Could the Montreal Canadiens be setting up a big reunion?
Veteran NHL defenceman P.K. Subban is currently an unrestricted free agent after completing an eight-year, $72 million deal he signed with the Habs in 2014. Now 33 years old and coming off a disappointing 22-point season with the New Jersey Devils, Subban is slated to earn much less on his next deal, and is unlikely to get offered more than two years.
While the Devils may be inclined to bring Subban back, it wouldn't come as a surprise to see the 2013 Norris Trophy winner test the market and find the right situation for him.
The 6-foot, right-shot defenceman could be a good fit for a contender looking to add some versatility to its back six, but the most intriguing — and arguably most exciting — match could be with the team it all started with a dozen years ago.
If they haven't already, general manager Kent Hughes and the Canadiens might look at bringing Subban back into the fold, six years removed from a blockbuster trade that sent him from Montreal to Nashville in return for star blueliner Shea Weber.
Subban rose to superstardom with the Habs, becoming one of the league's most electric players — and personalities — in seven seasons in Montreal. The Toronto native scored 63 goals and registered 215 assists for 278 points in 434 games with the Canadiens and was named the NHL's top defenceman in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
Dazzling fans with his performances on the ice, Subban made just as a big of a mark on the community with his off-ice endeavours, most notably pledging $10 million to the Montreal Children's Hospital in September 2015.
While he is no longer the player that could turn a game on its head with a single moment of magic, he may be worth a flyer for a club that is most likely looking at another tough season ahead.
Habs' right side could use some help
After trading veteran defenceman Jeff Petry to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, the Canadiens find themselves short on the right side of their defence, with only David Savard, Chris Wideman and 20-year-old Justin Barron making up the current depth chart. Savard will likely slot in on the top pairing, but neither Wideman nor Barron are the type of players to reliably round out an NHL blue line's top-four.
Subban is no longer the star he once was, and cannot carry the same defensive responsibilities he was once entrusted with. He was able to hold his own in a more sheltered role last season though, finishing the year with a Corsi-for percentage of 50.51 and an expected goals percentage of 52.34 at five-on-five while averaging 18:18 minutes per game, the lowest of his career.
All indications show that the Canadiens won't be looking to sign a big free agent blueliner — like John Klingberg — to significantly bolster their defence, so perhaps a smaller deal for a player like Subban is the way to go for some right-sided support.
Horrible power play needs a boost
Montreal had the league's second-worst power play in 2021-22, converting on only 13.7 percent of its opportunities on the man advantage. Forward Nick Suzuki led the team with 20 power-play points, and the top-scoring defenceman on the PP was Wideman with 12. The Habs' power play cannot get any worse, and could use a piece to make it more dangerous and give the team a much-needed scoring boost.
Subban's reputation as an offensively gifted defenceman would make him a worthwhile candidate to bolster the power-play unit, having registered 190 points on the man advantage in his career. The problem is Subban seems to have lost his scoring touch, putting up only 11 power-play points since he arrived in New Jersey. In his defence, the Devils have the fourth-worst power play in the NHL since 2019-20, converting on only 16.1 percent of their chances.
While he won't turn this power play into a league-leading unit, Montreal could come to benefit from Subban's blistering shot from the point and his creativity with the puck along the blue line.
Huge fan favourite
You can't have a conversation about hockey in Montreal without it quickly turning to the topic of Subban, even if he hasn't suited up for the Habs since 2016.
A significant portion of the fanbase still has not forgiven former GM Marc Bergevin for trading the fan favourite, even with the noticeable decline in his game since he moved to Nashville, and eventually to New Jersey. The winner of the trade has been debated to death for years, and with both Subban and Weber coming up short in the Stanley Cup Final following the deal, it's hard to make a convincing argument either way.
With Weber just about retired and no longer a member of the Canadiens, the fiery debate has calmed itself, and perhaps signing Subban could go a long way in repairing some of the trust issues between the team and its fans.
Nobody lifted fans out of their seats like Subban did in Montreal, igniting the crowd with a thundering hit, a nifty move or a big goal, always followed up by an emotive celebration. Not many get to enjoy long ovations at the Bell Centre like Subban did when he returned to the arena for the first time as a Predator. The tears in his eyes tell you all you need to know about the connection between the city and the player.
After bottoming out last season and being awarded the first overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, Montreal is clearly undergoing a much-needed rebuild. A talented young core centred around Suzuki, Cole Caufield, top pick Juraj Slafkovsky and the newly-acquired Kirby Dach may provide some exciting moments throughout the season, but it's unlikely to translate into success just yet. Another dour season seems to be afoot, and in a market that prides itself on sold-out crowds and a noisy building, the team might struggle to fill the Bell Centre on a consistent basis.
Subban's potential impact on the ice would be limited, and nowhere near the level he once reached with the bleu-blanc-rouge. But the marketing potential of bringing Montreal's prodigal son back home could very well make it worth an extra thought in the Canadiens' front office.
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