It’s Time to Talk About the P.K. Subban Trade Rumors (They’re Not Good)

The Predators’ Norris-winning defender is once again the focus of armchair GMs across the continent—and maybe actual GMs as well? We don’t know, but there are some things to discuss.

It seems like every day another article pops up somewhere on the internet—from clickbait sites to NHL dot com—suggesting that the article-writer’s preferred team should trade for P.K. Subban, and should offer...something in return, probably, since the NHL might raise an eyebrow at “future considerations” in a deal of this magnitude. Hey, there’s a brutal cap hit—a useless defender—an aging forward—a terrible free agency signing. They can make this trade work; they have a name or two (and maybe a second round pick) to suggest the Nashville Predators take in return.

Some of the rumors aren’t abject nonsense, of course. I don’t know how I feel about the “Subban for Phil Kessel” rumor that’s been floated in a few places, but Kessel is at least legitimately good even among NHL players, he’s about Subban’s age, and if he can keep his recent performance up—a big if, admittedly, away from the Penguins’ stacked forward corps, but he was excellent on bad Maple Leafs teams before that—he meets a need the Predators have (forward).

A lot of the rest of the rumors are frankly insulting. We ran a satire last week because the idea that people were suggesting, with a straight face, that Subban—Olympian gold medalist, Norris-winning defender, multi-time Norris finalist, multi-time All Star Team nominee (the award, not the game, though he’s been to the game and been enormously fun at the game more than once as well); charitable donor, community-builder; one of the most marketable humans in the NHL—should be traded for Jack Johnson, or Jakub Voracek, or enough cap space to let the New Jersey Devils extend Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier (I don’t even know how that last one was supposed to work).

The man is a fantastically skilled player and a legitimate superstar in a league that hasn’t believed in having those. And that’s what makes me think it’s time to have this talk.

Changes are coming

To be clear, in case you missed it, I don’t think the Predators should trade Subban. I think that’s an important part of any conversation about these rumors: that most of them are terrible ideas for the Predators and that even quasi-reasonable ones like the Kessel rumor are probably not the best move available.

But the fact that everyone with a keyboard and a team that’s not still in the running for Lord Stanley’s Cup has decided it’s time to figure out how little their preferred team can get away with giving for Subban suggests that there’s a certain feeling in the air. Maybe the feeling is simply rumors feeding on rumors, a mirage of a trade potential and a lot of wishful thinking. It’s also possible, though, that this is one of those “where there’s smoke there’s fire” situations, and it’s worth taking a moment to think about that.

Here’s where we stand:

After the Predators were eliminated by the Dallas Stars last month, in an embarrassment of a best-of-seven series where the Predators were so consistently outplayed and out-thought that there’s no single player who seems easy to blame, David Poile said,

I believed we had good reason to give this group another opportunity. However our first-round loss shows we have some areas we need to address.

We failed to meet our expectations and our fans’ expectations. There are some issues to address. There will be some changes.

He then committed to bringing back the same coaching staff for next season, including both Associate Coach Kevin McCarthy (responsible for the power play for much of the season) and Assistant Coach Dan Muse (more junior, easier to designate as the scapegoat). This does suggest that the changes to be made will be among player personnel instead of staff personnel, especially from the tone of Poile’s comments.

Subban is in the spotlight

P.K. Subban, on locker cleanout day, addressed the future trade rumors at some length. I’ll pull the relevant part of the transcription out:

I can’t think of anything in a negative way about this organization or city or my transition here that would want me to play anywhere else.

At the same token, if I’m talking facts, I’m the highest-paid player on this team, and with that comes a responsibility. Just like everybody else, the responsibility is on me to take the fact that we didn’t win the first round, we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish. I hope I’m a part of the solution. I hope I can be a part of the solution. But at the same token, I’m prepared to understand that this organization deserves and demands the best, and they should.

As Subban says, he is the highest-paid player on the team. He’s also a lightning rod for criticism—often undeserved criticism.

In one of the last games of the regular season, NBCSN opted to focus on Subban’s turnovers. Sure, Subban turns the puck over sometimes—every player who carries it often does. What NBCSN did, though, was genuinely gobsmacking. After the first period, they cut together a lowlight reel of every play that period on which the Preds lost the puck and Subban had been the player who had it last, while talking about what he’d done wrong and how he was just that guy who turned the puck over a lot.

It’s true that he didn’t have a great game. It’s also true that his teammate and fellow defender Roman Josi had a worse one, with a couple of eye-gougingly bad turnovers of his own directly in front of Pekka Rinne, and Josi didn’t get a lowlight reel. One of those turnovers was brushed off as an unusual mistake from a Norris-caliber defender like Josi, and the other was never addressed at all: the puck simply jumped onto Eric Staal’s stick right outside the blue paint, with no blame assigned.

I don’t say this to pick on Josi, I say this because NBCSN airs hockey nationally to people who might not know much about the teams in question and Josi was just in the wrong place at the wrong time to be perfectly right for my example.

If you were a casual fan, or a Minnesota Wild fan, or someone who felt passionately about some Eastern Conference team that wasn’t playing that night so you watched whatever was airing instead, it would be so easy to just accept the narrative you were being given. Of course Subban is bad defensively and turns the puck over; you just saw it happen a dozen or so times in a row!

We’re watching this team all the time—us, the OTF staff, and you, the OTF community (most of you. anyway; hi to those of you in other time zones who join us here anyway!). So are the other journalists who cover the Predators. We all know better, but it’s still sometimes hard to ignore what we’re hearing over and over again, every time we get stuck with national coverage.

So what does this have to do with the Subban trade rumors?

Smoke without fire?

There’s a perception of Subban as expendable, for whatever reason. Some of that is due to the narrative. Some of it is probably because, unlike the rest of the defensive core, Subban was drafted and developed by the Canadiens, not the Predators, and maintains strong ties to Montreal despite the ties he’s gone on to build in Nashville.

There isn’t a leaguewide perception of David Poile as a stupid GM, the way there is of, say, the unlamented Peter Chiarelli. Sportswriters don’t generally sit around thinking up ways their team’s GM could get the better of Poile. There are jokes about how cheaply the Oilers might give up Connor McDavid—I’ve made some of them myself—but those aren’t jokes about McDavid, they’re jokes about Chiarelli, who has at this point traded away almost every good player he had except McDavid for terrible returns. I’m surprised every day that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is still stuck there.

That so many people are suggesting their team’s GM could get Subban from Nashville in exchange for spare parts or worse suggests a belief that Poile thinks Subban is the problem and that these writers are willing to gamble otherwise—but not risk much.

It wouldn’t be the first time a GM thought Subban was the problem, after all.

In the end, it’s that last time that makes me unwilling to rule out the possibility that David Poile might choose to trade Subban this summer, even though I wish I could.

After all, he traded Seth Jones, whom he’d said just the offseason before that he saw as part of the long-term leadership of the franchise. Then he traded Shea Weber, who was the long-term leadership of the franchise—the captain, homegrown, deeply beloved among most Predators fans. After that, I don’t think there’s anyone on this roster who is “untouchable.” I wouldn’t even bet on Pekka Rinne, at this point and with Juuse Saros stepping up behind him.

And Weber was traded for Subban, in a move that was widely panned as disastrous on the Canadiens’ part. Their own internal analytics team told Marc Bergevin not to make the trade, that Subban was the better player and that they were getting a poor return. Weber has worked out better for the Canadiens than I think most people ever guessed he would, but he’s not Subban, and the Canadiens as a whole have been struggling. Is it safe to assume another GM won’t make the same call Bergevin did, and trade Subban against advice for a gamble of a return?

I don’t think it is.

I hope so, though.