P.K. Subban for Shea Weber – One Year Later

P.K. Subban

We are a year removed from the trade that sent P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber. This is still very sensitive topic for many Habs fans. Any time someone brings it up on social media, especially during these past playoffs, it attracts attention from all sides. Count me as one of the very critical of the trade.

P.K. Subban for Shear Weber – One Year Later

P.K. Subban was a fan favourite in Montreal. He is exciting to watch and his personality is something hockey needs. He is having fun on the ice and you can see it. Subban loved playing in Montreal. He relished the spotlight and pressure. He brought the crowd out of their seats.

Up until this point I had confidence in Marc Bergevin as the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens. Sure, it bothered me that he had failed to address some of the glaring issues on the team, namely a lack of offence or a number on center,  but he seemed to have a plan. I usually went to his defence when people criticised his roster moves.

Then on June 29 2016, he traded away Subban and with him part of my love for the team. I have an uncle that told me he was a huge Habs fan, until they traded Doug Harvey to the Rangers. On that day the team broke his heart and he never forgave them. On that day he became a Rangers fan.

I never totally understood how someone could do that. I always thought that the loyalty was to the team, no matter who was traded. But on June 29, 2016 I understood him. Something did shift in me that day. I did not stop being a Montreal Canadiens fan, but Marc Bergevin broke my heart.

Looking Backwards

It’s not that they traded P.K. Subban, anyone can be traded. It was what the trade represented. The trade replaced a young dynamic play maker with a big, physical bruiser. It prioritized size and toughness over skill and speed. It’s ignoring the way successful teams are being built in favour of this dated notion of what hockey is.

The Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cup in 2016 and 2017 by building a team based around skill and speed. The Edmonton Oilers finally made it back to the playoffs after a ten year absence. They are another team built on speed and skill.

Even closer to home, the Canadiens arch rival Toronto Maple Leafs have built a young, fast, skilled team that gave the heavily favoured Washington Capitals fits in these playoffs.

They could have traded Subban to address other needs on the team, such as finding a number one center, but instead they traded him for less dynamic, physical defenseman. Don’t get me wrong, I think Shea Weber adds lot of value to any team, but he represents the old guard; big, physical, slow. And worse it created a new hole on their roster; a puck-moving defenceman to play with Weber.

It was a trade a team might make for a final piece to their Stanley Cup puzzle. The Habs are not one piece away; they are four or five pieces away. Bergevin sold the trade as Weber possessing the intangibles that gets you through the playoffs, ignoring Subban’s tremendous post-season performances. The trade was a lateral move, at best, for the Canadiens.

Moving Forward

The Canadiens only have a brief window to capitalize on the benefits of the trade. As soon as the trade was finalized, the clock was ticking. The Habs need to win now, before Weber’s contract (which is signed until he is 40) becomes an anchor on the Habs salary cap. The Habs have, at best, three more years of Weber playing at a high enough level to earn his $7,857,143 cap hit. As soon as his level of play begins to drop off, the weight of his cap hit goes up and the more difficult it will be to try to get assets back for him.

The Nashville Predators, on the other hand, had an instant return on the trade. They made it to the Stanley Cup Finals is year. While they eventually lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games, the Predators had never been past the second round in their history.

Obviously Subban is not the only reason the Predators had such a great playoff run. Still, there is something to be said about having four dynamic puck moving defenceman like the Predators have. They are poised for long term success.

Bergevin will forever be remembered as the general manager that traded P.K. Subban. The only way to make people forget is to win the Stanley Cup. Ignoring the success of teams like Pittsburgh, Edmonton or Toronto that are built on skill, he traded skill for size. He oversaw the trade that sent the Canadiens back in time, while the rest of the league is moving forward. That is what I cannot forgive.