MONTREAL – Now that the negotiations are over, P.K. Subban just wants to play hockey.
The gifted defenceman, who missed training camp and the first four games of the NHL season because of a contract dispute, agreed to a two-year deal worth US$5.75 million with the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.
“I’m happy to be at this point and I’m looking forward to reintegrating with the team and helping them win,” Subban said on a conference call. “It was about getting a deal done that was fair to both sides.”
Subban, who was a restricted free agent, will be paid a pro-rated $2 million this season and $3.75 million in 2013-14 for an annual salary cap hit of $2.875 million.
The 23-year-old will join the team on Wednesday in Ottawa, but it was unclear if he would play that night against the Senators. If not, he will likely begin his season Saturday afternoon at home against Buffalo.
Subban said he has stayed in shape training with the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga Steelheads and is ready to play.
“I’m very anxious to get back on the ice,” he said. “I’m always ready to play.”
Subban led the Habs in average ice time per game at 24:18 last season. He had seven goals and 29 assists in 81 games and was seventh among NHL defencemen with 205 shots on goal.
He was also among the team’s most popular players and was a hit with the media, even if his attraction to the TV cameras sometimes drew raised eyebrows from teammates.
“I really didn’t want to become a distraction and I think that’s why this is the right thing,” he said. “The longer this went on, the bigger a distraction it became.”
His image took a hit with many fans during the contract talks, with some calling him selfish and demanding he be traded, but at least as many others took his side.
Debate raged among fans and media over what salary he deserved and whether he should be traded.
Both Subban and general manager Marc Bergevin said they weren’t listening to what was being said, and concentrated on getting a deal done. It appears he got a bump from Bergevin’s reported original offer of $5.1 million for two years.
Neither went into details of the negotiations, but it was believed Subban wanted a longer-term deal for more money and that the Canadiens insisted on a “bridge” contract of two years, likely with a longer deal to follow.
Bergevin, hailed by many on Twitter for holding firm, said there was no winner or loser.
“P.K. is happy with the deal,” the first-year GM said. “I always wanted to sign him and keep him in the organization.
“That he wants to be on the team and help the team win shows he’s not selfish. In any walk of life a little part of you is selfish, but the fact that P.K. wants to come in and help the team shows he puts the team first.”
It was especially agonizing for Subban to watch games on television from his Toronto home and see his teammates get off to a 3-1-0 start without him.
But he dismissed a report last week that he had asked agent Don Meehan to accelerate the negotiations as “rumours.”
“It’s great to see how the team has come out of the gate,” he added, with particular praise for veteran defenceman Andrei Markov, who leads the team with four goals.
Canadiens coach Michel Therrien now has a decision to make. Markov and Rafael Diaz have excelled on the points on power plays, where Subban normally plays as the principle shooter.
But the six-foot, 205-pound blue-liner should be welcomed back for his ability to lead the rush and play in his own zone.
Subban had 14 goals and 24 assists but was minus-8 as a rookie in 2010-11. While his goal total dipped last season, he ended up plus-9 on a last-place team while playing against the opponents’ top units.
He is also considered a big part of the team’s future, along with goalie Carey Price and forwards Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk.
Subban’s return gives the Canadiens eight healthy defencemen, with Tomas Kaberle and Yannick Weber the likely candidates to sit out.
The signing came on the same day the Canadiens confirmed that rookies Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher will stay with the NHL club. The 18-year-old Galchenyuk was drafted third overall in June and has a goal and two assists in four games, while 20-year-old Gallagher has two points in the contests.