As the stalemate over P.K. Subban's second NHL contract continues - the team is said to want short term for modest dollars, Subban is said to want long term for big dollars, no one is sure what the proposals actually are - rumours are picking up steam that the Montreal Canadiens are considering dealing the 23-year-old.
Is GM Marc Bergevin really going to go there?
He has said publicly he will not, and this isn't a guy known for telling nose-stretchers.
But circumstances do change.
Subban is a generational talent, and is in very exclusive company among NHL defencemen when you consider his dynamic offensive skills, elite defensive and special teams abilities and the fact he logged more minutes against top players than all but a dozen rearguards in the league last season. (If you want a statistical argument that buttresses the preceding, the guys at habseyesontheprize.com got their math geek on here).
As Subban told the Montreal Gazette in a wide-ranging interview, he wants to be paid what he's worth and isn't seeking to 'break the bank'; talking to the papers wouldn't have held him in good stead under the previous management, it will be interesting to see how Bergevin reacts. But even if Subban has a high opinion of his worth, it's hard to argue his value isn't far higher than that of 23-year-old peers like, say, Luke Schenn, whose cap hit is $3.6-million - although Schenn made his NHL debut a year sooner and had the good fortune of signing under the old CBA.
There is, of course, a strong case for trading Subban if you were able to get a young forward with a 50-goal ceiling in return, like Taylor Hall (not going to happen). Or if you could get hold of another top young defenceman who is already signed long term, say Tyler Myers (never in a million years) or Victor Hedman (ditto).
Bergevin is facing the biggest decision of his short tenure, and it's not hard to see why he would play hardball.
The whole league is watching, not just because special attention is being paid to curbing fat second contracts in the new world order, but because Subban could set the market for elite young defencemen like Ryan McDonagh and Alex Pietrangelo, whose entry-level deals come up next summer.
Bergevin also has to consider his cap picture two and three years down the road, when he could be negotiating second deals for a pile of players including Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Michael Bournival and Louis Leblanc.
Having dealt with the albatross that is Scott Gomez's contract, Bergevin has cleared cap space to sign Subban and, if he gets a team-friendly deal, still have some dosh left over to add pieces if the Habs suddenly become contenders in the next couple of seasons, which isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.
Bergevin has shown he's not afraid of making tough decisions, and that he can be a slick negotiator (they should build a statue to him for Max Pacioretty's contract extension alone).
That the rumours are spreading at a crucial point in the talks with Subban's agent Don Meehan means the idea this is a negotiating tool has to be considered - the strong early play of Raphael Diaz, another Meehan client, may be emboldening the team.
Reputable analysts around these parts have suggested the team still isn't completely sure Subban has the makeup to become an elite-level player (even if he was after some early stumbles last year, one season does not a career make).
That doesn't jibe with what the team has been saying publicly, but it could be true.
People will talk about Subban's personality and character and whether he fits with the current roster and the organization's vision, but that's mostly a red herring. On the strength of what he's said as a television analyst in the past couple of seasons, Michel Therrien is no particular fan of Subban, but does anyone seriously think Therrien's going to be the coach of this team in three years?
Bergevin's contract says he'll be the GM until 2017.
But if he makes the wrong decision on Subban, that could change.
Bottom line: if the rumours end up being true, it's because Bergevin was presented with a deal so good he couldn't refuse.