To P.K. or Not to P.K.? The Subban Question

As another Islander season draws closer to an ending, it’s never too early to start thinking about the future (it’s what we do best on Long Island).  Free agency will come and go and big-ticket names will be shuffled around in trades.  And the one name hanging out there that appears ripe for the taking, Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban, just so happens to make a heck of a lot of sense for the team in Nassau.  

P.K. Subban, the supremely talented blue-liner currently playing for the sport’s most decorated franchise who turns 25 in a few months.  The reigning Norris winner.  The same kid who led the NHL in points from a defensemen last season and currently sitting 5th in that category this year.  He also just so happens to be in the final year of a two-year deal that will bring him back to restricted free agency this summer.

Ah, restricted free agency.  Yes, that thing.  The “stop” sign to pursuit of a player in any general manager’s heart (except Paul Holmgren’s).  The “yes, you can talk to other teams, but they know better than to make you an offer, and we know they know, and you know they know, so everyone knows you aren’t leaving your current team” free agency.  Only twice in the last fifteen years has a restricted free agent signed an offer sheet that was not matched by his current team.  So let’s just call restricted free agency what it is: a gesture that gives the appearance of a player having the chance to change teams, but in reality it allows the other 29 teams to set the market on a player and if no offer sheet is accepted, allows the current team to retain the player at term most favorable to them. 

So what of P.K. and why are we here?  Well, in case you haven’t heard, P.K. happens to be pretty good friends with the current Islanders captain.  Also, in case you haven’t heard, the Islanders are going to be playing in New York City’s most up-and-coming borough come 2015 and it just so happens that the same folks who run the basketball operations for the other team at the Barclays Center are not adverse to making a big splash or two.  It also seems that P.K. and coach Michel Therrien aren’t the types to exchange Christmas cards with each around the holidays and Montreal may try to cash in on P.K. now while his value is sky-high.

Would the Canadiens choose its coach over its best defensemen?  Does Montreal value him as an $8million defenseman for the next 7 years?  Should we start pre-ordering our number 76 jerseys in blue, orange, and white? 

Well, maybe.  Montreal doesn’t need to trade him at all this summer since they hold his rights.  They will have the cap space to offer him a lucrative deal and teams generally aren’t in a rush to move their best players without good reason (it is interesting though that P.K.’s name has come up numerous times in rumors to be moved).  Plus, twenty eight other teams would probably like some P.K. too. 

First, let’s forget the notion that the Islanders are going to sign P.K. to a massive offer sheet this summer.  The compensation the Islanders would have to surrender to Montreal is significant- the most likely scenario is either a package of two first-round picks, a second-round pick, and a third-round pick or four first-round picks.  Read that possible compensation package again…not one, not two, not three, but FOUR first-round picks (ignoring the fact that Buffalo owns the Islanders’ first round pick this year or next which is problematic for offer sheet purposes).  Based on his history, does anyone really think Garth Snow would part with four first-round picks in order to give P.K. a contract in excess of $8 million annually while upsetting the general managers’ fraternity?  Plus, what about the draft parties?  Okay, okay, just kidding…somewhat. 

So if they aren’t signing him to an offer sheet, then a trade is the only other option.  “But if they won’t give up four first-rounders for him, then what are we trading for him?”  Great question!  Although not identical situations, the recent Bobby Ryan trade provides some guidance to the return in these kinds of deals: young roster player, solid prospect, first round pick.  Also try to keep in mind that P.K. will drum up plenty of interest on the open market as a former Norris Trophy winner who plays the game with flair and would be a merchandising godsend to the acquiring team (hello Brooklyn!) 

So here’s where the years of hoarding picks and drafting comes into play with a system that should be strong enough to withstand a hit to its talent level.  Offer them one of Ryan Pulock or Griffin Reinhart PLUS one of Ryan Strome or Brock Nelson PLUS Michael Grabner (he of a $3million cap hit the next two seasons but slated to make $9million in total salary, or in Islanders’ land- “trade bait”) PLUS the right to swap first round picks in one of the following three drafts.  A steep price for sure considering you then have to sign P.K. to a monster deal.  But you know what?  You now have a stud defenseman patrolling your blue line for the next seven or eight years.  He would immediately strengthen one of your weakest areas and be a boon to the power play. 

Plus J.T. and P.K. , good friends growing up…on tee shirts, peddling local products, giving awkward interviews, laughing at each other’s bad jokes, appealing to a variety of demographics.  Brett Yormark is giddy just thinking about the possibilities.    

For those who worry about his defense?  The kid may never be a true shut-down guy in the sense that most of us know it.  But his puck possession will help limit the amount of time the opposition has the puck in the Islanders’ end.  Plus, would you rather watch P.K. or the Brian Strait-Thomas Hickey-Matt Donovan trifecta trying to zig-zag up the ice with the puck?  Tough question for sure…

And for those clamoring about “the kids” and “the “rebuild” and all those other buzz words that make people yell “MILBURY”-- not every drafted player is going to play for the Islanders nor should be expected to make an impact at the NHL level.  There’s also nothing wrong with drafting a kid, letting him develop a little, and then trading him while his value is highest (which may also happen to be when he hasn’t played in the NHL yet).  If the team is as proud of their farm system as they say and as good as they think, then the loss in talent should be a minor speed bump to a trade being completed. 

Are there risks with a deal like this?  Absolutely.  You are potentially giving up a solid defender making pennies for the foreseeable future.  You are potentially giving up a top 2 centerman.  Oh so much potential!  Plus Grabner and a pick swap on top of that?  Yeah, it’s a lot.  But no one said Norris Trophy winners in their mid-20’s were going to come cheap. 

And the contract?  They were reportedly willing to pay Thomas Vanek over $7 million a year for the next seven years, so even if you have to add another million or so on top of that, there should be no issue in giving P.K. the big money deal he’ll seek and ultimately get (hey, they have to get to the cap floor somehow and Tim Thomas hasn’t retired again).   The Islanders are moving in 18 months with a chance to develop and grow a much larger fan base.  As great as re-signing Vanek would have been for their big “splash” move, a 25-year old, brash, reckless-style playing kid from north of the border would have a heck of a lot more appeal than the 30-year old Austrian with Minnesota blood running through his veins. 

The question is then, to P.K. or not to P.K.?  Your move, Islanders.

Follow me on Twitter @mikepac23 and check out The Checking Line- Isles @TCLIsles

2 Comments

BCISLEMAN's picture

There is a logic to this idea but I think the package would be somewhat different or at least more defined. Forget Strome. Habs want to get bigger up front. Nelson would be the guy. For the same reason, forget Grabner. Habs might want Lee, but don't see Isles giving him up. Isles likely see Reinhart as part of a shutdown pair w/ Hammer and Pulock becoming the kind of offensive D Subban is...so Pulock is surely part of the package. Habs might want more but Okposo and Lee aren't going anywhere...so might be a tough fit. Might happen though.

Mike Hrankiwskyj's picture

Thanks for reading and your comment BC.

I doubt the Isles would even consider trading Okposo in any deal for Subban. Sure Montreal could ask, but that would be a non-starter in my opinion.

I would prefer to trade Nelson over Strome. I think Strome's ceiling is higher. I love Nelson's game and I think his max is a 60 point center, although I think he'll be a very solid 40-50 point 2nd/3rd line center the bulk of his career. Definitely valuable, but I think Strome has the potential to be a long-term 2nd line center and be a consistent 65+ point producer.

If Montreal peferred Lee instead of Grabner to close a deal, I'm comfortable with that. Lee has a solid game, but I think the potential to add an elite talent like Subban would be too great to pass up.

So using your opinion, would an offer of Nelson, Pulock, Lee, and the right to swap 1sts be enough? I don't know but I would absolutely pull the trigger if I were the Islanders. We'll see what happens though.