Even today at the Bell Centre — three and a half years after P.K. Subban was traded — you don’t have to try that hard to find a fan sporting a No. 76 jersey.
Getting someone to say the deal was a mistake, however, is becoming tougher. There appears to have been a slow shift in how fans see it.
In the beginning there was a lot of anger over Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin’s decision to trade the team’s most popular player and the 2012-13 Norris Trophy winner. Wearing his jersey to the arena — for some — was a sign of protest against Habs management.
Now the jersey seems more like a tribute than protest. It appears Habs fans are finally coming around to the idea that Bergevin might have been right.
And Shea Weber, the player Subban was traded for, is the biggest reason why the anger among Habs fans over the trade has subsided.
The man-mountain defenceman has worked his way into the hearts of fans with his play. He’s healthy this season and it shows. The power play, which was among the worst in the league last season, finally has some mojo and Weber is largely responsible for piloting that unit.
But most importantly, under Weber’s captaincy, there is the sense that this team’s results are exceeding its talent. Last season — Weber’s first with the ‘C’ — the Habs were pegged by many analysts to finish near the bottom of the standings. Instead, the Canadiens had 96 points and only barely missed the playoffs.
That momentum seems to have carried over to this season as the team has played with a never-say-die spirit. Down two goals? They’ve been there and they’ve shown they can come back and win.
A lot of that comes down to Weber’s leadership both on and off the ice and fans appreciate it.
The other reason for Habs fans to feel better about the trade these days is that on the ice things aren’t trending in the right direction for Subban.
The first year following the trade, Subban played great hockey as the Predators reached the Stanley Cup final. But by the end of his third season, Nashville was ready to move on and this time his exit wasn’t marked with blockbuster deal. The Predators needed the cap space so he was shipped off to New Jersey for a pair of prospects and a couple draft picks.
Perhaps Subban felt he had something to prove, because in the early days with the Devils he seemed to be trying to do too much on the ice. It wasn’t uncommon to see Subban out of position while he tried to land a big hit and his signature ability to use his superior skating skills to move the puck up the ice wasn’t as sharp.
Things appear to be improving as he’s settled into his new surroundings and role in New Jersey. But Habs fans looking on can’t help but wonder if the magic he once had in Montreal is all used up.
Off the ice, Subban has reportedly taken on a more senior player role in the Devils locker room compared to his time in Nashville or Montreal. There are fewer reporters’ microphones in his face on a daily basis and he seems less the polarizing figure that he was accused of being in the past.
The story of the Subban-Weber trade has moved onto its second act.
It’s fair to say that Montreal lost the first act. From the public-relations battle off the ice to the product on the ice, Subban had the edge. His Predators contended for the Stanley Cup and his loyal fans in Montreal longed for the days when he wowed them night after night at the Bell Centre.
Weber’s greatest accomplishment with the Habs over that same period was a first-round at the hands of the New York Rangers in the spring of 2017.
It’s early, but so far the second act seems to be leaning in Montreal’s favour.
The third act — how does this deal look a few year from now — is to come. At age 30, Subban is four years younger than Weber. Will Weber play until the end of his contract? Will Subban remain a top defenceman in the NHL?
The end of this trilogy is yet to be written.
There is however, one clear winner that we can identify already — the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Subban’s commitment to them has never wavered since the day he pledged to raise $10 million dollars and they put his name on the atrium.
<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/NJDevils?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#NJDevils</a> P.K. Subban continues to wear his <a href=”https://twitter.com/HopitalChildren?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@HopitalChildren</a>’s pin for big moments… like walking the Devils season opener red carpet.<br><br>I do love this. Especially as a Montrealer. <a href=”https://t.co/kLACyZFdIx”>pic.twitter.com/kLACyZFdIx</a>