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Should Montreal Canadiens Make PK Subban Highest-Paid Defenseman in NHL?

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 15:  P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens poses with the James Norris Memorial Trophy after he was named winner for 2012-13 NHL season during Game Two of the NHL 2013 Stanley Cup Final at United Center on June 15, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Nicholas GossCorrespondent ISeptember 3, 2013

The Montreal Canadiens took a gamble in January by inking star defenseman P.K. Subban to a two-year bridge contract instead of the long-term deal that he deserved.

This mistake could prove to be a very expensive one for Habs general manager Marc Bergevin, because after winning the Norris Trophy in 2013, Subban is going to earn a gargantuan payday when he signs his next contract (his current deal expires after the 2013-14 season).

But does he deserve to be paid more than Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber, who makes a league-high (among blueliners) $7.857 million per year?

For starters, the 24-year-old's improvement since his stellar rookie season has been most impressive. As the chart below shows, Subban's offensive production has been fantastic in his three-year career.

You could make the case that Subban is the most highly skilled offensive defenseman in the world.

He's an amazing skater with exceptional puck-handling skills, which allows him to make end-to-end rushes that often result in highlight reel plays. His vision and playmaking skills make him an elite power-play quarterback, and he's also capable of scoring goals with a powerful and accurate shot from the point (see video below).

In his Norris Trophy-winning season, Subban led all defensemen in points and goals per 60 minutes. Here's a more in-depth look at his offensive success in 2013, per NHL.com (h/t Kukla's Korner):

Subban topped NHL defensemen in scoring, recording 38 points (11 goals, 27 assists) in 42 games as the Canadiens won the Northeast Division crown and posted the League's fourth-best record. The 23-year-old Toronto native also led defensemen in power-play scoring with 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists), helping Montreal post the League's fifth-best success rate with the man advantage (20.7%). Subban ranked second on the Canadiens in points, plus-minus (+12) and average ice time per game (23:14).

His scoring production receives plenty of praise, but where Subban has made the greatest strides over the last two years is in the defensive aspects of his game. To be the highest-paid defenseman, a player needs to have an all-around skill set that makes him a reliable option for his coach in all types of situations, including special teams.

Subban is willing to block shots, he fights for pucks in the dirty areas, plays a physical game and receives a lot of ice time against the opposing teams' best forwards.

Here's a look at some notable defensive stats from Subban's career.

A lot of people criticize Subban for his defensive abilities, which doesn't make sense when you look at his statistics at even strength and on the penalty kill. Subban has put a lot of effort into getting better defensively, and the results speak for themselves.

When you look at Subban's statistics at both ends of the ice, in addition to his impressive playoff performance (16 points in 26 career postseason games), there's no question that he belongs among the league's top-earning defensemen.

With the salary cap likely to increase substantially over the next five years, a $7.5 or $8 million cap hit wouldn't be a huge burden to Montreal's financial flexibility moving forward. An eight-year contract worth $64 million, which would make Subban the highest-paid D-man in the league, isn't an overpayment to re-sign him.

Montreal currently has only $38 million of salary tied up in 13 players for the 2014-15 season, which is when Subban's next contract will commence. Affording Subban and surrounding him with enough talent shouldn't be a difficult challenge for Bergevin based on what the Montreal's cap situation should look like in 2014.

To ensure that Subban remains in Montreal for a long time instead of testing the free-agent market in three years, Bergevin should make his young superstar the highest-paid defenseman in the NHL.

Subban is by far the best player on the Canadiens blue line and has proven himself to be a player who's trustworthy in every type of situation. The 24-year-old's two-way skill set is only going to improve as he enters the prime of his career.

His next contract, which would be his third as an NHL player, could eat up as much as five unrestricted free-agent (UFA) years. To burn UFA years, teams usually have to pay top dollar to re-sign players, and this is what will likely happen with Subban.

According to a TSN report from Tuesday, the Canadiens are now willing to address the future of their top defenseman: 

"I would like to get something done," [Bergevin] told reporters, adding he did not want to discuss contracts in public. "It takes two to tango."

Every legitimate Stanley Cup contender has an elite two-way defenseman anchoring the blue line, and since it's so difficult to acquire this type of player, the Canadiens must do whatever is necessary to keep Subban as part of the team's core long term.

Bergevin locked up No. 1 goaltender Carey Price to a rich, long-term contract last summer, and he must do the same with Subban before the puck drops in October.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft. All salary information via CapGeek.

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