In the dying minutes of the game with his team at the short end of a 6-2 score, Nashville Predators GM David Poile was strolling alone through the press box of the Air Canada Centre. “Not tonight,” was as much as he could muster. When you’ve been running hockey teams for as long as Poile has, the wins and losses tend to get put into pretty good perspective.
When it comes to making trades, Poile is probably the most dynamic GM in the NHL. He has never, ever shied away from making trades of seismic proportions. Almost all of them are actual hockey trades. And as well as the Predators have done cultivating their own talent, there are a shocking number of players in their lineup that came through trades. And when you make that many deals, some of them are bound to work and others not as much. And some of them take a lot of time before the final verdict comes in.
An example of one that has worked is Filip Forsberg, whom Poile stole from the Washington Capitals for a washed-up Martin Erat and fringe player Michael Latta. Forsberg has just one goal this season, which is part of the reason why the Predators are out of the playoff picture at the moment, after scoring 33 last season. But even if Forsberg does not accomplish one more thing in a Predators’ uniform, that one will be a heist of biblical proportions. James Neal from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling also falls into that category.
One that looks like it might not work out so well involves Ryan Johansen, another member of the one-goal club. Brought in with the hopes that he would regain his form as a 70-point man, In 57 games with the Predators, Johansen has scored just nine goals while Seth Jones has emerged as a game-changer for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
And the one that falls into the third category is the granddaddy of them all; the deal Poile made that shocked the hockey world this summer when he acquired P.K. Subban from the Montreal Canadiens for Shea Weber. This one will require a long, long time to sort out the winner and the loser. The early returns, however, have this one as a rout in favor of Montreal.
The Predators were looking for a dynamic personality on and off the ice and the Canadiens were looking to change their culture. Both teams got what they wanted. Weber has been outstanding in Montreal. You would have never seen him taking to the stage to sing Folsom Prison Blues, or ripping off his shirt in front of 70,000 people as the 12th Man for the Tennessee Titans or co-producing his own documentary on HBO. But Weber has brought the Canadiens exactly what they’ve needed and been a big part of them being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
So, for the most part, the trade has actually turned out pretty much as projected so far. Many who analyzed the trade expected the Canadiens to get a bump in the short term, but for the deal to favor the Predators a couple of years down the road. And it’s not as though Subban has been bad this season. He’s on pace to finish once again with 100-plus giveaways, which is not nearly as bad as it sounds. In fact, it’s actually good. It means he’s handling the puck a lot and not afraid to try to execute plays that sometimes result in him losing it. For all their up-and-down play this season, the Predators have the best power play in the Western Conference. (It should also be noted, however, that in large part due to Weber, the Canadiens have drastically improved their power play, too.) Subban started the season partnered on the blueline with Roman Josi with mixed results and is finding more of a comfort zone since joining with Mattias Ekholm.
In his team’s 6-2 loss Tuesday night, Subban was on the ice for three Toronto goals and none for Nashville. He had six shot attempts, was spotty in his own end and, even though he was booed almost every time he touched the puck, didn’t actually give people much reason to boo him. It was a rather tame performance by a player who loves the big stage. Coming to his hometown for the first time with the Predators and trying to continue the momentum of a three-game winning streak, Subban might have tried to do too much. But it certainly didn’t look that way. And it was not as though he didn’t have the opportunity. He was second to Josi among all players on both teams with 24:19 in ice time – 9:02 in the first period, 7:09 in the second and 8:08 in the third. (Meanwhile, about five hours east, Weber was playing 27:46 for the Canadiens in their 4-3 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers.)
“I thought he was excellent tonight,” said Predators coach Peter Laviolette. “I thought he made so many good plays with the puck in the offensive zone. Up high when there was a lot of pressure on him, he made good decisions, good passes, good plays and helped us sustain offense. As a team we lost the game, so it’s difficult to walk away and feel good about it. But I thought P.K. played a good game.”
The Predators are counting on nights like Tuesday to be in the minority with Subban in the lineup. It will take time for him to establish his identity and Norris Trophy credentials in Nashville. These things often don’t just happen out of nothing, they have to evolve organically. And when they do, the Predators will reap the rewards of trading for one of the most dynamic players in the league.