“P.K. is a leader in his own way, but I want to talk to about the player coming here. I want to talk about Shea Weber.”
That was Montreal GM Marc Bergevin in the wake of Wednesday’s blockbuster trade — one that sent Subban to Nashville in exchange for Weber, sending shock waves throughout the hockey world.
Yet no matter how hard he tried, Bergevin was always going to be talking about Subban.
Today’s deal ended what was, and pardon the hyperbole, a fascinating tenure in Montreal. Subban is a polarizing player, uniquely talented and perhaps the league’s most marketable player. He’s gifted enough to join legends like Doug Harvey, Larry Robinson and Chris Chelios as Canadiens that have won the Norris Trophy, yet maddening enough to draw constant critiques from his head coach.
Subban was revered for his philanthropy and charitable work in Montreal, and was constantly visible in the community. Yet there were incessant rumblings of friction with teammates, and a rumored lack of harmony in the dressing room.
So, enter Weber, and the phrases Bergevin used to describe him.
“Tremendous leader” and “proven player.”
“A complete and reliable defenseman.”
He wasn’t done there.
“We always listen to offers from other teams if it’s going to improve our club,” Bergevin continued. “Today we were presented with an unique opportunity to improve our team, and I truly believe we took a step in the right direction.”
Those questioning Montreal for making this deal will counter with a few points. First, there are the age and contract factors. Subban just turned 27 in May, while Weber is 31 in August.
Subban has six years left on his deal, Weber 10.
From a statistical perspective, it’s fair to suggest Weber — with nearly 800 games played on his resume — could be slowing down just a bit. His regular season TOI in Nashville last year was his lowest in five years, and many people’s lasting memory of him in a Preds uniform was the ghastly Game 7 effort against San Jose in Round 2.
“It was tough,” Weber said following the 5-0 loss, in which he finished minus-3 and was on the ice for every San Jose goal. “It was a tough night.”
But if there were concerns about Weber, Bergevin wasn’t indulging them at Wednesday’s presser.
In fact, he talked up how the former Preds captain would boost Montreal’s sagging power play, and continually expressed what a big, prototypical, traditional workhorse Weber is on the blueline.
“You can’t ask for more — he’s a helluva defenseman,” Bergevin explained. “His track record shows for itself. Last year in the playoffs he averaged over 27 minutes a night, so he’s a very useful defenseman.
“He’s a stud.”
This assessment, you could argue, is maybe what Montreal didn’t see in Subban.
There’s very little that’s traditional about his game. He’s a risk-taker, and the term “swashbuclking” has been used to describe his style on more than one occasion. Back in February, Habs head coach Michel Therrien ripped Subban for a “selfish play that cost us the game” — a one-handed move against the Avs that backfired, and ended up in Montreal’s net.
In the aftermath, Therrien stood by his critique, only adding the requisites — he had no problem with an “enthusiastic” guy like Subban, who was always in “a playful mood.” Subban then responded how Subban always does, by insisting he wasn’t going to change the way he played.
And that, right there, could be why today’s trade was made. The Habs were never going to make P.K. be like Weber, and P.K. was never going to make P.K. be like Weber.
But Bergevin could make the trade, and take the risk that came along with it.
“Today we completed an important transaction that I’m convinced will make the Canadiens a better team,” he said. “[But] it is also one of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make as a general manager.”