BROSSARD, Quebec—In the aftermath of defenceman P.K. Subban being traded to the Nashville Predators, text messages and tweets poured in.
The first text that came in struck a chord.
“This can’t be real,” said a social worker at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, her office mere steps from the atrium that bears Subban’s name.
“There’s going to be a lot of crying children here,” she added. “It’s not just the donation he made. He showed up here unannounced all the time, he developed relationships with them, brightened their lives. He was a God to them.”
Subban seemingly had that effect on almost everyone in Montreal.
On the ice, he lifted the fans out of their seats with his effervescence, his effort and his natural ability. He evoked a reaction no other player in Montreal has received since the great Guy Lafleur streaked down the wing as part of dynasty teams in the 1970s.
Over the past five seasons, the only two defencemen to accumulate more points than Subban’s 238 were Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson and San Jose’s Brent Burns. The former was given much more leeway by his coaches to create offence and the latter moonlighted as a right-winger at times.
Off the ice, Subban, a native of Toronto, gave all of himself to the people of Montreal.
Trade him? Fans scoffed at the idea, but Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin didn’t.
Hours after pulling the trigger on what has to be one of the biggest trades the Canadiens have ever seen, Bergevin insisted he got the better end of the deal by bringing 30-year-old Shea Weber and his $7.8-million cap hit over the next ten seasons to Montreal. He wouldn’t give way to the suggestion that the decision to trade Subban was motivated by the defenceman’s over-the-top personality or the reported conflicts he may have been embroiled in with teammates or coaches.
“There was never an issue,” Bergevin said. “Never a problem. …I think it was blown out of proportion.”
But most general managers would hang up the phone on rival GMs inquiring about their franchise player. Not only did Bergevin not do that, he entertained several offers at the NHL Draft last Friday before taking Predators GM David Poile’s call.
“He got my attention when he brought up the name of Shea Weber,” said Bergevin before detailing that the conversation resumed Monday and the deal was formalized early Wednesday afternoon.
“It was essential to get a defenceman back who could play the kind of minutes Subban could,” he said in French.
Weber, a two-time Olympic champion with Team Canada and longtime captain of the Predators, is more than capable of doing just that.
The 6-foot-4, 236-pound Kelowna, B.C. native built his reputation on being one of the toughest competitors in the game. He cemented it on the strength of his fearsome shot, which has helped him produce 166 goals and 443 points in 763 NHL games.
But in evaluating the trade, it’s impossible to look past the fact that Weber’s skated through five of his prime years, playing in the heavy-hitting Western Conference, traveling many more miles than he would have if he’d spent his first 10 seasons out East.
“I believe he’s going to be good for a long time,” said Bergevin.
Weber, who turns 31 in August, had better be great for a long time. The man he’s replacing is 27 and still on the front nine of what’s already been an illustrious career.
“He’s the modern-day defenceman,” said Poile of Subban. “It’s players like P.K. Subban who are going to make the difference going from defence to offence, rushing the puck, carrying the mail as I like to say.”
Those facts, coupled with the disparity in age between the two players, should have enabled Bergevin to obtain more in this deal—a draft pick, a prospect, a forward with scoring potential.
And though Weber may prove to be a better fit on the Canadiens’ blue line and a better fit in coach Michel Therrien’s system, he can’t possibly rival Subban’s presence in Montreal. That’s why a funeral-like atmosphere hangs over the city.
“I’ve always felt wanted by the fans and the community there,” said Subban on a conference call from Paris.
But Bergevin and the Canadiens never seemed as enamoured.