The New Jersey Devils stole the show at last weekend’s draft in Vancouver. After selecting Jack Hughes with the first overall pick on Friday Night, the Devils swung a deal on Saturday afternoon to acquire former Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban.
Subban getting trade wasn’t much of a surprise. The Predators are loaded with talent on the blueline and they wanted to free up salary cap space in order to sign a game-changing forward in free agency. When it was announced that Subban had been traded, most assumed it was to the Toronto Maple Leafs who had just sacrificed a first-round pick in 2020 in order to dump Patrick Marleau’s $6.5 million cap hit.
Instead, out of left field came the Devils. New Jersey weaponized their abundance of cap room to acquire Subban for a very underwhelming package. All it cost them was two second-round picks, Steven Santini, and Jeremy Davies. As I said, though, this was about Nashville opening up $9 million in cap room to try to sign somebody like Matt Duchene.
Beyond New Jersey and Toronto, Elliotte Freidman reported that the Canucks were one of the other teams who inquired about a deal for Subban. Freidman mentions that the Predators were looking for Adam Gaudette as part of the return for Subban. This has since spiralled into a rumour that adding Gaudette was a dealbreaker for Jim Benning, which may or may not be the case. There’s a chance Benning didn’t want to swallow three more years at $9 million for Subban.
The big deal the Canucks ended up making last weekend was acquiring J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Miller is a good player but he’s probably overpaid at $5.25 million annually. Despite the fact the Canucks were the team in the position to weaponize their cap room against Tampa Bay, a team in cap hell, Vancouver ended up giving the Lightning a first-round pick in the deal.
How does this pertain to Subban? If you add up Vancouver’s willingness to take on $5.25 million with Miller and the discussion around possibly signing Tyler Myers to a deal north of $7 million in free agency, it’s hard to imagine the $9 million cap hit was the major deterrent in a Subban deal.
Maybe it was the $9 million cap hit. Maybe it was Gaudette. Maybe it was something completely different. Who knows. Regardless of the reasoning, Benning ultimately didn’t pull the trigger on a Subban deal. Did the Canucks miss out here?
Though he’s just one year removed from a season in which he posted 59 points in 82 games and finished third in Norris Trophy voting, there are major question marks surrounding Subban’s future. Subban’s 2018-19 season was derailed due to a back injury, as he put up a career-low 31 points in 63 games before having a very underwhelming showing in the playoffs.
The Predators ultimately sold low on Subban after a poor season. Subban had a no-movement clause set to kick in a few days after the draft which would have made it a lot harder for the Predators to pull the trigger on a deal. I imagine they ultimately decided that they were better off freeing up room to add a forward than they were taking a gamble on Subban and his back injury. New Jersey, on the other hand, is taking a gamble on Subban, buying low in order to possibly go on a run before former MVP Taylor Hall can leave the team in free agency.
That brings us to the Canucks. There’s certainly considerable risk with Subban. If last season was any indication, he isn’t the same dominant player he used to be. But if he does rebound from these injuries, he’s a cost-controlled No. 1 defenceman that can make any team better. Given the upside, this is a risk worth taking.
The Canucks clearly want to take a step forward now and capitalize on Elias Pettersson’s entry-level contract, otherwise, Benning wouldn’t have given up a first-round pick for Miller. If the Canucks do end up signing Myers, it’ll be hard not to look at this Subban situation as a major missed opportunity. Even in his down season last year Subban was a better player than Myers was with the Jets. I would much rather take the gamble on Subban, who was made available for much less in a trade than you’d expect, than overpay for Myers.
Time will tell, but it’s hard not to view this as a missed opportunity for the Canucks.