It’s been a long time since I’ve written an opinion piece on this site, and I’m rusty as all get out. So if this reads like a jumbled mess of thoughts, forgive me. That’s pretty much what it is.
But yesterday’s flurry of activity is too much to ignore. Let’s start from the bottom, and work out way up. From least impact / important to most:
Stamkos Resigns With Tampa
That this is the least important of the three stories doesn’t speak to how unimportant Stamkos is, but how big the other two moves were. It’s only the biggest free agent taken off the market, with a no-move clause to keep him away from the rest of the NHL for 8 more years. You know, that’s all.
It makes you wonder about the business side of the NHL and free agency. Stamkos and Tampa circled each other for a year, and pulled out a deal two days before he could have hit the market. What took so long? Was it simply that Stamkos had to see if the grass was actually not greener anywhere else? Was it proving that Tampa had made it’s last best offer?
My feeling is that Stamkos wanted something else as well: a chance to have a say in how he played. Jon Cooper has often used Stamkos as a winger rather than a center, and Stamkos prefers being a center. My question is, how much did this factor into his decision? Yes, it seems small, it seems like a little thing when you are getting paid millions and going for a Stanley Cup, but you have a star player being put in a different role than they like by the latest head coach to come through, and he has a chance to play elsewhere in a role he might like better. All things being equal, wouldn’t you take a look around at your options? So I wonder if Stamkos had some conversations with the Lightning about his role, and what he didn’t like about it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Jon Cooper is on a short leash now. Pissing off a franchise player with a guaranteed contract who could have gone elsewhere is not a good way to keep your job.
I suspect there are more pieces to this puzzle than just one player and one GM. More than we will ever know.
Taylor Hall to New Jersey
While everyone was looking for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to be traded for a defenseman, the Oilers did something more dramatic and traded away Taylor Hall. Did anyone see this coming? Why trade away Hall when you have a few other, more expendable first overall players you can ship out?
Well, first off, Hall is a guy other teams would want. He has the most upside ahead of RNH or Nail Yakupov. So he is going to fetch a better return.
So why not keep him? It’s a good question, and I doubt there is an easy answer. But after six years in Edmonton, never cracking thirty goals as a number one overall pick (not his fault he was chosen there, but still), maybe it was time to move on.
He is also no longer the best number one overall pick the Oilers have.
But if I were looking at a starting point, one beginning-of-the-end moment, it would be this:
Why does this matter? Dallas Eakins was sent packing and Hall was chewed out a bit for it, but that’s that, right? Maybe. I don’t think it has to do with Eakins getting wet so much as Hall acting out on the bench, and seeming not to care. I may be looking at it as being more important than it really is (most likely), but if there was a divide between the Oilers and where Hall was in his career and maturity level, this might be an indicator.
One little incident does not a career make, but it can be a catalyst of change. Frankly, I would rather ship either RNH or Yakupov out, but if other teams are only buying the prime beef, you are going to have a hard time selling the less tender meat.
I know, what does that even mean? See? Rusty.
Edmonton needed to get better on defense, and they are addressing that need. Perhaps not to the level you would want to see for a player like Hall, but who is willing to give up a big time defenseman these days?
Speaking of giving up big time defensemen:
Subban for Weber
This move, I hate to say, made the most sense to me. No, hear me out.
Both teams gave up a big defenseman for a big defenseman, sort of a wash in the talent department, although I give the edge to Subban. But just. Both are very good, but I think it’s Subban you have to watch out for on the ice more. He hits hard, he skates fast, and he can keep the puck on his stick. Shea Weber is very good as well, hits hard, has a hard slap shot, and is a solid leader.
So why give up either player?
The reasons the Habs would want to give up Subban have been gone over at length elsewhere, but what is surprising to me is that anyone is surprised. The Habs have tried to make Subban something he isn’t (boring) and screwed around with signing him to a contract extension before backing up the money truck to his front door. I couldn’t understand the point of that, until later when his “personality” became more of a problem for the Canadiens. Frankly, I think that’s a BS reason, but he had obvious rifts with coaches and management. The “triple high five” “”””””controversy””””” was as absolutely ridiculous as it sounds to write. P.K. Subban was always going to be himself, and that is a good thing for the league. It’s just the Canadiens didn’t want it to be on their team.
Subban is larger than life, and that is awesome. Like I said, the league needs that. We need that. You can turn off the vast majority of player interviews and pick a random card from a deck of “Player Interview Quote Flash Cards” and be just as satisfied. Not so with P.K. Subban. He is the one player in the league, perhaps other than Joe Thornton, that will tell you what he thinks, and often in a fun and funny way. Was that going to fit with a team coached by Michel Therrien? Hardly.
Weber is not the anti-Subban, but seems pretty close. In Weber, they get a big player with skill to match. But why would the Predators be willing to give up their captain and such a big part of the franchise for so long? After giving up Seth Jones this season as well?
I think it has to do with the playoffs. If Weber hadn’t run out of gas in the playoffs, I think he would still be a Pred. Yeah, it’s one thing, and it’s just my uninformed, non-insider opinion, but looking around the league, looking at who made it deep in the playoffs, looking at the landscape, you need guys who can play 82 games and have enough left for another 20-24 games after that. Weber was logging huge minutes, and those could be cut back a bit, but was he going to accept that? Maybe, maybe not.
Again, just my observation, but when you run out of gas and have a coach like Peter Laviolette, who is known for having his players well conditioned, you might be looked at as less of an asset than you used to be.
To me, this trade makes the most sense for all the wrong reasons. It feels like a change-of-scenery type move, more than an addressing-needs move. I’m sure there is a lot more to this move, and everything that happened in one of the craziest half hours in offseason hockey history. But what we know and see is all we have to go on. Even the real hockey insiders are doing a lot of speculating.
For all the doldrums the offseason usually provides, it was a thrilling half hour.