July 1st is always marked on my calendar. Not only for Canada Day, but also for the opening of free agency in the NHL, a time when teams really set their game-plan in motion for the upcoming season. From a fans perspective, it’s always fun watching it all play out, speculation is rampant, and you try to predict who’s made the best changes to improve their roster. It’s like Christmas morning for hockey nerds like myself.
Fortunately though, Christmas has come early for hockey lovers, precisely on June 29th between 3-5pm. In that span, Steven Stamkos returned home, the Edmonton Oilers shocked the hockey world with a trade and then the Montreal Canadiens doubled our shock value.
Here are my quick thoughts on the moves of June 29th.
Steven Stamkos Stays Home
June 29th, 2016 will now be known as the day many Leafs fans had their dreams crushed of Stamkos playing in Toronto, and new dreams beginning of John Tavares coming home to play in 2018.
While many fans in Toronto, Buffalo and Detroit hoped their team would be featuring #91 next year, they shouldn’t be shocked he’s returning to Tampa, as it does make the most sense for Stamkos to return from a “win now “ perspective. Stamkos is known for being a fierce competitor, and the team that gives him the best chance to lift Lord Stanley’s mug while in his prime is T-Bay. He could’ve likely been paid more on the open market than the $8.5 million he will make in Tampa per year, but the Leafs and Sabres are still a couple of years away from contending, and the Wings are nowhere near the powerhouse or threat they used to be. Assuming the Lightning re-sign Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and Vlad Namestnikov, the core that has ventured to at least the third round of the playoffs the last two seasons will be intact. Success has been found with this group. Only potential problem: what happens after 2017 for Tampa, even if they do win the Cup next season? Will they be able to keep Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, who become RFA’s, as well as Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop, who will be UFA’s, if all four end up deserving of big pay days?
Did the Oilers Make a Silly Move?
The first major deal of the day happened when Bob MacKenzie reported that the Oilers and Devils were working on a deal for Taylor Hall. Sure enough, Hall, the 1st overall pick in 2010, was dealt to New Jersey for D-man Adam Larsson.
My first thought was, “oh, cool, wonder who else is coming back from Jersey?” Turns out that was it. All the Oilers got in return for Hall, arguably their best player not named Connor McDavid, was Larsson, a defensive defenseman who Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli said is a top-pairing D-man, though many have disagreed. Many on social media have also stated that this may be one of the worst trades of all-time, with the Devils getting an absolute steal.
I then thought, why? Why would Chiarelli make this move? The only explanation I could think of would be that Edmonton is trying to free up a top-six spot for a free agent on the wing, maybe Milan Lucic, to play alongside some of the kids. Plus, maybe the Oilers brass think a UFA/Jesse Puljujarvi will make up for Hall’s production, plus they get what they think is a top D-man out of it. But still, while Larsson won’t be a Nikita Nikitin type bust, it still feels like the Oilers could’ve received more for Hall, who’s just entering the prime of his career.
Subban for Weber
Then, almost as if to say, “You want shock? We’ll give you shock.” The Montreal Canadiens trade their franchise defenseman, P.K. Subban to Nashville for their franchise defensiveman, Shea Weber.
After months of Subban being traded speculation, this still feels incredibly shocking, especially as Habs GM Marc Bergevin recently said Subban wouldn’t be going anywhere.
Why did he move him then? Initial reaction says he did so to comply with coach Michel Therrien, in a move to try and get someone who can play more of a north south style that Therrien wants the team to play. They’ve already gotten a player who’s better suited to that style when they acquired Andrew Shaw and sent Lars Eller packing. Maybe that’s it? Maybe Subban fell out of favour with management over his somewhat high-risk/high-reward style of play?
Even if the above are true, it still seems like a stretch to move him for Weber. Shea is a hell of a defenseman, but two things are a little strange. Why was Montreal willing to trade for Weber and his contract, especially as he will be leaving his prime soon, while sending away Subban, who’s just entering his prime? Also, Weber won’t have the supporting cast he had in Nashville. Gone are Roman Josi, Matthias Ekholm Ryan Ellis, etc. to work with, say hello to Andrei Markov, Jeff Petry and Alexei Emelin. Weber will have to do more, with a less talented group, all while soon having to battle the pesky effects of Father Time. Not to mention, I believe Subban will now flourish in Nashville the way Phil Kessel has in Pittsburgh. Now that he doesn’t have to be “the guy” out there, all with a better D-corps, I think it will have a tremendous, positive influence on his game
Christmas came early for us hockey lovers, but what do you think everyone, who “won” today’s deals? Let me know on Twitter @nkonarowski2
Photo Credits to lighning.nhl.com and tsn.ca