The Nashville Predators are making history this season. For the first time in the history of the franchise, the Predators will be playing in the Western Conference Finals. On the line will be a trip to the Stanley Cup – the first potential championship appearance for a Tennessee-based franchise since the NFL’s Tennessee Titan’s lost to the St. Louis Rams in 1999. Another narrative to follow, however, circles around Predators’ defender P.K. Subban.
While playing with the Montreal Canadiens, Subban found himself playing in the Eastern Conference Finals twice in his six-plus seasons with the team. Unfortunately, both opportunities led to heartbreak and loss. The first occurred in 2009-10 when the Canadiens pulled out improbable series victories against both the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. Subban had only played in 16 NHL games at that point in his career – 14 of which coming in the postseason. Still young and new to the professional lifestyle, Subban would have to wait until the 2014 NHL Playoffs to return to the Conference finals. Unfortunately, that season also ended in a loss as he and the Canadiens lost in six games to the New York Rangers.
Though Subban signed an eight-year, $72 million contract to stay with the Canadiens in hopes of bringing a championship to Montreal, things would not unfold quite so simply.
The Trade That Shook the Hockey World
It’s been well-documented, but June 29, 2016 saw one of the biggest hockey trades in recent memory. The deal saw two stalwart blueliners and franchise cornerstones trades for each other in an identity-altering swap. For years, Subban was the face of the Montreal Canadiens. His charitable efforts were lauded and it was impossible to imagine him ever being moved. Still, there were inklings that a move could be on the horizon in the months prior, despite how much Canadiens’ general manager Mark Bergevin tried to deny the rumors.
Subban was eventually traded to the Predators in exchange for their then-captain, Shea Weber. Though there was speculation of a possible trade involving Subban, a simple one-for-one swap of defenders still caught the entire hockey world off guard.
The deal, after all, sent a 27-year-old former Norris Trophy-winning defender to the Predators for Weber – a player four years Subban’s senior under contract through his age 40 season. It was a surprising one, but it was also one that didn’t catch Subban off guard.
“I think that with a lot of the chatter that kind of happened over the little while, I’m a firm believer that usually where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” Subban said. “At no point did I ever, obviously, want to leave Montreal, or even was given a notion from anybody that I would be traded, but we know the way the business works.”
Aftermath of the Trade
While the Canadiens may have finished in first place in the Atlantic Division in 2016-17, their first-round exit from the playoffs was a concerning one. With Weber turning 32 in August, it’s clear that he is past the prime years of his career. This isn’t to suggest that he can’t still be an effective defender. In his first season with the Canadiens, Weber performed as expected. He was a big defender who contributed offensively – the issue, however, has always been his age. It’s within reason to point out the fact that the Canadiens may be further away from a championship than they thought when acquiring Weber – a player who solidified the Canadiens as a win-now team with their window becoming smaller with the trade.
The Predators, on the other hand, didn’t finish the regular season as Stanley Cup favorites. In fact, the Predators entered the playoffs as sizable underdogs against the Chicago Blackhawks. That wasn’t going to deter the Predators, though. In just four games, Nashville eliminated the Blackhawks and proved that when the regular season ends, all bets are off. The playoffs are the start of a new season, and as such, new opportunities could be found.
It’s impossible to declare either team a winner or a loser following the deal just yet. On the surface, the Montreal Canadiens feel able to justify the move due to their current needs and team culture. For the Predators, the situation looked different. Fresh into their contention window, the acquisition of a young, proven puck-moving defender was impossible to pass up. Just one year in, however, the Predators are looking to prove that they got the better end of the deal. And for Subban, the goal to win a championship has never faltered.
Predators Standing Tall
After eliminating the Blackhawks, the Predators were set to face off against the St. Louis Blues. No easy task, but also nothing the Predators weren’t already prepared for. With seven points in 10 games, Subban is doing his part on the ice. Even beyond point production, Subban has shined this postseason. His encouragement and optimism, however, have also been enough to motivate an entire fan base to buy-in. With the Predators winning nine-consecutive games at home in the playoffs dating back to last season, fans of the Predators have many reasons to be buying in this time of year.
— P.K. Subban (@PKSubban1) May 7, 2017
Just four wins separate the Predators and Subban from their first Stanley Cup Finals appearances in history. It’s been quite the journey and there is still a lot of work to be done. It’s hard to not root for this narrative as the playoffs continue to unfold, however. Far from a clown, Subban is simply making the NHL fun again.