Alex Kovalev on P.K. Subban’s $72 million contract: “I don’t understand why he got so much money”

Rory Boylen
Alex Kovalev scored 430 career goals in the NHL. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

In his time as an NHLer, Alex Kovalev was a divisive figure. He had all the natural talent and size to be a dominating player and sometimes he was just that. In 2000-01, he scored 44 goals and 95 points with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a career high. But he was also inconsistent and his dedication was constantly called into question. In 2003-04, three years after that career-best season, Kovalev managed just 45 points in 78 games between the New York Rangers in Montreal Canadiens.

But he still made his money. In that 2003-04 season, the last without a salary cap, Kovalev earned $6.6 million. He made $4.5 million in the first four years of the cap and finished his career with two years at $5 million each. In all, Kovalev made around $52.6 million in his career.

So it’s kind of funny to hear what Kovalev said about P.K. Subban’s eight-year, $72 million extension with the Montreal Canadiens. It’s not Subban’s dedication that he calls into question, but that he doesn’t have the rounded game a defenseman should have to be a high-salaried player. Like him or not, Subban brings excitement, offence and marketability to the Habs, which is why owner Geoff Molson stepped in to make sure a deal got done outside of arbitration. After the defenseman signed a relatively cheap two-year bridge contract with the team in 2012, it was time to give him his due on this deal. Failure to do that would likely have led to Subban leaving the team as a UFA in two years. And who would they have had to replace the Norris winner?

Still, Kovalev of all people, didn’t believe Subban was worth the investment. Read more

The oral history of the 1989 Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames: Part Two

Adam Proteau
Flames Oral History

In 1989, the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens competed in the Stanley Cup Final. It was one of the rare occasions the NHL’s two best regular-season teams collided in the championship round and the recent history between the two franchises – they had clashed in the Final two years prior, with the Habs emerging victorious – ratcheted up the tension before the series began. This time, however, the victor was different: Calgary won in six games and clinched the Cup on the road – the first time the storied Canadiens were ever defeated on home ice.

The Hockey News spoke to a selection of players and management members from that 1988-89 Flames team for an oral history of the 1989 Final – the last series to feature two Canadian squads squaring off for the Cup:

(This is part two of the Flames Oral History. To read part one, click here.)

GAMES FOUR AND FIVE: TURNING TABLES

The Flames were in the same position after three games in 1989 as they were in 1986: trailing the Habs two games to one and facing a crucial Game 4 in Montreal. Three years earlier, they lost the final two games. But their 4-2 win over the Canadiens May 21 – featuring two goals from Mullen and one from Gilmour – breathed new life into the dressing room and evened the Final at two games apiece.

By this point, the series began to burnish the legends of particular players in the Flames’ dressing room. Although Calgary could boast of employing future stars Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts (who both were in their early twenties), the 1989 Final was about the emergence of Gilmour and MacInnis, both of whom were just 25 years old and entering the prime of Hall of Fame careers.

TERRY CRISP Everybody always talks about Al MacInnis and his cannon shot. Yes, Al MacInnis had a cannon, but he also had a big pump step–around. He had a snapshot. He had a wrist shot. He could find either Nieuwendyk or Mullen for a tip-in or a one–timer off to the side. He was like a football quarterback. He had it all. Read more

The oral history of the 1989 Stanley Cup champion Calgary Flames: Part One

Adam Proteau
Flames oral history

In 1989, the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens competed in the Stanley Cup Final. It was one of the rare occasions the NHL’s two best regular-season teams collided in the championship round and the recent history between the two franchises – they had clashed in the Final two years prior, with the Habs emerging victorious – ratcheted up the tension before the series began. This time, however, the victor was different: Calgary won in six games and clinched the Cup on the road – the first time the storied Canadiens were ever defeated on home ice.

The Hockey News spoke to a selection of players and management members from that 1988-89 Flames team for an oral history of the 1989 Final – the last series to feature two Canadian squads squaring off for the Cup:

PROLOGUE TO THE FINAL

For the second year in a row, the Flames had finished the regular season with the NHL’s top record. In 1988, they’d won their first-round series against the Kings, only to be swept by the Edmonton Oilers in the Smythe Division final. Two years earlier, they’d made it to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history, falling to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.

But in 1989 – their second year with Terry Crisp as head coach – the Flames proved a more resilient squad. And they had to be right away; In their opening-round series against Vancouver (a team that finished with 43 fewer points in the standings that season), Calgary lost key defenseman Gary Suter in the first game with a broken jaw, then found themselves pushed to the brink of elimination as the Canucks forced a heart-stopping seventh game – and overtime – and yet managed to move on thanks to astounding goaltending from Mike Vernon and the series-winning goal that banked in off Joel Otto’s skate.

TERRY CRISP, HEAD COACH We really dodged a bullet in that first round. You’re that close to being gone and maybe never getting another crack at it. When I look back, I think there must have been a divine destiny somewhere in the first round, because Vancouver took us right to the wall.

CLIFF FLETCHER, GENERAL MANAGER The pressure of the first round nearly did us in. We weren’t the hockey team we had been over the course of the regular season. We were very fortunate to win that series. Mike Vernon had to make three outstanding saves before we managed to shovel a goal late in the first overtime.

AL MACINNIS, DEFENSEMAN If Mike doesn’t make those saves, we don’t move on. But when we got by Vancouver, that’s when I think that pressure was relieved from us, and we felt just felt that, ‘Man, we’re really on our way.’ After that, we lost three games total in the next three series.

TERRY CRISP After that, the guys just put it into gear and away we went. Read more

Fantasy Pool Look: Kings, Canadiens and Lightning off-season looks

Los Angeles Kings

It’s the 12th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. This year I’m doing something different and reviewing the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. This week we take a look at the Kings, the Habs and the Lightning.

Los Angeles Kings
Gone – Willie Mitchell, Linden Vey, Colin Fraser

Incoming – Adam Cracknell

Ready for full time - Tanner Pearson is still eligible as a rookie, just sliding under the wire with 25 games played last season. He made it quite clear in the post-season that he belongs in the NHL for good and in fact played very well as part of “That 70s Line” with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli. There isn’t any reason why that line will be broken up in the season ahead, which makes Pearson a dark horse for 45 or 50 points if all three of them remain healthy. Read more

Did Canadiens owner Geoff Molson “overrule” GM Marc Bergevin on the P.K. Subban contract?

Rory Boylen
PKSubban

It’s become common that scheduled NHL arbitration hearings don’t actually make it that far. That’s because the process can get quite dirty, with the player’s side arguing in favor of his worth and the team’s side trying to tear down a player who they still want to employ. Qualifying a player for arbitration is still a necessary step, since it makes him ineligible to receive an offer sheet and keeps him under control of the team. But almost all of the time, contract extensions get settled before the arbitration date arrives. Ryan O’Reilly, who was thought most likely to head to judgment this summer, even signed a two-year deal with Colorado ahead of his date. Of course, the betting is still that he’ll leave after that deal expires, if he isn’t traded first.

But it was P.K. Subban, coming off a bridge deal that was supposed to pave the way for an easy, if expensive, extension, who endured arbitration this season. He was the only player who experienced it, too. And when it got there, it looked as though the Canadiens and Subban would lock in to a one-year award that could have led to further relationship troubles when the Norris winner would have been one year away from unrestricted free agency next summer.

But within the 24 hours after the two sides left that hearing – as they waited on a ruling – something suddenly changed on the Montreal side. By not coming to a contract agreement beforehand, there had to have been reticence within Habs management to sign Subban a) for the long-term and/or b) to a substantial cap hit that would put him among the highest paid players in the league or at his position.

But the eight-year extension with a $9 million cap hit the two sides ended up signing gave Subban both the maximum length allowed by the CBA and made him the highest-paid NHL defenseman against the cap. His $9 million ranks behind only Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin among all NHLers. It was a bar-setter for young stars under the new CBA that will serve as a starting point for, say, Steven Stamkos, who will himself have an expiring contract after the 2015-16 season.

So what changed for the Canadiens? Why did they go through the exhausting, gut-punch of a process that arbitration is, only to go big on a Subban extension anyway?

The answer, according to the Montreal Gazette’s Jack Todd, is ownership.

Here’s a clip from Todd’s story, which actually focuses more on the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes:

(Geoff) Molson’s Canadiens are flying pretty high these days, what with a playoff run that took them into the Eastern Conference final, but Molson had to step in and make the decision to sign P.K. Subban to an eight-year, $72-million contract.

A highly place source has confirmed our theory that it was indeed Molson who overruled GM Marc Bergevin, when it appeared that the club might be saddled with a single-year arbitration contract and a disgruntled star. It was Molson’s call to sign P.K. long-term and it was exactly right.

Which doesn’t mean Bergevin was wrong. Both men were doing their jobs: Bergevin’s task is to make an evaluation based on his salary cap and his evaluation of a player’s performance. Molson has to take the wider view and consider factors like fan-base reaction that really aren’t Bergevin’s problem. Read more

NHL logo rankings No. 13: Montreal Canadiens

Matt Larkin
HABSMAIN

Another Original Six team falls in the THN logo rankings. This time, it’s the Original Six team, the New York Yankees of hockey, the most storied, most successful franchise in the history of the sport. And that’s why plenty of rabid fans have probably oiled and ignited their torches already. The Habs? Not even in the top 10? Subscription cancelled, bro.

It was a surprise even to our voting panel when the Montreal Canadiens logo finished a modest 13th. The question to ask, however, isn’t “How could you?” It’s “What’s truly great about the logo?”

We know it calls to mind nostalgic images like Rocket Richard bearing down on goaltenders furiously or Guy Lafleur’s perfect hockey hair flapping in the breeze. Bleu, blanc et rouge is a pleasing color scheme. But strip away for a moment all the championships, all the history, and what do you have?

Well, there’s a ‘C,’ and there’s an ‘H.’ And they’re fused together.

It’s a perfectly old-school, understated, classy crest, and that’s why we liked it enough to rank it in the top half of the league. But, ironically, the rich history that had many of us doodling this logo when we were kids is also what drags it down. An eight-year-old can indeed replicate it rather easily with a few pencil crayons.

Read more

P.K. Subban’s new contract a win-lose for Canadiens GM Bergevin

Adam Proteau
P.K. Subban (Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The reaction in Montreal to P.K. Subban signing an eight-year, $72-million contract extension with the Canadiens Saturday afternoon was a combination of relief and elation: relief that the ticking time bomb of arbitration had been defused after Friday’s hearing had concluded in tight jaws and terse words; and elation that their star defenseman would return to the fold happy and secure.

Now that the smoke is clearing, two things are apparent: firstly, that Habs GM Marc Bergevin deserves credit for backing away from the abyss and coming to his senses before it was too late. Had he waited another day and allowed the arbitrator’s verdict to be rendered, who knows what bitterness would’ve lingered between the two parties and where that would’ve led.

But it’s also clear Bergevin’s 2012 gamble with Subban on a short-term, “bridge deal” has not paid off for him. In fact, it held him upside-down by the ankles and shook free more money and salary cap space than the franchise would’ve needed to utilize had the Canadiens invested on a longer-term deal two years ago.

You want to know why the Maple Leafs invested five years and $20.25 million in Jake Gardiner last week, and why so many teams sign their youngsters coming out of their entry level deals to long-term deals? This is why. Longer-term gambles are cheaper gambles. And if things don’t work out on one of those longer-term contracts, GMs usually can find a team to take the underachieving player off their hands. That’s because rivals always think they can tweak a player’s game and help him realize the promise that made his first team invest in him.

But that’s not what happened with Subban. All he did after Montreal gave him a two-year, $5.75-million deal two years ago was deliver on every count: he improved in each year; he won a Norris Trophy; he emerged as a leader and a frontrunner to take over the captaincy from Buffalo-bound Brian Gionta; and last spring, he proved he could deliver in the playoffs as a near point-per-game player (14 points in 17 games).

In other words, Subban didn’t just win this bet with Bergevin. He won it running away.

Would it have been possible to get Subban’s name on a five-year, $25-million contract after the NHL lockout ended in early 2013? You’d better believe it. He was making $875,000 in the final year of his rookie contract and was still honing his game. A four-to-six-year deal would’ve given him a tremendous raise, bought out some of those unrestricted free agent years and still allowed him to sign another massive contract at age 28 or 29.

Instead, the Habs now have to pay much more, much sooner. Yes, the cap ceiling will rise and reduce the amount of space Subban’s deal takes up, but Bergevin’s process with one of his young stars has hurt his team’s flexibility. He’s had a strong run as a young GM, but Bergevin burned his hand on the stove this time. He saved himself some money in the short-term, but nobody much cares for or remembers that anymore. All they’ll remember is that, while it’s great he didn’t allow the situation to backslide into open acrimony, Bergevin’s risk-reward policy didn’t pay off.

Veteran gamblers understand the house usually wins. But Bergevin learned the hard way: when it comes to player contracts, the players are the house. The league’s collective bargaining agreement is designed to make teams project and make tough decisions on elite young players earlier than ever.

By opting for that bridge deal, Bergevin tried to delay that process by two years. You’d hope that, as the ink dries on Subban’s new deal, he realizes why that was a mistake.

Subban agrees to eight-year, $72-million contract with Habs

The Canadian Press
Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins - Game Seven

MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens ended their stalemate with P.K. Subban by agreeing to terms with their franchise defenceman on an eight-year contract on Saturday.

Subban and the team endured an arbitration hearing Friday that would have led to a one-year deal.

Instead, the 25-year-old is in the fold in Montreal for the long term and will reportedly make $72 million over the course of the contract.

Read more