It was only three years ago that Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin shocked the hockey world and traded fan-favorite defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Shea Weber. The trade immediately split the Canadiens fanbase into two sides: one that despised the trade, the other that loved it.
It seemed as if there was no middle ground, and that the great debate of which team won the trade would go for years to come. That was until June 2019, where a certain move by the Predators would evidently decide the winner of “the trade.”
2016-17: The First Season
The first season after Subban and Weber were dealt for one another, it seemed both teams were benefiting from their return. Both Weber and Subban had successful seasons, and so did their teams.
Subban finished the 2016-17 regular season with 10 goals and 30 assists in 66 games, and the Predators finished with 41 wins.
Meanwhile, Weber had an even better 2016-17 regular season, finishing with 78 GP, 17 goals and 25 assists in 78 games for a total of 42 points. Weber also was a plus-20 that season, compared to Subban’s minus-eight. The Canadiens finished with 47 wins that season. Both teams made the playoffs.
It was the 2016-17 Stanley Cup Playoffs that gave the nudge to the Canadiens fans who were against the trade. Montreal was eliminated in the first round by the New York Rangers in six games. During their short playoff run, Weber notched three points and was doing everything he could to help the Canadiens advance to the next round. It was the strong play of Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist and the inability of the Canadiens to score goals that led to their downfall.
Subban and the Predators made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final but couldn’t get past Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. During the Predators’ lengthy playoff run, Subban had 12 points in 22 games. Predators GM David Poile was also awarded the GM of the Year award, which many thought was largely because of the Subban acquisition.
2017-18: Weber Injury, Subban a Norris Finalist
The following season, it did not get any easier for Canadiens fans who were in favor of the trade. Weber blocked a shot in the first game of the 2017-18 season, which led to a broken toe. He continued to play despite the injury, but eventually had to call it quits for the season. To make matters worse, playing with the broken toe led to a knee injury which required surgery. The surgery on his knee kept him out for the start of the 2018-19 season. This was the first major injury in Weber’s career. He finished with 16 points in 26 games in the 2017-18 season. The Canadiens also missed the playoffs and were one of the worst teams in the league.
In a year that could be described as atrocious for Weber, Subban was outstanding. He played all 82 regular-season games, finished with 59 points and was plus-18. Although the Predators did not make it as far in the playoffs as they did the previous season, Subban still managed to notch nine points in 13 playoff games. Up to this point, the clear-cut winners of the trade were the Predators, although the play of both players in the following season would slightly even things out.
2018-19: Trade Evens Out
In the 2018-19 season, Subban struggled. The former Norris Trophy winner played 63 games and only tallied nine goals and 31 points. He also picked up three points in six playoff games as the Predators were eliminated early on. Weber returned from his injury in November and picked up right where he left off. The Canadiens captain played 58 games, scoring 14 goals and adding 19 assists for a total of 33 points. Although the Canadiens missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season, individually, Weber had a much better 2018-19 season than Subban.
One of my pet peeves is when people judge the trade on team success rather than individual success. Nashville and Montreal didn’t swap teams, it was a one-for-one player trade. This is not the NBA, and one player cannot carry a team to success (a la Connor McDavid with the Edmonton Oilers). Before the trade, the Predators were better than the Canadiens. Subban did not single-handedly carry the Predators to the Stanley Cup Final (despite what some Habs fans might say). That being said, prior to the 2018-19 season, people who thought the Canadiens lost the trade had some very pressing evidence. After the 2018-19 season, in my mind, things looked much more even, but the argument could still be made. That argument was put to rest this past June.
Subban Traded to New Jersey
On June 22, the Predators traded Subban to the New Jersey Devils for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies and two second-round draft picks. Santini is a depth defenseman at this point in his career and Davis is a ‘B’ prospect. The trade was seen as a salary dump by the Predators.
If you still think that the Predators won the trade with the Canadiens, hear me out. As of today, the Canadiens have Weber, a top-pairing, shutdown defenseman who scores goals. The Devils have Subban, a top pairing offensive defenseman and the Predators have Santini, Davis and two picks.
Some may argue that with the salary dump. the Predators were able to sign free-agent center Matt Duchene this summer, but that has nothing to do with the trade involving the Canadiens. Simply based on assets involved from the original Subban-Weber trade, Nashville is the clear-cut loser.
Now, just as I said when the original trade took place three years ago and people were so quick to say the Predators robbed the Canadiens, time will only tell which team wins. Maybe one of the second-round picks the Preds acquired from the Devils will turn out to be a superstar. Nevertheless, for now, the two teams the Predators made deals with have top-pairing defensemen, while Nashville acquired only prospects and picks.
The trade also shines some light on why the Canadiens traded Subban in the first place. Subban has now been traded twice in a three-year span, and the recent return was quite underwhelming. The Predators traded Subban to dump salary. If they truly valued him, they would have found another way to make cap space for Duchene.
The Final Verdict
I personally was a huge Subban fan when he was with the Canadiens, but I understood the trade when it happened. Weber was thought to be one of the league’s best defensemen prior to being traded. It was only after he joined the Canadiens that so many hockey fans around the world started to think of him as “washed up.” Weber was and still is highly valued among the hockey world, more so than Subban (based on World Cup of Hockey rosters and Subban’s recent trade return).
If Weber was traded today, I do think he would yield a higher return than what the Predators got for Subban. This is only my opinion and I believe this for two main reasons. One, Subban had a horrible 2018-19 season, so the Predators were selling him at low value. If they would have traded him last season when he scored almost twice the amount of points, there is no question he would have brought in a higher return. Two, I am a strong believer that people employed by NHL teams prefer Weber’s playing style to Subban’s.
When the Canadiens first made the trade, the biggest critique was the difference in Weber and Subban’s age as well as their contracts. Subban is four years younger than Weber, and many thought the Canadiens traded a player entering the prime of his career for someone who is on the “back nine” of his prime in Weber. After the play of both players last season, this has not yet been the case.
Regarding the contract, the trade resulted in the Canadiens saving $1 million per season on the cap hit, but Weber’s contract goes to the 2025-26 season compared to Subban’s ending in the 2021-22 season. The question is, can Weber continue to be effective when his contract is near its end and he’s pushing 40? If not, and he retires early, the Predators would, in fact, be the team taking the bigger cap penalty similar to the Vancouver Canucks’ cap penaltyfrom Roberto Luongo retiring.
I thought the deal was a good trade for both teams, and defended the trade when things weren’t looking good for the Canadiens. I also understood why so many Habs fans were hurt by the trade. Subban brought so much to the game of hockey. He was electrifying to watch, he had attitude, he gave back to the community, and he never shied away from a camera. It is never easy when your favorite player is traded, which sometimes can blind you from the truth. That truth being Weber is the better hockey player.