PK Subban will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and talks of him re-joining the Montreal Canadiens have already begun showing up. Is there a really fit with a Canadiens though? For an organization reshaping itself for the future and moving away from the last decade, does bringing back the past in Subban make sense on and off the ice?
Subban was recently informed by New Jersey Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald that his contract, which is set to expire at the end of the 2021-2022 season, will not be renewed. The former Norris Trophy winner is in the last year of his eight-year, $72M contract he initially signed with the Montreal Canadiens back in 2014 and perhaps a reunion could be in the cards. He wouldn’t necessarily be a primary target, but should the Canadiens find themselves with very few interested suitors come free agency, perhaps Subban could fill the void of right-shot defenseman on the short term, given the right price.
There are certainly pros and cons to the repatriation of Subban within the Canadiens fold, but ultimately this isn’t something the Canadiens should venture into unless the conditions are favourable to them.
Coveted Right Shot Defenseman
As we saw during last year’s offseason, defensemen, especially right-shooting defensemen, have become one of the hottest commodities in the league due to how rare they are to find and how vital they are to an effective transition game. The Canadiens’ biggest organizational weakness, be it on their current roster or within their prospect pool, is undoubtedly right-shot defensemen. Currently, they only have David Savard and Jeff Petry, with the latter likely being moved before the start of the 2022-2023 season, as veterans on the team, and Logan Mailloux as their only notable prospect at that position.
This opens the door for the Canadiens to continue spending draft capital on right-shooting defensemen, and possibly signing a veteran defenseman as a stop-gap until they are ready to make their way into the lineup. The obvious target, should he make it to free agency, would be Kristopher Letang, but, in the event that Letang is retained by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Subban could serve as a backup plan in order to give the prospects the time they need to develop.
Knowing the Montreal Market
Subban is also a very polarizing figure in the NHL. His aura around the team and the energy he exudes could help take the pressure off of youngsters coming into the Montreal market. Top prospects like Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Mattias Norlinder are all coming through the ranks as early as next season, and there is likely no other defenseman currently playing in the NHL that knows what it’s like to play here as a highly touted rookie.
There is the counter-argument that he could be a distraction within the room, and that is plausible given his history of antics during his career. However, the appointment of Martin St. Louis as head coach will likely help in reigning in the flamboyant defender from a personal perspective, while allowing him to express himself offensive. Nonetheless, his experience in being able to cope with the pressure of the most intense market in hockey is not something to spit on.
At What Cost?
That’s the real question ain’t it? Subban is coming off an eight-year deal worth $9M annually, and he simply won’t get close to that on the open market. However, it’s not outlandish to think a team might be willing to offer him a $2-3M deal for one-to-three years given the scarcity of players with his attributes. If the price is right for the Canadiens, it could be a very low-risk move to sign Subban around $2M for a season or two, but that also depends on the Canadiens’ Cap structure come July 13.
With Montreal wanting to be a major player in this year’s free agency period, it wouldn’t be outlandish to see the Habs attempt to fill their lineup with a few veterans on short-term deals. They would then have the flexibility to move those veterans, like Subban possibly, once the youngsters are ready to take over. It could make sense, but the likelihood that Subban takes such a back seat role remains to be seen.
There’s certainly some positive aspects that Subban could bring to the lineup, but, unless the conditions fall into place perfectly, this is not a venture general manager Kent Hughes should take for his club. That is to say, Hughes likely won’t go out of his way to bring back Subban unless he’s willing to take a significant pay cut and accept a complimentary role with the Canadiens, as opposed to the staring role he was used to.
One should never say never in hockey, as Subban does check off a lot of boxes, but the timing and the conditions have to be just right for the Canadiens to pull the trigger on bringing back the former star into the fold.