It's a rare occurrence when a defenseman is in the conversation for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup Playoffs' MVP, but in 2014 both Drew Doughty and P.K. Subban have placed themselves front and center in any such talk, and Subban could use it to cash in big-time this offseason.
Subban will enter the summer as a restricted free agent for the second time, though likely with a very different result this time around. In the summer of 2012 -- after some tense negotiations with the Habs -- he signed a two-year bridge deal worth a total of $5.75 million. Montreal shouldn't expect any such bargain this time around.
While RFAs aren't usually supposed to enjoy the kind of leverage that can net them one of the game's richest contracts, the Canadiens may have little choice. A player of Subban's age -- he'll turn just 25 on May 13 -- and ability level are certain to draw outside interest via an offer sheet if the Habs don't ante up. Given Subban's ceiling and the scarcity of blue-chip two-way defensemen, the required offer sheet compensation seems downright palatable. As it stands now, any offer sheet with an average annual value up to roughly $8.41 million would net the Habs two first-round picks, as well as a second- and a third-rounder. That price could seem reasonable for any team in win-now mode, even when you add the new contract to Subban's sticker price.
Would any team dare go north of the $8.41 million threshold? That seems far less likely. An offer sheet of that caliber would command four first-round picks as compensation should the Habs decline to match. That's a package that pretty much equates to salting the earth of your farm system.
Given all the forces at work, it's a safe guess that Subban will be earning north of $8 million a season on average starting in 2014-15. If the Habs can keep his AAV below that number, GM Marc Bergevin and Co. will have done very well for themselves.
A contract with an $8.4 million AAV would leave Montreal with roughly $20 million in cap space next season to address any lingering holes and round out a roster that currently features three defensemen (not including a new Subban deal) and 10 forwards under contract. It's going to cost big coin to keep Subban in Montreal, but the Habs appear able to stomach such a salary hike. And if Subban's play remains anywhere near it's current level, it likely won't be a bitter pill to swallow.