The moment has passed. There had been a time when the Montreal Canadiens probably should have regretted trading away P.K. Subban for Shea Weber (even if they didn’t actually regret it). That time came and went.
It was when the Habs were in the process of nearly missing the playoffs in four out of five seasons, with Subban having been traded away at the very start of that stretch. With the Canadiens coming off a play-in series win in 2020 and a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2021, that was literally years ago now. It at least feels likes a different lifetime. This season has aged us all horribly, is all I’m saying.
Subban No Longer the Same Defenseman
While the implication is the Habs have turned a corner, that’s obviously an exaggeration. Case in point their current circumstances, as the NHL’s worst team. However, there’s little to suggest Subban would be able to offer much in the way of gameplay to turn that situation around. He’s simply not the same dynamic defenseman he was.
In fairness, his production since being named a 2018 James Norris Memorial Trophy finalist isn’t all bad. It only looks that way in comparison. For example he only scored 19 points in 2020-21, but those 19 points came in 44 games, which put him on pace for 35… hardly a disappointing total (unless you’ve got a $9 million cap hit). He has 15 points so far this season, putting him on pace for almost 30. Jeff Petry, Subban’s would-be trade buddy in the minds of some, is on pace for… 13.
Now, to a certain extent it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison. Because Petry is coming off a career-best season, there’s a school of thought this career-worst season of his is an aberration and he can still be part of the solution with the Canadiens. Subban’s been less than the best version of himself for far longer.
However, there’s a very real sense Petry wants out and is for all intents and purposes on the trade market. Subban, by all accounts, loved his time in Montreal to the point of pledging $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Realistically, considering he’s made visits back to town in the past, he may very well embrace a chance to also return to the Habs, especially with a new management group in place.
Subban vs. Petry
Would he be welcome? To a certain extent it’s irrelevant. It’s counterintuitive for new general manager Kent Hughes to reacquire Subban, whether via trade or free agency (with his deal expiring this summer). If it’s a trade (for Petry, for example), clearly the idea would be to acquire an expiring bad contract (Subban’s) in exchange for Petry’s, which only expires in 2025.
The assumption there is Petry won’t return to the same level of play he showed in past years, which may be fair as he’s 34. However, he’s most likely not as bad as he’s been playing as of late. If Petry absolutely has to go, it would make more sense to trade him for picks/ prospects, i.e., futures. Subban just doesn’t fit that criterion.
Similarly, bringing Subban on as a free agent? Clearly, it would only happen at a far lower cap hit than the $9 million of his current deal. He is 33 years old and on the decline after all. Unless it’s for a bargain-basement deal at less than $3 million, it just wouldn’t be worth it.
Maybe not even at less than $3 million for the simple reason this is a rebuilding team. Subban may not be young, but he realistically still has a few years left. He’d probably be looking for a multi-year deal, in which case he would potentially be taking a spot from Habs prospects on the rise.
True, there isn’t much depth on the right side, and there would be far less if Petry gets dealt. Replacing him with Subban, even via free agency, is still a bad medium to long-term solution. You’d be blocking prospects from reaching that next level and devoting a roster spot to someone who’s no longer a good fit, when other, actually viable free agents are likely available.
Some may say Subban’s not a good fit from the perspective of locker-room culture. Some may say Weber was a significant upgrade in terms of leadership, and Subban would only become a distraction and set an improper example for prospects moving forward. That’s not it at all. In fact, the facts tell a different story. Hell, Dale Weise, a former Subban teammate, tells a different story.
Subban vs. Weber, One Hopefully Final Time
Subban helped the Canadiens reach two separate Eastern Conference Final series (2010, 2014). He far from prevented the team from taking that next step. Anyone who suggests otherwise is reciting revisionist history, unfortunately.
Plus, right after the trade, Subban helped the Predators reach the third round (and then the Stanley Cup Final) for the first time in history. That’s one thing they couldn’t even do with Weber, who, let’s not forget, was at the helm for much of the aforementioned stretch of the nearly four non-playoff Habs seasons in five seasons.
Now, Weber’s not a bad captain. He had the misfortune of being on a team that couldn’t get its act together managerially speaking. Once ex-GM Marc Bergevin put together a decent offseason ahead of 2020-21, the Canadiens eventually found their legs and got going, with Weber leading the charge to the Stanley Cup Final.
As a result, seeing as Subban’s Predators and Weber’s Habs each reached the Final, it’s time to call the trade a wash. Especially since the Canadiens are theoretically no longer on the hook for Weber’s bad contract. Subban’s next contract won’t be as rich, but the dollar value isn’t all that dictates a deal’s worth. Make no mistake, for what the Habs are trying to accomplish, rebuilding from perhaps as low as the ground up, it would be a bad contract too, regardless of the terms.
Subban remains a polarizing figure in Montreal and unjustifiably so, but everyone in town should be all too eager to move on from this season, as one of the worst in team history. No one’s solution should be to try to make up for lost time with Subban and relive an almost-as-depressing period in team history right after, out of what? Nostalgia? There’s only one way out for this team and it involves putting the Bergevin era in the rear-view, the Subban trade included. That doesn’t mean to reverse it though, for crying out loud (unless it’s to back up over it again and again). Reversing it means to reverse course. It’s all about moving forward. Subban willl always be an honorary Montrealer at heart, but his time as a Hab should be over for good.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.