Editor’s note: Cold As Ice contributor Phil Stacey (@philstacey_sn) recaps a crazy afternoon of offseason NHL action this week, days before the scheduled free agent frenzy was to begin.
“Honestly, why anyone follows/watches the NBA over NHL is mind boggling.”
Your faithful puck scribe tweeted that out around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, when in less than a half hour three mega stories from out of the National Hockey League hit the faithful like a tsunami in the Pacific Ocean.
Former No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall, traded by the Edmonton Oilers for—wait, are you sure??—New Jersey Devils defenseman Adam Larsson.
Then, an atomic bomb: P.K. Subban is dealt from Montreal to Nashville, straight up, for Shea Weber in a man-for-man deal of elite blueliners.
Then came the news that crushed the dreams of many who had hoped and prayed and maybe even written a note to Santa Claus in a please-please-please-can-we-get-him type fantasy (looking at you, Toronto, Buffalo, Detroit, et. al. ): Steven Stamkos decides to stay in Tampa Bay after all, signing an eight-year, $68 million pact to take what would’ve been the biggest ever free agent acquisition off the market.
As Chachi Arcola used to say: Wa wa wa.
It was an amazing day (hour?) in league history, especially coming on the eve of free agency. Three major shakeups in one day that saw hundreds of millions of dollars switch hands, teams try to strengthen their present (and future) core, and leaving us puckheads giddily wondering what lies ahead in 2016-17.
Let’s take a quick look at the winners and losers in these deals, beginning with the obvious:
WINNER: Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts keep the face of their franchise and best player despite rampant rumors for more than a year that he’d be heading for a “hockey market” or an Original 6 team. Turns out the 26-year-old center is more than happy to ply his trade for the next eight seasons in sunny FLA, which also happens to have the best corps of young, skilled players around him to chase the Stanley Cup.
LOSER: Edmonton Oilers. Peter Chiarelli has made plenty of good trades in his tenure as an NHL general manager. He robbed the Maple Leafs blind by sending Andrew Raycroft north for Tuukka Rask. He pilfered Johnny Boychuk from the Avalanche for Matt Hendricks. He managed to land a still-useful Mark Recchi (and a second round pick!) from Tampa Bay for Matt Lashoff and Martins Karsums. Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski from Florida for Byron Bitz and Craig Weller? Huge win. In the short term, dealing Phil Kessel to Toronto for what turned out to be Dougie Hamilton, Tyler Seguin and Jared Knight made sense. Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell from the Panthers for Dennis Wideman, a first and third rounder? Great steal. BUT … the deal he’ll be most remembered for is shipping Seguin off to Dallas for Loui Eriksson as the centerpieces of a 7-player deal, and that … has … not … worked … out. The Hall for Larsson swap may turn out equally as badly; a plenty-spry, 24-year-old wing who has put up 80 points in a season already for a defenseman who may only turn out to be, at best, a second pairing guy? Oh Peter; Harvard is really going to start to distance itself from you with these recent rash decisions.
WINNER: New Jersey Devils. Team Soprano got younger, faster and, most importantly, the shot of offensive adrenaline it desperately needs to claw their way up the Metropolitan Division standings and push the Rangers, Islanders and Flyers for a playoff spot. Somehow, they hoodwinked Chiarelli into taking only Larsson back in return. A win of epic proportions.
LOSER: Montreal Canadiens. (And yes, I absolutely LOVE typing those words). Marc Bergevin was a marginal defenseman as a player, more known as a clown prince who was among the NHL’s best jokesters. Well, fans throughout Quebec aren’t exactly guffawing after he dealt the 27-year-old Subban for the 31-year-old Weber. While still a No. 1 defenseman (with an absolute cannon of a shot to boot), Weber is not only on the books for another eight years of huge money—his contract runs until he’s 41 years old—but metrics show that he’s actually in decline in several key areas (puck possession, ability to carry the puck out of the zone, 5-on-5 effectiveness) while Subban is at an elite level in the same categories. (And can he even flop properly—a Canadien prerequisite?) The notoriously fickle Montreal boo birds will be out in full force at the slightest mistake caused by Weber, a seemingly good guy and terrific player who will be castigated for who he isn’t, not who he is.
WINNER: Nashville Predators. P.K. Subban isn’t only one of the best defensemen in the NHL—one with a Norris Trophy on his resume, a knack for delivering in the clutch and who is just now entering his prime as a professional—but equally important, he could “make” hockey in Smashville. An organization with a steady fanbase over the years, Subban’s infectious enthusiasm and larger-than-life personality (not to mention his humanitarian spirit and selfless off-ice ways) could invigorate hockey in the honky tonk to levels never previously seen. Nashvillians cared for and supported Shea Weber; they’ll love P.K. Subban both for his on-ice play and mark he leaves off of it.
With any luck, we’ll have more craziness when the NHL’s free agent period opens at noon tomorrow.