The Contrarian – It Was Not Arbitrary

by Demetri Fragopoulos on July 3, 2016

Arbitration should be considered a major factor in P.K. Subban being traded.

Of the three events that occurred last Wednesday, only one was a true head scratcher.

No, it was not Steven Stamkos signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Despite everyone guessing that he was going to play for his hometown team or for big money, he ended up playing for a contender that has gone deep into the playoffs the last two seasons.

It was also not the Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade. Sure I would have wanted more for Hall, but a comparable was the Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones deal.

The shocker was Shea Weber for P.K. Subban.

Many pundits slammed Marc Bergevin, GM of the Montreal Canadiens, for sending a dynamic and well-loved player out of town.

Was he moved because he is black? Was he moved because he was flashy, boisterous and enthusiastic? Did he have issues with management and other players on the team? These were all the questions that they were asking and inferring to.

Steve Simmons comes out and claims: “It is no accident that hockey fans in Montreal and in Canada are upset about the trade that sent Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber, barely for a second considering that some of hockey’s wisest men — Mike Babcock, Joel Quenneville, Steve Yzerman, Doug Armstrong, Ken Hitchcock — would probably make the same deal for Weber in a heartbeat.”

He later adds “[Weber] was named early to Team Canada for this September’s World Cup team and Subban was left off the roster. The fancy numbers favour Subban: The veteran eyeballs with championship pedigree prefer Weber.”

These wise men have to build a team for a few weeks not for seasons at a time. When they look at their real teams, would they pass up on Subban in preference for Weber?

The conclusion from Simmons is that “dull and team always seems to triumph over dash and individual.”

Nice try. I would like to introduce Mr. Simmons to Phil Kessel, Stanley Cup Winner. Maybe we could meet at a World Cup game and get acquainted over some beers and hot dogs. He too was not invited to play.

The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa wrote: “The truth of the Canadiens is that they were not very good, from their perpetual absence of a go-to center to the mish-mash Bergevin collected for his bottom six forwards to the unimaginative approach the dictatorial Therrien adopted on the bench while his team smoldered on the ice.”

I can believe portions of that statement, except that while Carey Price was healthy they were the team to beat in the Atlantic Division. Without better depth at centre they may not have gone very far in the playoffs, but they would have made the playoffs. The Atlantic was not very strong. Every team had their share of warts.

The mish-mash that included Alexander Semin, which was touted as a great low risk play, was a flop from the very start. Their recent signing of Alexander Radulov almost reminds me of exactly that.

Bergevin indicated to the Montreal Gazette, “I sat down with Alex and I also talked with Sergei Fedorov and Shea Weber and our scouts saw him play a lot. He’s a hard worker and he’s one of the most skilled players available in the draft, certainly the most skilled outside the NHL” and insisted that “This was the most aggressive I’ve ever been. There were some players who said they didn’t want to play in Montreal but there are others who want to play here.”

Hmmm, players do not want to play in Montreal. I wonder why?

Just before the New Year the Canadiens traded away Zack Kassian to Edmonton for Ben Scrivens. They needed help in goal, ahem, or more to the point they wanted to rid themselves of Kassian because of the accident he got into at the beginning of the season and his issues with substance abuse. They had just traded for Kassian five months earlier.

On January 15 they traded Jarred Tinordi as part of a package deal that brought them never to be used John Scott. At the time Bergevin hinted that there were reasons why this curious move was made. A few months later it was revealed that Tinordi would be suspended for 20 games for violating the Performance Enhancing Substances program.

I bring all this up because Montreal likes to get rid of their "trouble makers." Including guys that stand up for themselves. Guys who take them to arbitration.

In 2011, Josh Gorges stood up and after two years he was gone.

In 2012, it was Raphael Diaz but he was gone the next season.

In 2013, Ryan White said he wanted more and he was shown the door also the next season.

In 2014, two players went to arbitration, Lars Eller and P.K. Subban, and both were traded this summer.

Funny enough, of the two trades that happened last Wednesday, three of the four players involved took their teams to arbitration (Subban, Weber and Larsson). Weber had the distinction of also being signed to an offer sheet.

It got me wondering how often does this occur and this is what I calculated for the 139 players that took this path (from 2010 onward):

14% were traded in the same year that they signed, 27% were traded the year after, another 17% were gone after two season, and 3% were sent to the minors or jumped ship to another league in Europe soon after.

All in all 57% of players that go to arbitration end up being dealt by the teams that signed with after two seasons.

Montreal was five for five but they were not alone. So too were the Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs. Each of them moved five players within those same parameters.

Which teams retained their talent best (not moved or moved after three or more seasons)? The Rangers (eight), Los Angeles Kings (six) and the Nashville Predators (five).

Almost all of the players that went to arbitration got salary increases and it did not matter if the increase was by millions or by tens of thousands of dollars.

Returning to Montreal, I cannot help see the similarities between them as they stand now and the Toronto Maple Leafs as they were a few years ago. They look like they are spitting into the wind only to have their spit land back on the feet, or worse, their faces.

They got bigger and grittier, hooray! Did they happen to notice how the Stanley Cup was won with speed and talent this year?

Did they fix their problem at centre? It took the Leafs a very long and painful time to get a handle on that predicament, and even now players still spurn them.

They did not try to adapt the rest of the team and tap into Subban’s energy for the game; instead, they stifled it. Worse, they tried to vilify Subban through the media over the course of the last year. But unlike the fans in Toronto, the ones in Montreal were not buying it.

Coach Michel Therrien said at the time he eliminated the triple low five celebrations, “We have to respect the game, we have to respect the other team and we have to respect the fans.” Nowhere in that did he ever say that he had to respect his players.

And that is why the deal that brought Shea Weber to Montreal and pushed Subban out to Nashville was not an arbitrary one.

What is in store for Subban in Nashville? I do not see him getting more than 60 points, but I can see him lifting the Stanley Cup. He has a better chance of doing it there than if he stayed in Montreal.

The Contrarian – Every Thirty Years

The Contrarian – Dats All

The Contrarian – Arbitrage Can Hurt