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So, that happened … and that. And that.
NHL free agency doesn’t begin until July 1, but a trio of seismic moves shook the league this afternoon — two big tremors preceding a huge, continental earthquake. A few of our puck-loving staffers weighed in on today’s madness, in the order that it all happened:
The Edmonton Oilers trade Taylor Hall to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Larsson
Donnie Kwak: The verdicts on this deal were swift and brutal.
The Oilers traded one of their most highly sought-after, explosively talented forwards for … uh, Adam Larsson. He’s a good, young defenseman (as a capable righty on the blue line, one coach even calls him a "unicorn") — but even so, it’s a bit of an uninspiring return for a 24-year-old winger who ranks behind only Sidney Crosby and Jamie Benn in even-strength points per hour since 2012.
So, Hall marks the first domino to fall in Edmonton’s unloading of offensive surplus (and the return of GM Peter Chiarelli’s itchy trigger finger). As an East Coaster, I’m legit excited to see Hall play in my time zone, no longer confined to late-night Center Ice purgatory on a terrible team. Hell, there’s now even a good reason to visit the Prudential Center. The Devils do have relatively recent history with elite offensive players including Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, but Hall plays the kind of Ovie-like Rock ’Em Sock ’Em hockey that galvanizes crowds and inspires YouTube montages. Boring Devils no more. Taylor’s about to move a lot of jerseys in Jersey.
Steven Stamkos re-signs with the Tampa Bay Lightning
Megan Schuster: The Great Debate is over before it really began: Stamkos today signed an eight-year, $68 million contract to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning (barring an unlikely sign-and-trade), and the state of NHL free agency got significantly more boring. Despite the rumors and the interest of half the league, Stamkos elected to stay on a consistent team that will likely contend in the East for the next few years. Solid choice, and probably the smart move to make. Now, he can go spend the rest of his summer in peace. Fans can’t really fault him for that.
Well, unless you root for Toronto.
The Maple Leafs faithful had been holding out hope for years that their Golden Boy would return home, and hope soared when he didn’t renew his contract in the 2015 offseason. People clutched their chests when he favorited tweets about Toronto’s reported interest. Barstool Sports even Photoshopped a LeBron/Sports Illustrated–inspired insert photo in preparation for an announcement. But now Stamkos has spurned them. Southern hockey stays winning (welcome to Nashville, P.K.!), and Canada takes another L.
This is the latest in a series of hockey downers in Canada. This past season, no Canadian team made the playoffs for the first time in 46 years. If that wasn’t bad enough, NHL playoff TV ratings dipped by 60 percent across the country, causing an executive from Sportsnet, the Toronto-based station that has NHL broadcasting rights for 12 years, to say that he was "disappointed but not panicked." Suuuure. Now, even when Toronto should be running-through-the-streets excited about no. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews, at least some of that glee will be tempered by Stamkos’s decision.
There are still a lot of positives that Toronto can look forward to, and perhaps more deals to be made. But at the end of the day, nothing stings quite like a rejection from your first love.
The Montreal Canadiens trade P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber
Katie Baker: Once upon a time, there was joy. Montreal defenseman Subban and goalie Carey Price were good friends, teammates, and the exciting future of the storied Canadiens franchise: two brilliant young athletes with charisma to spare. For years, when the Habs won a game, the buds had a routine: They’d skate toward each other, totally stoked, and connect on three successive low-fives.
It was nothing much, just a small and happy new tradition by two guys on a team that is often smothered by the weight of its own ceremony. And that’s exactly why the Montreal Canadiens shut it down. "The way we decided to celebrate this year is to salute the fans because they deserve it," explained then–head coach Michel Therrien in 2013. Today, the organization once again saluted their fans — with what amounted to a raised middle finger.
Of all the transactions that took place during a bonkers 30-minute span on Wednesday afternoon, the straight-up trade of Subban to Nashville for Weber was the one that resulted in the most dislocated jaws. Never mind that Subban signed an eight-year contract with the Canadiens in the summer of 2014 — "If I could do a 20-year contract with Montreal, I would," Subban said then — or that this fall he made a $10 million pledge to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Never mind that he is one of the most vibrant and authentic players in today’s game. This is a business; these things happen, even if they feel wrong.
But even from a nihilistic and purely hockey standpoint, the trade still makes little sense: As Edmonton-based writer Jonathan Willis pointed out, "Montreal just acquired the age 31–40 seasons of Weber in exchange for the age 27–31 seasons from Subban." Weber was last seen having one of the worst showings of his career in a Game 7 loss to the San Jose Sharks this postseason. He’s an elite defenseman, to be sure, but he’s not getting any younger or better. Subban still has room to improve. With Price battling a knee injury, the Canadiens have become a team without a clear identity.
"Awful," read one subject line in a shocked Montreal fan comment thread. "Just awful," went the entirety of his post. There was little more that needed to be said. There was joy in Montreal once; there was rogue celebration. But those triple low-fives have turned into a slap in the face.