VANCOUVER – You can probably look at the P.K. Subban blockbuster trade in one of two ways. One view is that the Nashville Predators are clearing the deck to make a massive run at Matt Duchene on July 1. It’s no secret they have coveted him. And a year from now, Roman Josi is going to want a massive raise on his annual salary of $4 million. Another view is that David Poile, the cowboy GM who is never shy about making huge transactions, might be losing his touch.
After all, you don’t trade your captain and the face of your franchise to get Subban for three years, then deal him for next to nothing in a complete salary dump. And that’s precisely what this was, with the New Jersey Devils giving up only part-time NHLer Steven Santini, college prospect Jeremy Davies and second-round selections in the 2019 and 2020 drafts (the 2019 pick was flipped to the Philadelphia Flyers for the 41st and 65th picks) in exchange for not retaining any of Subban’s $9-million cap hit and total of $26 million in salary over the next three seasons.
In fact, Poile made no secret of the fact trading Subban was an effort to shed salary. “We had to make a business decision,” Poile said in a statement. “With an aim at strengthening our forward corps this off-season and the continued strength of our defensive group, we felt it was necessary to clear up salary cap space this way.”
Clearly the theme of Day 2 of the draft is salary dumps, something the Tampa Bay Lightning did when they dealt 26-year-old J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for career minor-league goalie Marek Mazanec, a third-round pick in 2019 and a first-rounder in either 2020 or 2021. Like Subban, Miller thought he would be with the Lightning for a long time when they traded for him at the deadline in 2018 and subsequently signed him to a five-year deal. But he also has a $5.25 million cap hit for each of the next four seasons and the Miller trade, along with Ryan Callahan conveniently going on the long-term injured list, gives the Lightning the flexibility to re-sign restricted free agent Brayden Point without having to give up Tyler Johnson. And the Toronto Maple Leafs had to give up a first-round pick in 2020 to get the Carolina Hurricanes to take Patrick Marleau and his $6.25-million cap hit off their hands, which of course gives them more room to sign Mitch Marner.
In Subban, the Devils get a dynamic defenseman who, along with first-overall pick Jack Hughes, will make them a must-see next season and more relevant in their own market. Subban was limited to 63 games with a back injury this past season and posted a career-low 31 points as a result. He’s also 30 years old, so expecting Subban to regain his Norris Trophy form might be a stretch. But he remains an excellent penalty killer, still has a bomb from the point on the power play and remains a player who has the capacity to be a difference-maker.
The Predators, well, notwithstanding what they plan to do with the $9 million they’ve lopped off their cap number, are certainly a lesser team on the blueline than they were at this time yesterday. But what might be an even more disturbing trend for Predators fans is that the last couple of major deals Poile has made have fallen flat. Like, really flat.
Let’s start with the Subban deal itself. When Poile acquired Subban three summers ago, there’s no way he envisioned only having him for three seasons, then giving him away. The Wayne Simmonds deal at the trade deadline was a complete dud. The Kyle Turris trade, one in which they gave up a very good prospect in Samuel Girard, is looking worse by the day, especially with the Predators on the hook for a $6-million salary cap hit for each of the next five seasons. If there was a contract for Poile to shed, it was the Turris one. And when Seth Jones – who was surrendered in the deal that got the Predators Ryan Johansen, who never became the No. 1 center he was projected to be and essentially prompted Poile to trade for Turris – is winning for Norris Trophies with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the decision to trade him is going to look worse.
It kind of makes you wonder whether all the wheeling and dealing is worth it. For all Poile’s moves, the Predators have only made the Stanley Cup final once and look as though they’re regressing as an organization. Would they have been better off if Poile had simply kept his players and had a defense corps that would include Weber, Jones and Samuel Girard? It’s great that Poile gives the hockey world a good shot of excitement on a regular basis, but after so many years and so many trades, it has resulted in a team that is good, but not quite good enough to win a championship.
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