We live in a reactionary world. The hockey universe is no different: “Hot takes” over trades, signings and any other move are traded on a whim. And as to be expected, the hockey world exploded with reactionary takes to the 20 minutes or so that shook it to its core on Wednesday afternoon.
First, the Edmonton Oilers finally pulled the trigger on moving one of their many skilled forwards for a badly needed defenseman, sending Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson. Soon afterwards, the Montreal Canadiens dealt Norris Trophy-winning backliner P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for defenseman Shea Weber.
You can imagine how incendiary the reaction was. Me, I couldn’t help but think immediately of Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli and his Canadiens counterpart Marc Beregevin both trapped alone with their thoughts and echoing that of Job Bluth: “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
Because generally, in the light of day, after a swap of these proportions, cooler heads prevail and the voices chime in: those claiming “Yea but…” and “Well maybe…” are given the chance to state their case and the hockey world allows time to take its course. Deals like the Subban and Hall swaps are allowed time to be evaluated.
But yesterday’s deals were different. The immediate shock at how the Oilers could pay such a high price for a second pair defenseman and the Canadiens could ship out such an electric (and fan favorite) defenseman and receive a lumbering, declining backliner in return is warranted. And 24 hours has not presented much in the way of clarity involving these deals. Most of the piping hot takes that question the sanity, and more importantly the hockey-related decision making ability, of both Chiarelli and Bergevin are on target.
These are the types of deals that could ultimately sink the careers of the two men. The logic behind shipping Hall for Larsson is non-existent.
Hall was a dark horse Hart Trophy candidate during the first half of the season and he produced 5-on-5 points at a rate of 2.31 per 60 minutes. That was good for eighth among NHL forwards that played at least 1,000 minutes, and better than the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and John Tavares. And while it’s true that Edmonton was dealing from a position of need and thus forced to consider offers that weren’t up to snuff, this was not the type of splash that Chiarelli should have made. The Oilers have a stacked collection of young, talented forwards but dealing the most proven of the bunch wasn’t the safe play here. Piecing together a stable of unheralded but safe defensemen for a much cheaper cost, perhaps Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle, would have been the better play. The need for a solid defenseman in Edmonton has grown so much so that one blueliner, albeit one with talent and gorwing potential, won’t turn the franchise around.
Hall said after the deal that he takes being shipped to New Jersey as “…an indictment of me as a hockey player,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. This deal should serve as an indictment of the direction in which Chiarelli is taking the Oilers. Again, the logic is non-existent.
The Subban-Weber deal appears, on paper at least, to be a much more even swap. But it’s not, and there’s a host of reasons why.
For all of the perceived “defensive liabilities” that come with Subban’s play, he still has the capacity to change a game offensively, as evidenced by his 1.21 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes, good enough for seventh among defenceman who played 1,000 minutes last season. Weber put up 0.85 5-on-5 P/60, and his points production is much more dependent on the power play.
In Weber, the Canadiens are getting a player who is under contract now, at age 30, until he is 40. Weber plays a physical game and you have to wonder how that style of play will hold up as he ages and also if he will continue to be worth his $7.8 million AAV in the future.
In Subban, the Preds are receiving a player who will be under contract from the age of 27 to 32, arguably a defenseman’s best years. His $9 million AAV might be larger than Weber’s, but is the difference anything more than negligible?
If the rumors surrounding Subban’s negative effect in the locker room are to be believed (and I don’t believe them, for what it’s worth), the Canadiens would have also been dealing from a position of need. But the goal of a Subban trade should have been to unload him for a smaller contract and logically a younger player. The Canadiens only received the latter.
It adds up to two of the most lopsided deals in recent memory. In the Taylor Hall trade, Chiarelli becomes the man who traded the No. 1 and 2 overall picks in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. (Tyler Seguin went second to Boston when Chiarelli was the Bruins' GM.) How did the Seguin deal work out again?
And Bergevin is now the man who seemingly sided with unpopular Canadiens Coach Michel Therrien instead of one of the most dynamic players in the game. Therrien and Subban were no strangers to controversy last season.
These are the type of crackpot deals that are hatched by uninformed callers to late-night talk shows on sports radio. For fans of the Nashville Predators and the New Jersey Devils, deals like yesterday’s were the stuff of dreams, concocted with friends after a few too many libations.
Yesterday, those dreams became reality and the line between dreamer and GM of an NHL franchise became that much thinner. Just as the logic behind these deals was non-existent (that does warrant a fourth mention) so too could Bergevin and Chiarelli’s jobs be non-existent soon enough.