The record will show that P.K. Subban was officially traded by the Montreal Canadiens on June 29, 2016. But in reality, the seeds of it were sown on Feb. 1, 2013 when a GM who used to be a fringe player and a stubborn coach tried to beat the individualism out of their best skater. That’s the day that GM Marc Bergevin and coach Michel Therrien killed the ‘Low 5’ celebration that Subban used to do with goalie Carey Price.
They got past that, but like the couple that we all knew would divorce one day, the split became inevitable. And the Canadiens can spin this any way they’d like, but their decision to move Subban for Shea Weber has the potential for being an absolutely terrible hockey trade, one that could set the franchise back enormously. And it was done because one player brought too much attention to himself and some of the people around him couldn’t stand that.
Bergevin called the decision, “one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make a general manager of the Montreal Canadiens.” No kidding. That’s because he traded one of the most dynamic on- and off-ice players in the league for a player who’s four years older and logic tells us might have two more really good years before he declines. As far as offensive production, the two registered exactly the same point totals last season. But over the past three seasons, Subban’s analytics numbers have been far superior to Weber’s and with Weber turning 31 this summer and Subban having just turned 27, analytics tells us the gap in those numbers will widen.
So what does Nashville get? Well, it acquires an elite offensive defenseman who is better defensively than he is credited. Over the past three seasons, at even strength, the Canadiens had 8.5 shot attempts per 60 minutes more when Subban when was on the ice. Over that same period, the Predators had 4.5 shot attempts fewer per 60 minutes when Weber was on the ice. It continues to astound how teams claim they’re embracing analytics, then ignore them when they make these kinds of deals.
Even better is the fact that Subban will almost certainly be unleashed under Peter Laviolette, who is known for allowing his players to play to their offensive strengths. And if anyone can sell hockey in Nashville, it will be Subban. He will love it there and the fans will love him back. So will the organization. And that’s what was missing in Montreal. Subban loved Montreal and embraced it and the fans were crazy about him, but the organization never, ever seemed to warm up to him. When asked the day before the draft whether or not Subban did things the ‘Canadien way,’ Bergevin responded by saying, “What’s the Canadien way?” Well, after today, it’s safe to say we all have a pretty good idea of what that is now. And we know that Weber, who walks and speaks softly and carries a stick that can shoot the puck 100 miles an hour, fits it.
Subban, it’s fair to say, is an extrovert, one who has no problem bringing attention to himself. That turns some people off. It certainly didn’t sit well with the Canadiens and, some will suggest, with some of his teammates. But there was rarely a time when Subban did not deliver on the ice and even more, he was completely and totally invested in Montreal. For a team that has had trouble attracting players because of the environment that surrounds them, that should not be minimized. Somehow, the Canadiens never managed to totally beat the individualism and creativity out of Subban, but they made sure he’ll now display it somewhere else instead.
One way the Canadiens make out well in this deal is if Price returns to the form he displayed in 2014-15 and Weber leads the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup. But the reality is that the winner of this deal might not be known for another seven years. Because Weber’s contract was so egregiously front-loaded when the Philadelphia Flyers signed him to an offer sheet four years ago that the Predators have accumulated over $24 million in cap benefit that won’t be offset by the lower salaries in the later years because he no longer plays for them. So this $24 million has to be recaptured against Nashville at some point if he retires.
After the 2022-23 season, Weber’s salary for the final three years of his deal plummets to $1 million, but his salary cap hit remains the same at almost $7.9 million. That means after that season, if Weber continues playing, they’ll have a 38-, 39-, then 40-year-old defenseman taking up $7.9 million in cap space. If he retires after that season, according to General Fanager, the Predators will be hit with a cap recapture charge of $8.19 million per season and the Canadiens will be charged with nothing. So it’s probably in Montreal’s best interest to have Weber retire after that season, unless he’s still playing at a high level. (Of course, there will be a new CBA by they, so those rules might change. But probably not.)
If that’s the case, everyone in Montreal will forget about Subban pretty quickly. They probably won’t by March 2, which is the night the Predators visit the Canadiens for the first time.