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Subban, Canadiens inch towards resolution

Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban controls the puck as Carolina Hurricanes' Eric Staal (12) chases during the first period of an NHL game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, April 5, 2012.

Associated Press

In theory, the contract imbroglio involving young defenceman P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens should at least inch toward resolution on Monday.

Subban is due to meet with his agent, Don Meehan, in Toronto, the expectation is Meehan will then touch base with the team.

The 23-year-old Subban was to have spent the weekend with his family, reflecting; presumably the restricted free agent was thinking about whether he's destined to be a Hab.

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Some might believe Subban has lost a ton of leverage because of the Canadiens' three-game winning streak without him in the lineup, and that the lack of progress at a meeting Friday between Habs' GM Marc Bergevin and Meehan had a take-it-or-leave-it feel.

Those people will look at Sunday's overtime triumph over the New Jersey Devils, and the fact the reborn Andrei Markov scored his fourth power-play goal (and third game-winning goal) of the season as evidence the brash Subban is surplus to requirements.

Hey, the power play is ticking at over 27 per cent! Montreal's only given up three even-strength goals in four games!

As usual, the closer you look at the picture, the more complicated it is.

The fact is the Habs don't have anyone not named Andrei Markov who has demonstrated they can chew up Subban's minutes (north of 24 of them per night) while still making a major contribution offensively at this level.

The 34-year-old Markov played 29:50 on Sunday, the most he's played in a game since Feb. 10, 2010 (granted he's been sidelined by major knee problems for most of the intervening two years).

Is it reasonable to expect he can pull that off on a regular basis in a compressed schedule? If the Habs are to have any hope of making the playoffs, he'll have to.

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Markov's partner (and fellow Meehan client) Alexei Emelin chipped in an assist while playing 27:08 against New Jersey, which is the most regular-season minutes he's played as a Canadien.

That's fine, Emelin is only 26 and a seasoned pro, but having him do it every night, while also having 37-year-old Francis Bouillon average more than 20 minutes per game is not a winning recipe in the long term.

Not when you have players who are only trusted to play 8:56 at even strength, as Yannick Weber was on Sunday.

The team knows that, Subban knows that.

So maybe there's hope for a denouement. Bergevin has to know his team is an injury away from disaster on the blueline - they could always press first year pros like Jarred Tinordi, Morgan Ellis or Nathan Beaulieu into service, all are far from the finished article.

The next man in line is likely Frederic St-Denis, a 27-year-old who has all of 17 games of NHL experience.

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With Tomas Kaberle, who isn't exactly a juggernaut in his own end, missing the Devils game, perhaps Bergevin will have been prompted to think about improving his salary offer to Subban.

According to a report from RDS's Renaud Lavoie, the Habs' offer of $5.1-million over two years - $2.2-million, $2.9-million next year - hasn't moved a penny since last spring (the team, not surprisingly, refuses to confirm this).

Subban is known to want more money and a longer term, but if he wants to play this year, it seems clear he will have to accept less than he wants of both.

Maybe that was the nub of the weekend's deliberations.

Despite all the trade speculation on the Interwebs, there is no sense from the executive floor at the Bell Centre that anything is afoot or that there is any urgent desire - or indeed any desire - to move him.

Subban hasn't asked for a trade, but if you consider that peers like John Carlson of the Washington Capitals and Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning make around $4-million on six- and five-year contracts respectively, it would be very easy for Subban to believe he's being low-balled.

If he were a shrinking-violet, sensitive sort - he is anything but, as he has shown in two years of exposure to Montreal's hockey hothouse - Subban may even be tempted to think he's being pointed toward the exit.

The team bristles at that suggestion and it's true Habs have a recent tradition of short-term 'transition' deals and a salary structure they don't want to up-end for a player with barely two years' NHL experience.

But at some point if you like a player and want to keep him around, you find common ground (the obvious compromise would be a three-year deal that has an annual cap charge of between $3.5-4 million).

So that's where we are.

The nameplate was reportedly taken off Subban's locker at the team's practice facility over the weekend, and his equipment removed.

He's still listed on the team's website as a member of the NHL roster.

For now.

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About the Author
National Correspondent

Sean Gordon joined the Globe's Quebec bureau in 2008 and covers the Canadiens, Alouettes and Impact, as well as Quebec's contingent of Olympic athletes. More


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