By Rob Ficiur
The Stanley Cup is awarded every June at the end of the playoffs. During the summer no team wins the Stanley Cup – but many teams make foolish trades or player signings that prevent them from winning the Stanley Cup next year and sometimes for years to come. In the salary cap world there is no “Get out of jail free card” if you over pay the wrong player you are stuck with that salary for years to come.
This summer some teams have made great moves to bolster their roster as they build to the future. Many transactions leave me wondering two things: “What were those General Managers thinking paying that much for that player?” and “Who would like to hire me as a General Manager?” As an arm chair executive, I know that you and I would never make these mistakes:
1. WHY? Montreal trades PK Subban for Shea Webber. This trade has been the most hotly debated (even outside Montreal) all summer. The 28 year old Subban had 6 goals and 58 points this year. His career best was the previous season when he had 15 goals and 60 points. In return for Subban Montreal got thirty year old Shea Weber who had 20 goals and 51 points in Nashville. Weber’s best offensive season was 2013-2014 when he had 23 goals and 56 points. Comparing defensemen based on goals and points is only one in many factors. In this area it would seem the deal is about even. So why the fuss?
a) Subban is three years younger than Weber. Subban is entering his prime years; while most players at 31 are beginning their decline from their prime years. Three years from now Subban will be a productive 31 year old defenseman; Weber will be 33 (an age when most players are in steep decline). Weber has been a hard hitting rough playing defenseman for 11 seasons and 763 games. Experience tells us that hard hitting players wear out their bodies earlier than the nonphysical players. Players such as Wendell Clark, Dustin Brown and Eric Lindros were dominant physical players until injuries and wear and tear reduced their effectiveness. I suggest the wear and tear factor adds two years to Weber’s “hockey age.” At his adjusted hockey age of 32 he has about three good years left in him. Now Montreal has traded a 28 year old Norris winning defenseman for a 32 year old. Why?
b) Was PK Subban a real team player? Since you and I are not in the Montreal dressing room we will never know. In the end, since the team chose to trade him before his no trade clause kicked in on July 1, we must assume that there was something in his behavior management did not like. One report suggests Subban was too cheerful after a loss. Another report noted specific defensive gaffs Subban made this year leading to key goals by opposing players. (In my limited time watching Montreal Canadiens I have seen as many blunders by Subban as I have star plays.)
c) The dollars don’t add up? Weber is under contract until age 40 (year 2026) for 7.8 million per year. Subban is under contract until age 33 at 9.0 million per year. Even if the dollars and value are good for the next year or two Montreal is going to be over paying an aging Weber long after his value has gone down. Why?
The reasons for questioning Montreal’s Subban trade apply to other bad moves this summer. Did you get equal hockey value on the ice? What are the implications two years and five years from now? Here are a few more examples of questionable long term moves:
2. Milan Lucic signed with Edmonton for six years at 6 million per year. At age 28 the rugged forward will be a great compliment to Connor McDavid. Four and five years from now how effective will he be?
3. Vancouver signed 30 year old forward Louie Eriksson to a 6-year, 36 million dollar deal. For 6 million per season the Canucks now have a two time 30 goal scorer to play with the Sedin twins. The Sedins will be 36 years old this coming season – the window of winning with them is closing. Short term Eriksson may be the answer. Again years 4-6 is where this will become a bad deal.
4. Edmonton traded Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsen. In this trade you cannot compare the goals and assists. Hall is a consistent 25 goal scorer with the potential for more. Everyone knew that Edmonton needed a solid defenseman or two. The Oilers have enough young star forwards to furnish two teams, but their defense has (and is) weak. Trading one (or two) of these youthful forwards for the defensive has been suggested for the last three off seasons.
The question is whether the 23 year old Larson was enough of a return for the talented Taylor Hall. As an arm chair manager I would have preferred to Oilers get one of the following: Jake Muzzin (LA) TJ Brody (Calgary) or Anton Stroman (Tampa Bay). As I went through this exercise I realized that most teams don’t have a young 25 minute defensemen they want to trade (including the three listed above). Maybe the Hall for Larson trade is good value.
If Edmonton, Montreal or Vancouver wins a Stanely Cup in the next couple of years with these new acquisitions fans will forget we ever questioned the moves. If one of these three teams makes the playoffs final four we will grudgingly admit the move we questioned back in 2016 might have been okay. Anything less than winning means these moves did not work.