BUFFALO -- All he had to say was this: "I'm not trading P.K. Subban."
Had Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin done that after the NHL GM meeting at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo on Thursday, he could have stopped the rumors and reports about a possible blockbuster deal on the eve of the 2016 NHL Draft. At least he could have given them more serious pause.
But he didn't.
Instead, he walked into a conference room, stood in front of an interview backdrop, faced a swarm of media and gave what sounded like rote answers in French and English.
"It's not even listening to offers," Bergevin said. "I'm taking calls. When a GM calls me, I don't know what he's calling me about. So I answer the phone, and, yes, I've received calls on P.K. But I'm not shopping P.K. Subban. I can tell you that."
Did Bergevin leave the door open for a deal? Maybe. Just a crack.
Is it realistic that the Canadiens will trade Subban? Bergevin said no, and considering what certainly would be a high cost, probably not.
What does this mean? Bergevin is doing his job as a GM in the sense that you never know when someone might make you an offer you can't refuse, or he is driving a hard bargain. He also is inviting more questions about Subban, one of the most dynamic defensemen in the game, a core member of the Canadiens and yet an oft-critcized, controversial figure.
If there were a time for teams to call about Subban and Bergevin to listen, it would be now. Subban, 27, is a Norris Trophy winner entering the third season of an eight-year contract with a $9 million salary-cap charge. Most importantly, he has a no-movement clause that kicks in July 1. The Canadiens have full control over the situation now; they won't in a few days.
Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning said that he was among the GMs who had called Bergevin about Subban. Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli did not name Subban, but he said he would like to add a No. 1 defenseman with a right-handed shot. Hmm. He has a lot of assets to trade too.
Bergevin said he wasn't surprised at all that other GMs were inquiring. He said he had done his due diligence in the past when he knew a player's no-movement clause was about to kick in, even if he was "99.9 percent" certain that the player wasn't going anywhere.
"I made the call anyway," Bergevin said. "I'm sure they do the same thing."
Asked what it would take for him to trade Subban, Bergevin scoffed.
"I don't even want to go there," he said.
Why not simply say he's not trading Subban then? Because as a GM you never say never?
"Of course you never say never," he said. "If somebody offered me half of their team, well …"
He laughed a little.
"You know, you've got to make it work," he said. "But it's not my intention."
That makes sense. But here's the problem: It didn't stop the questions, and there will continue to be questions about Subban, whether they're fair or unfair, because of the way he plays and the way he carries himself.
Video: Bergevin on Subban and the NHL Draft
Subban is a brilliant player and one of the brightest personalities in the NHL, if not the brightest. He performs with flair. He dresses with flair. He isn't afraid to speak his mind. But does he clash with coach Michel Therrien and some of his teammates? Does he have too much personality for some tastes?
Bergevin did defend Subban on Thursday. He said Subban's game had improved a lot. A man who dresses with flair himself, he said he had no problem with Subban off the ice.
"He wears clothes probably as closest to mine; maybe more color, that's it," Bergevin said. "There's nothing wrong with having personality."
Asked if Subban followed the Canadiens way, Bergevin said: "Well, what's the Canadiens way? We want players to be themselves. They're not robots. As long as they perform on the ice and do what they're supposed to do as a team, we have no issues with that whatsoever."
Bergevin wondered why everyone was talking about Subban.
"This is all about P.K.," he said, "and I don't know why."
But would we be talking about Subban if Bergevin weren't willing to listen?