Yesterday I was fooling around on Twitter and started daydreaming about what would happen if the Montreal Canadiens were actually dumb enough to shop PK Subban. I was just messing with people talking about a Mitch Marner-plus deal for Subban offer knowing full well there’s no way Marc Bergevin would ever consider moving the 26-year old Subban who is arguably one of the best three or four defensemen in the world. That is until something popped up on my Twitter timeline this morning:
Did the rounds to find out if Subban is on the market. One team executive said “his name has come up”. @TVASports
— Louis Jean (@LouisJean_TVA) February 19, 2016
You might think us writing an article about trading for Subban is extremely stupid, but the Canadiens actually called around to see what they could get for him… So who’s really stupid here?
Now maybe this is nothing and Subban’s name might have been brought up just as a hypothetical when Bergevin called Pittsburgh about Sidney Crosby, but if Subban is truly on the trade market, he is the guy the Maple Leafs have to be all-in for.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 19, 2016
“Gauging trade interest is an interesting way of putting it and may point to Canadiens management being even more inept than originally thought. 29 teams in the NHL would be interested in trading for PK Subban. Not every team could afford his contract but the interest would be there and if Bergevin has to call around to find that out, Habs fans should be scared by how out of touch he is.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in the middle of a painful rebuild, they’re the worst team in the league and are just counting down the days until the draft lottery. It’s a long road back from the Burke-Nonis era but the Leafs are finally doing it the right way. Accelerating a rebuild is something that has failed in the past, but is it always a terrible idea?
In my eyes, there is only one way an accelerated rebuild works… acquiring bonafide superstars in their prime – and in Subban’s case, that is exactly what we’re talking about. PK Subban is a superstar. He’s a charismatic, fun-loving man who has the personality to succeed at just about anything he does and as luck would have it, he’s also got all-world talent when playing the game of hockey. Subban is one of the legitimate ‘good guys’ in the NHL. He’s great in the community, wonderful to the fans and charitable beyond belief. He’s the kind of player you want to put the captain’s C on. Oh and he just happens to be from this great city of Toronto.
Acquiring Subban will be expensive. The Leafs would have to give up a couple assets that the fan base has become quite attached to, but this is Subban we’re talking about. He’s one of the few players you’d consider moving your top assets for. The guys thought to be ‘untouchable’ are suddenly on the table. The problem is, you’re not getting Subban for Morgan Rielly straight up. You’d get him for Rielly + JVR, maybe, and that is a big price. Also, moving Rielly for Subban defeats the purpose as what you’d be trying to do is add to the future defensive core of the team. The Leafs first round pick this year would also be another piece Montreal would be interested in, but it’s probably not a good idea to trade the pick that could end up being first overall.
That brings us to the one asset that I would be willing to give up and that Montreal would accept as the centerpiece of a trade for their best skater – Mitch Marner. There are going to be many Leafs fans that would stop right there, ‘no way we give up on a player that skilled let alone add to him’ (which would likely be necessary). Hear me out. Mitch Marner is a fantastic prospect. He’s got high-end talent and projects to be a top line player at the NHL level. He is, however, still a prospect. He’s 18, small-ish, and does a lot of things on the ice that dazzle in the OHL but likely won’t translate over to the next level. He’s likely got the talent level to adapt his game and live up to the potential, but it will take time. Some fans are already penciling Marner in as a top line impact winger for next season. I think that kind of expectation is dangerous – he could be that player, just likely not next year and maybe not for a few more. If I were Lou Lamoriello, I’d call the Canadiens and offer Marner plus Pittsburgh’s first round pick and not even blink an eye (heck I’d probably even add any of the defensive prospects in the system to that package). It’s a steep price, but Subban is one of the few players you’d give up these kinds of assets up for.
Then there’s that other guy in Tampa. The longer he goes without a contract extension, the more the speculation is going to build that Steven Stamkos wants to come home and play for the Leafs. The Leafs are far and away the front-runner if Stamkos chooses to leave Tampa, who are perceived to be the next in line? The Montreal Canadiens. Why? To play with his great friend and minor hockey teammate PK Subban. Trading away Subban would all but kill any chance the Habs have of signing Stamkos this summer (if they actually had a chance to begin).
“But the contracts”. I hear you, Subban has a big contract, $9 million a year until 2022. Add to that the likelihood that if you can sign Stamkos it will likely cost you another $10 million long-term. The idea of $19 million is is something that would scare many off but the Leafs have spent the last two years putting themselves in an incredible cap situation. They have a lot of room going forward and will rely on relatively cheap labour through entry-level contracts. Two big contracts plus a likely Rielly extension eat away at the cap quite a bit, but making room for top players is why you clear out cap space in the first place.
Subban has a no-trade clause that kicks in this July but even if it were already in place there is no doubt that he would love to come to Toronto, where he can be among friends and family. He would be adored in this city in a way he didn’t think possible and would likely have a better chance at winning a Stanley Cup as the Leafs rebuild is already a couple years ahead of Montreal’s. Wait, Montreal is rebuilding, right? I mean, they’re so low in the standings…
Accelerating a rebuild is always a bad idea in sports, except of course if you can acquire two legitimate superstars in their mid-20s. This Leafs team is bad – really bad – but if you’re able to acquire Subban and hold on to all of Rielly, Nylander and your first round pick, all of a sudden the near future looks pretty sunny. Last night’s roster looked like a mid-level AHL team but add Subban, Nylander, Stamkos, JVR and a top-3 pick from this year’s draft (all of Matthews, Puljujarvi and Laine are likely to step into the NHL immediately) and you’ve likely got a playoff team next season. Hey, even Tank Nation can dream, right?