They’ve survived the conflict, now comes the reconciliation.
Hard-nosed negotiations inevitably leave bruises, but hockey people are tough, and the plain fact is the Montreal Canadiens need defenceman P.K. Subban in the lineup, and the 23-year-old needed to get back on a sheet of NHL ice before this got out of control.
So it was the two sides agreed to a two-year contract late Monday after months of protracted talks that caused the 23-year-old to sit out the team’s first four games.
Now the trade rumour mill can turn it’s attention to other matters – step right up Colorado Avalanche restricted free agent Ryan O’Reilly – and Subban can get himself to Ottawa to join up with the team on Wednesday, when the Habs face the Senators.
General manager Marc Bergevin insisted in a conference call late Monday he never envisioned a day when Subban wouldn’t be in the dressing room and that he wasn’t influenced by the raging debate among Habs fans.
“There was never a doubt from the day I took over that I wanted P.K. Subban to be part of this team,” he said. “A GM once said that ‘If I think like I fan, I’ll soon be one.’ I respect the fans, I love the fans, they have their own opinions; what we do internally is we try to make the right decision for the team and the player.”
And the player sounded a similarly conciliatory note – Subban began his introductory remarks on the call in French.
“This is where my heart is, in Montreal,” Subban said, adding, “it’s not just about one player, it’s about a team, and building a team, a championship team, and I want to be part of that.”
It seems clear from the contract – $2-million (all currency U.S.) this season, $3.75-million next year – that both sides moved off the firm positions they’ve held since the end of last season.
But Subban moved considerably farther, and this can’t be seen as anything other than a coup for Bergevin, who said the idea of a long-term deal was discussed internally, but eventually discounted.
He gets his top defenceman from last year – Subban led the team in both points and ice time – for below-market value and preserves not only his salary structure, but the team’s practice of awarding transition contracts to players emerging from their entry-level deals.
If the recent lockout was at least partly about limiting big-money second contracts – and it was – the rookie GM’s reputation as a canny deal-maker has been burnished.
Subban will live to haggle another day, as the sides will be allowed to open talks for an extension later this year; what seems evident is he decided after a weekend of reflecting with his family that he needed to reach an agreement quickly.
“I never thought this wouldn’t get done … at this point it was the right decision for me to make, I’m very anxious to get back on the ice,” he said.
In practical terms, Subban will be able to relieve some of the strain on 34-year-old Andrei Markov, who has been brilliant logging heavy minutes in the early stages of the season, and on 37-year-old Francis Bouillon, who has averaged more than 20 minutes per game.
He will also provide added offensive oomph and add some steel at even-strength, situations in which coach Michel Therrien has been loath to use Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber.
Much has been made of the idea the brash, camera-friendly Subban has his detractors in the Habs’ dressing room.
An informal survey of veterans in the room on Monday suggests that’s greatly overblown, but it’s certainly true Subban won’t ingratiate himself if he plays poorly.
The Toronto native has been training with a major-junior team in Mississauga and says he’s “ready to go” – but Wednesday seems early to throw him in the deep end.
But Bergevin and Therrien demonstrated on Monday they aren’t afraid of bold action – they informed 18-year-old Alex Galchenyuk and 20-year-old Brendan Gallagher they will be staying with the team for the season.
That Bergevin was able to announce Subban’s signing a few hours later made it a pretty good day for a team already buoyed by three wins in a row.
“We’re proud and very pleased to get [Subban] back into the team as quickly as possible. With Galchenyk and Gallagher and him we have a very strong nucleus of young players,” he said.
He didn’t need to say it with any bravado.