BUFFALO N.Y. — If you have a chance to land a true No. 1 defenceman to work with Connor McDavid, you can’t let it get away — even if the cost is steep.
And if you have a No. 1, Norris Trophy-type defenceman that you are happy with? Then you quash any trade rumours as soon as you hear them.
So, while Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin would not state unequivocally that he won’t trade P.K. Subban — “I never actively shopped P.K. Subban. I’m not actively shopping him right now.
I can’t stop teams from calling me,” he said here Thursday evening —Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli will spend the remaining hours until his team is on the clock Friday night weighing just how much he is willing to give up for the elusive right-hand shot, No. 1 defenceman.
“It’s no secret we’re in the market for a defenceman, and we’re fully engaged in that and we have a pretty high (draft) pick,” said Chiarelli earlier in the day. “I’ve had offers for it and I’m listening. I wouldn’t rule it out.”
But Subban? That truly would be a blockbuster trade, with the Oilers No. 4 overall pick and young centre Leon Draisaitl rumoured to the asking price. Montreal may also be asking for a defenceman like Oscar Klefbom, but that price would be too rich for Edmonton — unless the Habs included their ninth overall pick, perhaps.
Montreal’s largesse would be the big centre in Draisaitl that Montreal covets, plus a chance to draft another in Pierre-Luc Dubois. That move would tip off a pending rebuild in Montreal, which seems odd considering goalie Carey Price turns 29 in August.
Edmonton lacks either a No. 1 or 2 blue-liner, so this is something Chiarelli can’t afford to pass up. Especially when one assumes the Oilers might not have another Top 5 draft pick to peddle for years to come.
“How many true No. 1 D are there?” asked Chiarelli, not speaking specifically about Subban. “There are 30 teams and maybe there are 12 No. 1 D-men. To think you’re going to get a No. 1 D (in a trade)? It’s tough.”
The Vancouver Canucks are also interested in landing Subban. Their GM Jim Benning said as much on Thursday.
“Yeah, we’ve been one of the teams that have talked to them,” Benning told a Vancouver radio station. “It’s a high price, but he’s a true No. 1 defenceman.”
That Edmonton covets Subban is no surprise. That Montreal would consider trading him away however, that is the mystery.
Two seasons ago Subban signed an eight-year, $72-million deal with Montreal, which includes a no-movement clause. That clause, however, does not kick in until July 1, leaving just over a week for Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin to rid himself of a huge contract, and a player who is believed to rub some teammates (and management) the wrong way.
The hockey mentality is a humble, often boring one. Players who fend off compliments by reminding of how great their teammates played are also prone to ostracize those players who stand out from the team or fail to give themselves to the system employed by the coach. Subban is a freelancer on the ice, to be sure, but a highly successful one with 164 points over the past three seasons.
Off the ice, his colourful wardrobe and constant interaction in the community brings Subban much attention — a quality accepted in most other sports but in some ways frowned upon in hockey.
Subban, who won a Norris Trophy in 2013, is also one of the top power-play quarterbacks in the game, and possesses a shot that the Oilers have lacked for years.
Imagine Subban teeing up passes from McDavid? Or, on the other hand, imagine if Subban’s larger-than-life personality did not meet McDavid’s eye?
Whatever the case, Chiarelli has been trying to scratch his itch on the blue line by trading one of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle, and has been stonewalled. He stated after the season that changes had to made, but thus far, no luck.
“I don’t know if it was a shot over the bow, but it was a strong message to our group (that he would alter the current lineup),” said Chiarelli. “We have a lot of talented players and there’s been lots of calls, but they undervalue … if you ask any GM, they’ll say the deal isn’t good enough (for their top players). They don’t appreciate your players as much as you do.”
Subban is a right-hand shot while the Oilers are loaded with lefties. He’s also under contract for six more seasons — with a massive cap hit of $9 million — but would check off a very important box in Edmonton that currently is vacant.
“I’m looking for a versatile defender who can play a solid game,” Chiarelli said. “I’m leaning to a right-shot defenceman. I really feel we need more of a righty-lefty situation in our group.”