As the clock ticked down in the seventh game of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins, the homestanding Bruins were clinging to a 3-2 lead and hoping to hold on.
A late power play gave the Canadiens a chance to silence Bruins fans and tie the game. As the puck skittered across the ice toward the left point, there was Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban poised and ready to strike.
With perfect timing, he brought the hammer down, and the puck rocketed toward the top corner of the net. The blast beat Bruins goalie Tim Thomas and sent the game into overtime.
Nathan Horton would end the Canadiens' dreams and ignite a Bruins Stanley Cup run, but that did not diminish Subban's accomplishment. He had delivered one of the most clutch goals the Canadiens had scored in the last decade.
He also did it at a bargain-basement price. Subban earned $875,000 in 2010-11 and the same amount last year. That marked the end of his three-year contract, and Subban is a restricted free agent as the 2012-13 season approaches (hopefully).
Despite his clutch goal against the Bruins, Subban's play has been anything but consistent in his first three NHL seasons. At his best, Subban is one of the fastest-skating defensemen in the league as well as an explosive scorer. At his worst, Subban is often in the wrong position, and his cheeky attitude rubs teammates and opponents the wrong way.
Subban, 23, undoubtedly has potential to be a consistent impact player in the NHL. However, he is not there yet. With that as a backdrop, what kind of contract does he deserve?
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin was asked about Subban's status after the team signed power forward Max Pacioretty to a six-year, $27 million contract earlier this month.
“He’s a good young player,” Bergevin told the Montreal Gazette. “There’s a lot of things that come into play, (but) there’s potential there for sure.”
Subban and agent Don Meehan turned down a two-year, $5.5 million contract, according to French-language RDS reporter Renaud Lavoie (per TheFourthPeriod.com), and the two sides are still talking.
Bergevin does not seem likely to give Subban a contract that would approach Pacioretty's salary. The team views Pacioretty as a core player, while Subban is viewed as a player with "potential."
A contract that pays Subban in the range of $3-4 million per year appears to be the likely end point.
Subban may be waiting for restricted free agents John Carlson of the Washington Capitals and Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers to sign new contracts, according to ProHockeyTalk.com. Both young defensemen are seen as "comparables" to Subban, and it's likely that those three will end up with similar contract numbers.
Subban is coming off a season in which he averaged 24:18 of ice time per game and scored 36 points. That's more ice time than either Carlsson or Del Zotto, although Del Zotto reached the 41-point mark during the season.
Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators is the league's highest-paid defenseman at $14 million per year, according to Capgeek.com. His former teammate Ryan Suter will be paid $12 million this year, as will 22-year-old Buffalo Sabres blueliner Tyler Myers.
While Subban is not an elite player yet, he clearly deserves a raise over his entry-level deal, and it seems likely it will be done before the first game of the season.