Opinion: P.K. Subban Trade: Don’t Tell Us How To Feel

P.K. Subban

P.K. Subban, in case you hadn’t heard, was traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber, just 36 hours before Subban’s no-trade clause was to kick in.

Yeah, you’ve probably heard. It was on the news that night, in the papers the next morning, and everywhere on social media.

So you’ve likely heard the news, even though it was announced on the same day Steven Stamkos finally made his choice, and the Edmonton Oilers traded their star forward, Taylor Hall, to New Jersey. Somewhere in that very busy afternoon, news of the Subban trade made its way through the Twitterverse.

Facetiousness aside, after I heard about the trade, and verified that it wasn’t some sick joke, I began to peruse social media – shocked that Twitter hadn’t crashed – to attempt to process the news for my article. It wasn’t easy. Reactions were predictable. Shock, anger, sadness, disbelief, and – sprinkled in – a call from some to “get over it.”

That last sentiment eked out over the course of the next 24, and then 48 hours. Those Who Think They Know telling the majority of Habs fans to just move on, “quit crying” and that we all “sound like a bunch of whining cry-babies”.

Harsh? Definitely. Unwarranted? Absolutely. Baseless? Yes, because the reactions were not untoward, unexpected, uncommon, or unfounded. Not for the type of player the Habs gave away, not for the unbalanced details of the trade,  and not for the long-term implications.

I take deep exception to the judgments. Not only because I have a personal affinity for Subban as a player and as a person, but because it’s no one’s business to tell others how to process such an objectively profound move.

I’ve commiserated with others who feel the same way, and the general sentiment has been, “quit telling us how to react.”

In spending a couple of days trying to defend our reaction (“our” meaning those of us who have not gotten over it, and won’t for a long time), I decided to do so in a larger format, so here is my response to the unwelcome admonishments of those who dictate to others.

I won’t go into the incredible heart P.K. has shown this community, this city; I’ve done so in the past, and this week, it’s been written about by many, including Mike Cohen (in a beautiful tribute); and in all the criticism, no one has denied that he is a “high quality human being,” as Kevin Weekes so eloquently put it.

“It Isn’t Like We Got A Bag Of Hockey Pucks In Return” Response

In any trade, there are elements that should make it worthwhile for each team. It’s been baffling to most of us that no other element was included with Weber (such as a prospect, or a draft pick). That might have made this more palatable. It would have made it more equitable. But this was a one-for-one trade, and not an even one.

No, Shea Weber is no slouch when it comes to hockey, nor has anyone said he is. His statistics are the mark of an elite defenseman, and he’s been captain of the Preds for 6 years. There’s a reason the Predators awarded him a 14-year contract: they wanted to lock him in (more about that later).

And no, I’m not here to pile on Shea Weber. This emotional reaction is not about him, at least not directly. Obviously, in any trade, the return is vital to judge whether or not it was a Win.

I’m not going to try to find reasons to reject Weber out of hand. I will welcome him on the ice as a Habs player as I welcome every other player, because I support the team, and that means every player on it.

But to recap what I have said in defense of our emotions, this is not about the person. It’s about the transaction and its fallout. Let’s face it – the return was decidedly uneven. And in any trade, that’s what you look for: “what did we get?”

This may not play into your narrative, but it’s statistically factual:

Chart of statistics of defensemen
Last 5 years, D-man stats; courtesy of Shaun Starr, TSN 690

Shea Weber’s best years are behind him. His performance against San Jose in playoffs was anything but stellar – case in point, Game 7, a do-or-die. Weber was on the ice for all 5 San Jose goals (the score was, for the record, 5-0) and that is simply unacceptable for a star – especially elite – defenseman.

It’s remarkable because it’s the last game he played as a Predator and it was crunch time.

Could The Haters cite similar P.K. performances? Of course. No one is perfect. But despite an OT loss in 2011, it was P.K. Subban who scored the pivotal, game-tying goal in Game 7 vs the Boston Bruins, to keep the hope alive. It was P.K. who scored a memorable out-of-the-box goal in Game 3 against the Bruins, in 2014, to excite fans beyond words.

I’ve actually heard people bring up the All-Star game and Shea Weber’s performance. Really? You all mock the All-Star Game as the most irrelevant event in hockey, but suddenly use it as a mark in the Plus column for Montreal?

Let’s move on.

Age, Style, Teammates, Division

We’ve been over this. A player in his 20s vs a player who is 31 (as Weber will be in August) is a vast difference in hockey, on the blue line, and especially for a player who’s been in the Western division of the NHL.

  • Shea Weber has already played almost double the amount of regular-season games than P.K. Subban. Taking that into consideration, it has to have an effect on his sustainability.
  • Weber plays more physically; Subban’s style is more finessed. That, in and of itself, affects a defenseman’s body.

Michael Farber – a Hall of Fame journalist, and someone who truly knows and understands this sport, was in agreement with the general sentiment of unevenness: “you’re getting a guy playing the back end of his career, someone who may be on the 12th or 13th hole, compared to a guy who hasn’t yet tapped into everything he has.”

If the Habs are lucky, Weber will be an asset for the first 3-4 years of this transaction. But don’t look for anything past that, when he is in his late 30s and has played in the pros for 17 years.

  • Shea Weber was surrounded by an incredible defensive core: Roman Josi (his partner), Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis. These are solid defensemen, and the Predators have depth on the blue line.

The Habs do not have the same depth. This isn’t a knock, it’s the truth. Andrei Markov, in the final year of his 3-year contract, has slowed considerably and is 38 years old. Nathan Beaulieu is not ready to become a top pairing. Jeff Petry would be the more logical partner for Weber, but will this coach move his veteran down? Time will tell.

Whenever there is a trade or acquisition, it is not enough to simply look at a player’s stats and declare their worth. Don’t forget, it’s all about chemistry, the players, the coaches, and we don’t yet know how – or if – Weber’s style will play into the team chemistry when he takes the ice in October.

  • Something that is not addressed often – but is significant – is the amount of travel a player experiences. Pierre McGuire (another of the highest caliber in terms of hockey knowledge) addressed that on local sports radio when the news hit.

Teams play half their games on the road. Sometimes it’s evenly spaced, sometimes the schedules are brutal. But in the Eastern conference of the NHL, there is less travel when traveling within the division – a more frequent occurrence, as each conference plays its own teams 4-5 times a season as opposed to the once-a-season travel to their West Coast opponents.

When traveling within their own division, the Eastern Conference players have less distance to cover. The West, however – stretching from Nashville to Los Angeles – is a different story. Just look at a map. You’ll see the cluster of Eastern cities vs the vast spread of Western.

Nashville is the furthest team east in the Western Conference. This means Weber has traveled more than his counterpart, and in spades. That kind of wear and tear on a body eventually catches up to the player. An older player, an extremely physical defenseman – it adds up.

To quote McGuire: “I don’t know how much mileage is left on the odometer.”

  • Weber has been coached by Phil Housley, AC for the Preds. As McGuire points out, this coach has done incredible things for the defense on the team, and Subban will benefit tremendously from it. Will Weber, who has come from a coach who encourages creativity and individual style, adjust to the control freak in Michel Therrien? Again, time will tell.

Farber also brought up coaching, agreeing that Subban did not get the most that he is entitled to in order to develop his full potential. And let’s face it, we all saw it. P.K. Subban is an exciting player to watch, but never more exciting than when he’s got the puck behind his own net, and moves it all the way to the other end to set up a play. That’s his style, that’s one of his strengths, and he was stifled by Therrien, who wanted the team to play a “dump and chase” style.


There are those saying the Habs saved a lot of cap space with the two contracts. Not in the short-term. With an immediate $8M signing bonus paid to Weber on July 1st, though that doesn’t count against cap space, it wasn’t to save money. With his long contract (10 years left), they are extended 4 years beyond the end of Subban’s contract.

The Ubiquitous “Leadership” Defense

Marc Bergevin, and those who are defending the move, have used Weber’s leadership as motivation to embrace the trade (and again, I stress trade, not person because this isn’t about Weber as a player or a person).

Here’s the problem with that defense: leadership is great but we already know that Carey Price is the team’s unofficial leader. Andrei Markov is known as The General. Max Pacioretty is its captain. Did Bergevin feel that Pacioretty’s unfit to lead? Bringing in another player for leadership – one who’s worn the “C” for 6 years – seems to be at odds with the confidence he showed in Pacioretty when announcing the captaincy a year ago.

But even if he wanted another leader in the room, how does that address the problems the team was experiencing on the ice? Realistically, it doesn’t address the lack of depth defensively, the lack of strength down the middle, and it doesn’t address the problem the Habs experienced scoring full strength during the season.

After the undercurrent of allegations that Subban’s trade was due to a character issue, how does this team go and sign such a controversial player, even point blank acknowledging the risk? That doesn’t sit well with this Habs fan – and it shouldn’t with any other.

I digressed; leadership should not have been a factor in the trade, nor is it an acceptable justification.

This may have long-reaching effects. Think about it: P.K. Subban, on paper and in action, is a superstar on the rise, someone who leaves his heart on the ice every time, and who wanted to be in Montreal (despite coming from Toronto).

What player will look at that, and at management so willing to throw that kind of player under the bus based on alleged behind-the-scenes issues, and want to come to that team in the future?

What player will look at a team willing to show loyalty to a less-than-successful coach over a superstar player who improves the team exponentially, and decide that this would be a good team to join?

It may take a while before franchise players will have an interest in coming to the Montreal Canadiens, based on this baffling, shocking, flat-out inexplicable (and unexplained) move by its management.

“There Are Bigger Problems In The World / This Is Just A Game”

Okay, I’ve heard this several times, and I take deep exception to the implications. The implication that I care more about my hockey team – or even one player – than I do about the current events we hear about every day is ludicrous. It is symptomatic of the all-or-nothing thinking too often seen today: you can’t care about A if you care about B.

Wrong. I can care about it all. There’s certainly room enough for us to rail at the news on all fronts, from current events to sports.

And there’s room enough in my heart to be devastated over this trade (and all it entails) while still caring about Other Things In The World.

I love hockey. I live hockey. I love the Habs, and I adore P.K. Subban. Is he the whole team? Of course not, nor have I ever implied that he was.

Will his electrifying presence leave a gaping hole in the fabric of my experience watching, cheering for, and writing about the Montreal Canadiens? Damn straight it will.

Will it affect my ability to feel concern for other world events and circumstances? I don’t believe I should even dignify that with an answer.

There are hockey events still talked about today: Patrick Roy‘s trade to Colorado; Wayne Gretzky being traded to Los Angeles; The Pacioretty Hit.

Each and every event that carries with it more than just “the game” remains sharp and impactful in our minds. This trade will be among them. And because it’s new, it will take a while to process, for those of us who understand the depths of its significance.

It may take the whole 2016-17 season. It may take us beyond playoffs. But it is ours to experience, and should be, without criticism or accusation of being uncaring.

This isn’t an either-or. Please stop trying to diminish this by claiming we’re blowing it out of proportion in relation to Other Things In The World.

We’re Not Alone

I’m tired of defending my emotions to people who didn’t care about Subban and who, for their own reasons, are probably gleeful that he’s been traded. Everyone has a right to process this his or her own way, and I know I’m not alone in my emotional reaction.

As a writer, and a fan, I turn to many outside sources; not to influence my emotions, but often just to validate them. Some of those very savvy, very trustworthy sources include the above-quoted Mike Farber, and Pierre McGuire.

Each of them, joined by a world of hockey writers across the continent, has expressed the same disbelief and disapproval of this trade. And while their opinions wouldn’t have mattered to me, it does show that we are not just flighty fans or puck-bunny groupies who are going to miss this dynamic guy; it shows that it’s anything but a typical “hockey trade” (another diminishment I’ve read when expressing my unhappiness).

But you had only to listen to the rarely rattled Brian Wilde, of CTV News Montreal, reacting to the news. Wilde has covered this team for many years, and knows it inside out; he is knowledgeable without a doubt, and his reaction, unable to control his very clear emotions when he reported the news that afternoon, is palpable.

So here’s the bottom line: this is, objectively speaking, not a win for Montreal. That matters to me as much as losing the player himself matters, and if you’re a fan who sees the Stanley Cup as the ultimate prize, it should matter to you beyond a simple trade. Oddly enough, I’ve seen some of you more distraught over last year’s trading of Brandon Prust than you were to the Subban trade, and there’s no question this year’s has more of an impact on the team and its future than last year’s did.

We’re going to feel this – and express it – for a long time to come. You can scroll on past, but don’t judge us or condemn us for a very real, very justifiable pall we are feeling. It isn’t taking away from your celebration.

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