2.5 million for the next 2 seasons. Del Zotto has the potential to become an elite D-man in the league. In the same category, Dimitry Kulikov re-signed with the Florida Panthers and agreed to a similar transition contract worth and average 2.5 million for the next 2 seasons. But we have the enigmatic case of PK Subban, who insists he should earn more than Del Zotto and Kulikov and that the Montreal Canadiens should agree to a long term deal instead of a short term contract. PK’s numbers during the last 2 seasons are no different from the 2 players aforementioned, so why should the Habs grant the young star’s wishes?
There is no doubt PK is a great young talented player and he does have the potential to become one of the elite and very best defensemen in the NHL. The thing is he is not that player yet, even if the fans and the media love him in Montreal. Also, there’s a new sheriff in town and I truly believe Marc Bergevin will try and do from this case a statement that will define what kind of General Manager he’ll be for the Cup starved franchise. If he succumbs to PK’s whims, than all the future contract negotiations will be compromised from the beginning. However, if he holds on and sticks to the negotiating tactics he seems to be trying to implement as the new way to business for the franchise, then Bergevin will have pretty much started to define himself as the real commander in chief.
For the Habs sake, I hope both parties will have some flexibility and will understand they need each other. If I were to bet, I’d bet they’ll end up agreeing to a 3 year contract worth about 3 million a year. Then, everybody would be happy, because, in the end, money does matter in the NHL.