Ever since Sergei Zubov and his cranky hip rode off into the sunset—or at least to the KHL, the Dallas Stars have been looking for that most rare of birds: the franchise defenseman.
Stephane Robidas—bless his beat up little heart—filled in admirably for a long stretch and Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley combined their powers for a fantastic stretch run at the end of last season, but none of those guys are the true, elusive No. 1 D. Everyone from the young Brenden Dillon to Robidas has been a guy playing above his natural slot in the lineup to fill a hole.
So what if a true, bona fide number one defenseman were to come onto the market? What if that guy could be available in trade or as a realistic offer sheet target?
What if P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens have a falling out from which the two sides can never recover?
The reigning Norris Trophy winner and 50-point scorer seems increasingly unhappy with the Canadiens, especially as he and the team made their way through arbitration Friday morning. The rumor mill is getting increasingly insistent that the relationship between the sides is souring, with Subban giving guarded, at best, quotes after the hearing ended.
"There’s dialogue and discussion and decisions were made today in relations to both of our positions and ultimately, we have to live with those decisions and move on from here," Subban told the media. "I know that obviously the arbitration process is over. It is in the hands of the arbitrator now."
The Habs brass declined comment.
Theoretically, the sides could reach a deal—long-term or otherwise—before the arbiter comes back with his decision in 48 hours, but that also looks unlikely.
Don't expect a deal between the Canadiens and PK Subban before the arbitrator decision.— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) August 1, 2014
When the decision comes down, it will be for a one-year deal that would leave Subban a year away from free agency. He was asking for $8.5 million while the Canadiens came in at $5.25 million, less money than Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen will make next year—both of whom where unrestricted free agents, which makes the comparison unfair, but still.
Arbitration hearings are notoriously nasty affairs that can definitely sour a relationship between a player and team management. So if that relationship is headed south, and opinion definitely seems to be leaning that way, who might be there to pick up the pieces?
At least one hockey mind thinks the Stars would make sense.
Seriously, Dallas has the cap space to absorb a massive Subban contract and the futures to get him in event of a trade. And a need.— Travis Yost (@TravisHeHateMe) August 1, 2014
Now, to be clear, the Stars don't have the cap room at this very moment to do the deal, but they have the ability to clear said space if they really wanted. They have nice, shiny NHL ready players like Brett Ritchie who are likely untradable in any scenario except this one. Heck, you can probably package any player from the Stars' roster who is not Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza or Ales Hemsky and it would still be a reasonable deal.
Jim Nill has also shown he's not afraid of the big move. He sent a key, if slightly older, part of the Stars core to Boston in Loui Eriksson along with some a promising future piece in Reilly Smith to acquire a player like Seguin. He moved Alex Chiasson and two solid prospects for Spezza. He is not afraid to spend solid assets on elite-level talent.
Now, all this is speculation based on the wispiest of smoke at the moment, but the smoke is coming from some very reliable people in the wider hockey world:
The longer Subban goes without a new long-term contract in MTL, logic suggests the odds increase of him going to UFA or being traded.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) August 1, 2014
So, to reset:
- The relationship between the Habs and Subban appears to be strained at best right now.
- He's still two years away from unrestricted free agency but will be up for yet another contract after this season.
- According to McKenzie, the Habs might not be in love with him enough to pay the salary he would command from other franchises.
- The Stars have a long-standing hole on the blueline and a recent history of acquiring huge pieces via trade.
With all that, is Subban to Dallas just a pipe dream? Probably. There are 28 other teams who will be very, very interested in him should the relationship with the Habs fall apart to the point he demands a trade.
However, the Stars also make sense on a number of levels. They have high-end prospects and youngsters they would be willing to part with for a player of his caliber. They have a GM who is not afraid of deals involving good, young talent. They have cap space starting next offseason when Sergei Gonchar, Shawn Horcoff, Erik Cole and Rich Peverley all come off the books, clearing more than $18 million in room in addition to the rising cap. They are in the Western Conference and not a team the Habs would reflexively refuse a trade to on principle or for competitive reasons.
If—and that's still a huge if—Subban is on the move in the relatively near future, be that this offseason or next one, there really aren't a lot of places that make more sense as a destination than Dallas.
And hey, number 76 is available....