In the end, defenseman P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens each got what they wanted.
They just did it the hard way.
Subban and the Canadiens agreed to terms on an eight-year contract reportedly worth $72 million one day after an arbitration hearing between the sides had Montreal fans in a panic for about 24 hours that the team's top defenseman might eventually leave town.
Defense - MTL
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 43 | PTS: 53
SOG: 204 | +/-: -4
The arbitrator's ruling on how much Subban would be awarded on a one-year contract was due Sunday, but the sides got back together Saturday to make sure it didn't come to that.
"It's not easy to negotiate an eight-year deal like this, and ultimately that's what both sides have wanted," Subban said. "[Friday], going through the arbitration hearing, it's a part of the process and it's a part of learning and it's a part of the game and it's a part of the [collective bargaining agreement]. So we followed every step in terms of the process, and that was a part of it. I've always felt strong about being a Montreal Canadien and I never thought I would wind up anywhere else."
The idea of Subban possibly winding up someplace else created a near-hysterical buzz in Montreal on Friday, with social and traditional media speculating on what the ramifications of the arbitration hearing could be. Without a long-term deal in place, Subban could have become an unrestricted free agent in July 2016. Now the 25-year-old is under contract through the 2021-22 NHL season.
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"I think that it sends a strong message to me that they want me here and they appreciate everything I've done to this point and they believe in me as a player," Subban said. "I think I've always believed that, but obviously in this process and coming out with this result, now everybody else understands it and can see it as well and doesn't have to speculate about how the Montreal Canadiens feel about me."
That final message was one Subban emphasized. The restricted free agent said it was important for his negotiating team led by Don Meehan of Newport Sports and the Canadiens led by general manager Marc Bergevin to ignore the public reaction and focus on their work. Subban said Bergevin and Canadiens owner Geoff Molson were very respectful throughout the negotiation and he saw the arbitration hearing as educational and a positive step in the process.
One part of the public reaction Subban found difficult to ignore was the criticism levied toward Bergevin, Molson and the Canadiens for allowing the process to reach the arbitration stage.
"A lot of people that know Marc Bergevin know the type of guy he is. He cares about his players, he cares a lot about his players, and I know he cares a lot about me," Subban said. "He would never put a player in a position that would hurt him or hurt this team and this organization. He's been great for this team moving forward, he's made some great decisions in the best interests of this team, and a lot of people have got to lay off of him now. I really don't want to hear those negative comments towards these guys because they've done a great job and they've worked so hard to try and get this deal done."
Bergevin did not speak to the media after announcing the agreement but acknowledged in a statement how unique a player Subban is and how important it was for the Canadiens to sign him long-term.
"We are very pleased to have reached a long-term agreement with P.K. Subban. This agreement helps consolidate the future of our team," Bergevin said. "A key element of our group of young veterans, P.K. plays with a high level of intensity every time he steps onto the ice. Despite his young age, he carries a great deal of experience and brings contagious energy to the team.
"Defensemen of his level are a rare commodity in the NHL."
The winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman in 2013, Subban scored 10 goals and 53 points in 82 games last season, tied for fifth in points among defensemen after finishing tied for the NHL lead with 38 points (11 goals) in 42 games a season earlier. He led the Canadiens in scoring during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 14 points in 17 games, and Montreal advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2010.
Subban's greatest value to the Canadiens may be his ability to drive play toward the offensive zone. The percentage of even-strength shots attempted (Corsi-for percentage) by the Canadiens last season when Subban was on the ice compared to when he wasn't was 5.1 percent higher, 10th best among NHL defensemen, according to Extraskater.com.
That shows to what extent Subban had a positive impact on his teammates. In the past two seasons, 13 Canadiens have played a minimum of 300 even-strength minutes with Subban, and the Corsi-for percentage of each of those players dropped when they were on the ice without him, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com.
The average decline in Corsi-for percentage of those 13 players when they played without Subban was 4.4 percent, but some of Montreal's best players had drops more significant than that: David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller dipped by 5 percent or more.
Subban is an important player to the Canadiens, and now he will be paid like one.
His $9 million salary-cap charge is the highest of any defenseman and third-highest of any player in the NHL for the 2014-15 season, behind only Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, according to CapGeek.com.
Subban said playing in Montreal has prepared him for the level of accountability that comes with such a high salary because the fans demand it, and he demands it of himself. But he anticipates it will have no impact on how he is treated or how he behaves once the season begins.
"I don't think I want anything to change," he said. "I don't want how my coach looks at me to change, I don't want how my teammates look at me to change. I will always remain the same player and the same guy because I want to win.
"I think the way I carry myself, both on and off the ice, is as a winner."
The eight-year contract puts an end to one source of potential controversy around Subban, something that has followed him throughout his four-year NHL career. The commitment means speculation of him leaving likely will be put to rest, and it should mute the seemingly constant concern of how the Canadiens and coach Michel Therrien are treating him, which Subban himself mentioned.
But if he had his way, Subban would have signed for much longer than eight years, the limit imposed by the CBA on contracts signed by a player remaining with his team.
"It wasn't about the dollar signs. If I could do a 20-year contract with Montreal, I would," Subban said. "I think I've been adamant throughout my career, I've been consistent in saying Montreal's where I want to play and where I want to be."