Two summers ago, the Montreal Canadiens showed defenseman P.K. Subban the money, signing him to an eight-year $72 million deal. Wednesday, the Habs showed him the door.
Damn, what happened?
Either the Canadiens front office lost its mind or lost its patience and dealt fan-favorite Subban, the 2013 Norris Trophy winner as the National Hockey League’s best defenseman, straight-up for All-Star D-man Shea Weber.
Montreal General Manager Marc Bergevin maintained that the swap of the 27-year-old Subban for the 30-year-old Weber will help the Canadiens move from a non-playoff-appearing 38-38-6 team to an eventual Stanley Cup contender.
“We completed today an important transaction which I am convinced will make the Canadiens a better team,” the general manager said.”In Shea Weber, we get a top rated NHL defenseman with tremendous leadership, and a player who will improve our defensive group as well as our power play for many years to come. Shea Weber led all NHL defensemen last season with 14 power play goals. He is a complete rearguard with impressive size and a powerful shot. P.K. Subban is a special and very talented player. He provided the Canadiens organization with strong performances on the ice and generous commitment in the community. I wish him the best of luck with the Predators.”
Hmmm, so much to decode here. But you don’t need to
be Luther, President Barack Obama’s fictional anger translator from “Key & Peele,” to know that Bergevin’s statement was a stinging Gordie Howe backhand aimed right at Subban.
In praising Weber, Bergevin took not-so-veiled digs at Subban’s leadership qualities,
his ability to play well with others, and his overall game on the blue line.
It’s no secret that Subban’s flamboyant, high-risk playing style drove Canadiens Head Coach Michel Therrien nuts at times. And there were rumblings of discontent among some Habs players with Subban this season.
And, of course, the trade is the latest chapter in the Great P.K. Subban Debate. Several members of the hockey establishment argue that his game is more style than substance and some old school hockey heads complain that he’s too colorful a personality.
Subban supporters say his swashbuckling playing style and larger-than-life personality have been good for the game. They argue that he’s been disrespected by the hockey intelligentsia for not fitting the cookie-cutter mold of what an NHLer should be. Some question whether race is a factor.
Subban’s been on the receiving end of several high-profile snubs. Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock, when he coached the Gold Medal-winning Canadian men’s hockey team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, played Subban for only 11 minutes – all in one game.
This year, Hockey Canada didn’t include him om the roster for the Canadian squad that will compete in the World Cup of Hockey in September.
Subban’s Canadiens teammates passed him over last season to be the team’s nominee for the NHL’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy – presented to the player who exhibits leadership on and off the ice and has contributed to the community – despite the fact that he pledged $10 million to Montreal’s Children’s Hospital, the biggest philanthropic commitment by any athlete in Canadian history.
Subban seemed to take Wednesday’s trade in the same fluid stride he’s taken the previous slights. He told Nashville reporters via conference call Wednesday that “Right now, I’m going to a team that wants me” He added that he felt “a whole lot closer” to winning a Stanley Cup with Nashville than he did in Montreal.
“On the business side of things, the Montreal Canadiens paid me a lot of money two years ago to do what I do for a living,” he said. “At the end of the day I just wanted to come in and do my job. But obviously right now I’m going to a team that wants me and the Montreal Canadiens felt that they had to take it down a different path.”
Some key 2015-16 statistics don’t show much space between Weber and Subban. Weber was ninth among NHL defensemen in scoring with 20 goals and 31 assists for 51 points in 78 games. He was third on the Predators in scoring.
Subban was 12th among the league’s defensemen, matching Weber’s 51 points on 6 goals and 45 assists in an injury-plagued 68 games. He was Montreal’s fourth-leading scorer last season.Embed from Getty Images
Weber, touted as the more defensively responsible blue liner, had a plus-minus rating of minus-7. Subban was a plus-4.
Weber averaged 25:12 minutes per game and 29.9 shifts per game. Subban logged an average of 26:21 minutes per game and 28.3 shifts per game.
Weber was the more effective power play scorer – Bergevin’s main point – with 14 goals compared to Subban’s 2 in 2015-16. Neither player had a game-winning goal last season.
Subban and Weber have one other thing in common. Neither has been able in recent seasons to get their teams over the hump to the Stanley Cup Final.
Needless to say, the trade hasn’t gone down well with hockey fans in and out of Montreal. A New York Post headline read “P.K. Subban Trade is Canadiens Purging NHL’s Biggest Persona.”
The Montreal Gazette quotes fans calling the trade “Ridiculous,” “insane,” “a disgrace.” Welcome to Montreal, Shea Weber.
With Subban in the fold, the Predators are taking a different approach that the team hopes will lead to a Stanley Cup. Nashville historically was a defense-first team under Head Coach Barry Trotz.
Trotz was replaced two seasons ago by Peter Laviolette, who likes his defenseman to be able to move the puck quickly out of their zone and initiate offense – either through pinpoint passes or skating.
Though Laviolette is a no-nonsense coach in the Therrien mold, Subban should thrive in Laviolette’s system.
“In P.K., when people might talk about him, it’ll be his skating, the fact that he can transport the puck himself, the fact that he can distribute the puck, he’s constantly in motion,” Laviolette said. “He has worn a letter in the National Hockey League, was being considered for captain of the Montreal Canadiens, so there’s leadership quality there as well.”
In addition to his skating ability and 100-mph-plus slap shot from the point, Subban brings something to the Predators that the franchise has never had – star power, someone who can put butts in seats.
Though Subban was enormously popular among fans in Montreal he was never the face of the franchise, not with all-world goaltender Carey Price and U.S.-born team captain Max Pacioretty there.
He’s poised to be The Man in Nashville.
“P.K. Subban is an elite offensive defenseman with tremendous skill and contagious energy that makes the Nashville Predators a better team now and into the future,” said Nashville GM David Poile. “Superstar defensemen of his caliber are a rare commodity, and we are thrilled to add him to the organization.”