Why don’t the Toronto Maple Leafs offer sheet P.K. Subban?

Ken Campbell
Subban

With key decisions to be made by both players and teams with respect to arbitration this weekend, you can bet that P.K. Subban and his advisors are spending today deciding the next course of action. In fact, agents and teams around the league are now deciding whether going to/taking a player to arbitration is the best thing to do.

Players who have arbitration rights must decide by 5 p.m. Saturday whether they intend to take their teams through the arbitration process. For those who don’t opt for arbitration, the teams have until 5 p.m. Sunday to decide whether to force the issue by taking the player to arbitration.

We know already that Cody Franson and James Reimer of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Matt Bartkowski of the Boston Bruins and Mattias Ekholm of the Nashville Predators have filed for arbitration. And we also know that the Colorado Avalanche has filed to take Ryan O’Reilly to arbitration, as have the Winnipeg Jets with Michal Frolik.

That still leaves some big names out there in the form of Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Derick Brassard of the New York Rangers, Jake Gardiner of the Leafs, Lars Eller of the Canadiens, Justin Schultz of the Edmonton Oilers and Vladimir Sobotka of the St. Louis Blues. Those who are 26 – Zuccarello, Brassard and Sobotka fall into that group – and have one year to go to unrestricted free agency will almost certainly file unless negotiations point to a deal being struck without having to go through what can be a very adversarial process.

But none of them is bigger than Subban, who is in the middle of a chess game with the Canadiens right now, with either team not wanting to tip its hand. If Subban files for arbitration, he and the Canadiens will get an iron-clad guarantee that a contract will either be forced upon them by arbitration or they will come to a deal before it gets to that, which eliminates the possibility of a messy contract dispute that drags through training camp and perhaps into the season.

But if Subban files, the Canadiens have the option of choosing a one- or two-year award and they would almost certainly choose two. Consequently, if the Canadiens file for arbitration, Subban has the option of choosing a one- or two-year award and would almost certainly choose one. So it’s obviously advantageous for the Canadiens to keep their cards close to the vest on this one because if Subban knows they’ll file, there would be no reason for him to file the day before. And so it goes.

What Subban would be risking if he files for arbitration is that it also removes any possibility of a team putting in an offer sheet on him. But nobody is talking about that and it might not even be a consideration for him because nobody expects that to happen. And that’s a little confusing.

Let’s take the Maple Leafs, for example. Since free agency began July 1, they’ve shuffled a bunch of deck chairs, picking up Stephane Robidas, Roman Polak, Leo Komarov, Mike Santorelli, Matt Frattin and Petri Kontiola and losing David Bolland, Mason Raymond, Carl Gunnarsson, Nikolai Kulemin and Jay McClement. Does that make the Leafs a better team? Perhaps, but only marginally.

The Leafs once again raised ticket prices this season. One friend who has a pair of mid-level seats said the cost of his season tickets shot up 16 percent for 2014-15. What they need to show to their fans is that they’re in it to win it and what better way to do that than by giving a massive offer sheet to P.K. Subban?

I know what you’re about to say. Why would the Leafs do that if the Canadiens are just going to match the offer anyway? It’s a valid point, but let’s just say the Leafs get really aggressive and offer Subban a two-year deal at $12 million per season. Either way, they come out ahead because they either (a) get the player; or (b) put a division rival at a significant competitive disadvantage by forcing them to match the offer.

The Leafs would have to give up four first-round draft picks if they were to get Subban and there’s no getting around that. But would you rather pick 15th in the next four drafts or have P.K. Subban for two seasons and, most likely, beyond that?

Any team that signs Subban would have him for the next two years, which is plenty of time to get him signed to an eight-year deal. All the other defensemen of his ilk – Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Alex Pietrangelo and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are signed to long-term contracts and aren’t going anywhere.

Subban would almost certainly look favorably upon a team that would give him that kind of deal. In fact, even if the Canadiens matched the offer, in two years when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, you’d have to think he’d look fondly upon a team that was most responsible for him getting $24 million over the previous two seasons.

It’s not likely to happen because NHL teams are partners as much as they’re competitors. This is the way it works. The Leafs don’t want anyone poaching Morgan Rielly in a couple of years under the same circumstances, so they probably won’t do it now with Subban. And they’ll probably miss out on a chance to either better themselves or put a competitor at a disadvantage, which is supposed to be the whole idea, isn’t it?