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Subban trade leaves Montreal stunned

Popular defenseman, franchise cornerstone heads to Predators

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL - At just about 5:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, storm clouds gathered over this city's landmark Mount Royal and the skies opened, the torrential downpour one of biblical quality.

Just a coincidence, surely, with new Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban in Paris on vacation and about to take part in a media conference call to discuss his stunning trade from the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman Shea Weber.

Ultimately, the call was unavailable to Montreal media, who were unplugged because of live French-language radio overlapping the call's impatient host. That left the now former Canadien to speak briefly to Nashville journalists alone before he hung up, finished dinner and made plans to move on Thursday to Croatia, P.K.'s excellent adventure continuing in a bold new light.

It was a truly surreal afternoon into evening in this town, a few hours that were missing only locusts. But you had the feeling they were coming.

Video: E.J. Hradek breaks down Subban for Weber trade

Subban took the high road on the conference call, if leaving a little room - well, a canyon - between his lines for others to interpret.

"Listen, when I was a Montreal Canadien, it was nothing but fantastic times for me," he said. "I have to say out of all the fan bases in the National Hockey League, the Montreal Canadiens fans, the community and province of Quebec probably have embraced me more than any other player has felt in any other city.

"It's give and take. I've done a lot of things in that community and they have supported me since the day I was drafted. I've always felt wanted by the fans and the community there. On the business side of things, the Montreal Canadiens paid me a lot of money two years ago to do what I do for a living and at end of the day, I just wanted to come in and do my job. But obviously, right now, I'm going to a team that wants me and the Montreal Canadiens felt they had to take it down a different path."

If Subban did not feel wanted by Canadiens management, and that much is clear, he needn't waste a thought about that now.

Rewind six days to Buffalo to the eve of the NHL Draft, when Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin held a state-of-the-union briefing about his team, a question-and-answer volley for the ages.

Maybe 95 percent of the GM's replies were to questions, from every angle, about Subban, his incandescent defenseman who was rumored to be on his way out of Montreal.

Video: Reaction to the Subban/Weber trade

Near the end of the session, tiring of the queries that crashed over him as relentlessly as waves, never having categorically stated that Subban would not be moved, Bergevin finally said, "This is all about P.K. and I don't know why."

Leaving the hotel not long afterward, charbroiled after this grilling as he headed back to his team's scouting base in Toronto, Bergevin joked to a reporter, "Do I have any layers left on me?"

He did. Not so much now.

The following night, after the first round of the draft, Bergevin wasn't much in the mood to discuss with the media the idea that the Subban storm had passed.

"I don't want to answer any more P.K. questions," he said with a tight smile. "I answered them all [Thursday]. Not once, not twice but three times. I will not answer any more P.K. questions, I made it clear [Thursday]."

As blockbusters go, the trade of Subban on Wednesday to the Predators for Weber, straight up, busted not just a block, but the entire city of Montreal. 

In the eyes of an enraged fan base, this was an earthquake, its fault line running just partly through Bergevin's office. The fissure they saw also swallowed the office of team owner Geoff Molson, who surely had veto power, had he wanted to exercise it, on the stunning deal.

This wasn't any ordinary trade, after all. This was moving if not the most popular player in this city, then one who's in a tie with goaltender Carey Price for the No. 1 ranking.

Video: P.K. Subban talks about being traded to Nashville

In a statement before he appeared at a dinner-hour, three-ring news conference at the Canadiens' training base in Brossard, across the boiling St. Lawrence River from downtown, Bergevin called the trade "one of the most difficult decisions I had to make as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens."

Do the math and there is a list of zero decisions more difficult than this one.

At first blush, apoplectic Canadiens fans were comparing the Subban trade to the Dec. 6, 1995 deal that sent franchise goaltender Patrick Roy and captain Mike Keane to the Colorado Avalanche for Jocelyn Thibault, Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky.

A huge undercurrent of the Roy trade was about personality, a clash of the gigantic egos of the goalie and his strong-willed new coach, Mario Tremblay. There is plenty of rumbling in Montreal that Subban's ticket out of town was punched by his personality, which many suggest was too strong for the dressing room and the franchise at large.

Bergevin denied that Wednesday, saying that it was not a conflict of personalities that precipitated the trade. You will not convince many Canadiens fans - ever - that this is the truth.

Video: Marc Bergevin on the P.K. Subban/Shea Weber trade

"I understand that P.K. is popular," Bergevin said, perhaps understating the player's appeal. "But what we got in return is an elite defenseman."

Indeed, the Canadiens are getting the hugely talented, thunder-shooting Weber, who through no fault of his own will arrive here already in a hole that's a few feet deep.

But Subban was a cornerstone of the franchise, a Norris Trophy-winning, All-Star defenseman who was adored in the community and was a hugely marketable, money-making commodity for his employer. He probably was the first player in Montreal since Guy Lafleur who would lift you out of your seat when he rushed the puck, no matter that the rush didn't always end well.

The clouds over Montreal will clear, but the storm will gather again when the puck drops on the new season. On March 2, Subban is scheduled to return to Bell Centre and head to the visitors' dressing room, where he will change into a uniform that, remarkably, is even more colorful than his own suits.

And what a circus that will be.

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