How often is it that you see two players who mean so much to their respective teams, fans, and the sport itself the play in, traded for one another?
We may have just witnessed such a thing recently, when the Nashville Predators and Montreal Canadiens agreed to swap stalwart defensemen Shea Weber and P.K. Subban.
Predators General Manager David Poile openly admitted moving Weber, a five-time All Star and a two-time NHL First All Star team selection, was the hardest move he’s ever made. Weber’s 11 year career had only been in Nashville. He was the team’s captain, foundational player, and the person who maybe meant the most to professional hockey in Nashville. He was becoming one of those guys who simply became synonymous with his franchise.
Yet, ironically, that in and of itself may have been one of the reasons why Nashville went ahead and traded Weber. For all of his individual awards and for all the team’s postseason appearances, they never made it out of the second round of the playoffs. They started to lose the appeal of a fan base in eastern Tennessee what wasn’t culturally used to growing up with and/or supporting a hockey team. They did things the right way — drafting and developing players, playing solid all-around hockey, and slowly gaining more and more playoff experience each year — and yet seemed to be getting stale.
Why not trade Weber, who wasn’t getting any younger in an NHL that’s as predicated on speed as ever?
The fact that they were able to do so in exchange for Subban was that much more surprising, though. Subban was a fixture and fan favorite in Montreal since he was drafted by the Canadiens in the 2nd round of the 2007 NHL Draft. But his “bigger” personality — manifested in some off-the-ice antics — as well as the fact that the Canadiens missed the playoffs despite Subban’s stellar performances, made him expendable. There were continued rumblings through the season that Subban was on the team’s trade block, and general managers around the league heard that Montreal was interested in moving him — for the right price — but could never find the compensation package that would’ve met Montreal’s demands.
Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin effectively took a huge gamble in moving a player as talented and beloved in Subban — in front of the July 1st no-trade clause that would’ve taken effect for Subban — in exchange for the steadying presence that Weber will bring. He’s making a wager on the always-tough-to-define intangibles of Weber, over the more visible tangibles of Suban. He’s also making a large wager that Weber won’t “hit the wall” in terms of his physical durability and overall productivity, given that he’s a few years older than Subban. Or, viewed another way: the move is geared towards Weber helping the team make an immediate push into the playoffs, especially assuming Montreal will have the services of a healthy Carey Price next season.
Regardless, both Nashville and Montreal will have very different looks across their blue lines next season, employing players they hope will bring very new elements to each of their squads.