On a day when everything changed, it became clear that some things never do.
The Edmonton Oilers are a bad team seemingly doomed to stay that way. And the Montreal Canadiens will always eat their own.
In a span of an hour on Wednesday afternoon, both teams agreed to stunning, self-destructive deals. First, the Oilers sent All-Star left wing Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for underperforming defender Adam Larsson, a trade that looked to be the NHL's most lopsided since the Boston Bruins sent Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars for Loui Eriksson and a handful of beans.
Until the Canadiens then dealt P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber.
And justifiably so. Their teams got rooked.
First, the Hall deal:
After missing the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season, Edmonton needed a shake up. There was an expectation that GM Peter Chiarelli would take advantage of his depth up front to acquire a defenseman capable of playing on the top pair and helping the team regain control of its own zone.
But that meant moving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle or even Leon Draisaitl. Anybody not named Connor McDavid... or Taylor Hall.
The 24-year-old is an exceptional player, inarguably one of the finest wings in the game today. He's a unique blend of skill, power and speed, equally dangerous off the rush as he is on the cycle. He's coming off a 29-goal, 65-point season in 2015-16. He ranks third, behind only Sidney Crosby and Jamie Benn, in five-on-five scoring over the past two seasons. And is signed to a team-friendly $6 million AAV contract through 2020.
Hall should have been viewed as part of the solution in Edmonton.
Maybe we shouldn't be surprised that Chiarelli didn't see it that way. He is, after all, the man who set the Bruins back a decade when he sent Seguin to the Stars in 2013.
A GM can get away with one blunder like that in his career. Two in a span of three years? It's fair to question his competence in the position.
“Brutal,” was the assessment of one Eastern Conference pro scout. “[Chiarelli] better check and make sure [Devils GM Ray] Shero didn't take his wallet and car keys, too."
Another was willing to cut Chiarelli some slack. “Edmonton got something they needed—a good defenseman who’s a right-handed shot, and some cap space.” But even he arrived at the same conclusion. “In the end, the best player went to Jersey.”
Scouts were less charitable in their assessment of the Subban trade.
“I really don't understand that one,” said the first scout. “That one defies all logic. It's Chris Chelios all over again.”
Chelios, you'll recall, was sent packing in 1989, the same summer he won the Norris Trophy, in an ill-conceived exchange for an aging Denis Savard. But while the positions, longevity and pedigree match up, the better correlation might be Patrick Roy, another legendary Hab run out of town in his prime because of a long-simmering dispute with his coach.
And that's what this deal was all about. GM Marc Bergevin may have pulled the trigger on this deal, but Michel Therrien spent years loading the gun. The two butted heads repeatedly as Subban's risky style clashed with his outdated defensive schemes. It was inevitable that one of them would have to go. It's inexplicable that Subban was the one to go.
Weber? Yes, he has a booming shot from the point, which is why he led the NHL with 14 power play goals last season. He's also bigger and more classically reliable than Subban. He'll make the Habs tougher in their own zone next season.
Which is a good thing, because they're likely to spend more time there.
Subban doesn't score as often, but he is superior to Weber by nearly every other measure. He's a more effective playmaker, he generates more shots at five-on-five, he's a superior shot suppressor and he's a possession driver in a way that Weber could only dream of being.
At 27, Subban is more than three years younger than the 30-year-old Weber, whose physical game is beginning to exact a toll on his body. And while he'll count more against the cap—$9 million AAV through 2021-22—his contract is preferable to Weber's deal, which averages $7.8 million per season through 2025-26.
No wonder the Preds leapt at the chance to add him. It's another amazing piece of work by Nashville general manager David Poile, whose team has shed Weber, Ryan Suter and Seth Jones over the past three years and yet now has what may be the best top-four in the NHL.
“P.K. Subban is an elite offensive defenseman with tremendous skill and contagious energy that makes the Nashville Predators a better team now and into the future,” Poile said in a statement. “Superstar defensemen of his caliber are a rare commodity, and we are thrilled to add him to the organization.”
The Preds will now be a younger, faster, more dangerous team. This deal makes them a more viable contender for the Central Division title and extends their window of Stanley Cup contention. Similarly, the Devils have addressed their most pressing need by adding a legitimate first-line scoring winger to boost their league-worst offense. The fact that Hall has proven chemistry with top center Adam Henrique—the two were linemates on back-to-back Memorial Cup champions in Windsor—only makes the swap that much sweeter.
Meanwhile, the Oilers can only hope that Larsson finally lives up to the hype that made him the fourth pick in 2011, and brings them some stability on the right side of their tattered blueline. And the Canadiens are counting on Weber's heaviness outweighing his slowing feet and diminishing game.
Hard to see either of those bets paying off.
Meanwhile in Tampa, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman quietly signed Steven Stamkos to an eight-year deal that averages just $8.5 million, a stunning bargain compared to the $10 million-plus he was expected to attract as a free agent. Of course, that's a discount a player is willing to take in exchange for the chance to play on a well-managed team with legitimate Cup aspirations. Something that probably won't happen soon in either Edmonton or Montreal.