The lure of landing one of the best and most respected defenceman in the NHL was too much to resist for the Montreal Canadiens, who shipped the popular Subban to the Nashville Predators for Weber in a blockbuster, one-for-one swap of right-shooting rearguards on Wednesday.
Many fans and media in Montreal reacted with shock or even outrage at losing Subban after seven seasons. The deal came two days before a no-trade clause was to go into effect on a long-term contract averaging US$9 million per season.
And despite Bergevin’s saying the deal had nothing to do with Subban’s flamboyant personality and playing style, the Toronto native’s statements suggested he will be happier with a club that plays a more offence-oriented game that is better suited to his aggressive but sometimes risky play.
Subban, the 2013 Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenceman, often seemed at odds with coach Michel Therrien’s conservative approach and at times was benched or criticized when things went wrong.
“Right now I’m going to a team that wants me,” Subban told Nashville media on a conference call from Paris, adding he felt the Predators will give him a better chance to win the Stanley Cup. “I’m just happy to be in a situation where I can excel and feel good about myself coming to the rink every day.”
Bergevin said he first talked to Nashville GM David Poile on Friday.
“He got my attention when he brought up the name of Shea Weber,” said Bergevin, who said he never “shopped” Subban to other clubs. “If you’re going to get a player of the calibre of Shea Weber you can’t ask for more.
“He’s a hell of a defenceman. His track record shows for itself. Last year they went three rounds in the playoffs and he averaged over 27 minutes a night. He’s a stud. You don’t expect to get something else when you get Shea Weber.”
The Canadiens gave up a highly skilled 27-year-old defenceman in the prime of his career for a solid 30-year-old who excels on defence and with his booming shot on the power play.
Questions were raised about Subban’s popularity with his teammates this season. He was passed over in voting for a nominee for a community service award despite his much-publicized pledge last fall of $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, where the entrance was renamed the P.K. Subban Atrium.
But Bergevin said reports of Subban not fitting in was blown out of proportion because of “the market we’re in.”
“Yes P.K.’s different, we’re not going to hide that, but there was never an issue, never a problem.”
Subban said he never wanted to leave the Canadiens, adding that it felt surreal when he heard the news.
“Listen, while I was a Montreal Canadien, there’s nothing but fantastic times for me,” he said. “I have to say that out of all the fan bases in the National Hockey League, the Montreal Canadiens’ fans and community and the province of Quebec has probably embraced me more than any other player has felt in any other city.
“It’s give and take. I’ve done a lot of things in that community and they’ve supported me since the day that I was drafted. So I’ve always felt wanted by the fans and the community there.”
The six-foot-four Weber, a native of Sicamous, B.C., brings a booming shot that helped him lead the NHL with 14 power-play goals last season. He has been a constant on Canadian teams at major events, winning Olympic gold in 2010 and 2014. Subban was a little-used member of the 2014 Olympic squad and was not selected for this year’s World Cup of Hockey.
Weber has 10 years remaining on a 14-year, $110-million contract that averages $7.8 million per season — so the Canadiens will save $1.2 million per year on their salary cap. The deal will take him into his 40s.
“Shea Weber’s got a lot of good hockey left,” said Bergevin. “I don’t see him stopping. He’s a big body that plays a smart game.”
Bergevin took Subban to arbitration before the Canadiens ended the dispute by signing him to the richest eight-year deal in their history two years ago.
Like Subban, Weber rarely misses games to injury, having sat out only 19 games in the last eight campaigns. Weber has 166 goals and 443 points in 763 career games. He scored 20 goals and 31 assists in 78 games last season for the Predators.
Subban recorded six goals and 45 assists in 68 games last season for the Canadiens. He has 63 goals and 278 points in 434 career games.