When it comes to professional athletes, there is a fine line between talent and stardom. They're two different things. One is usually attained because of the other, but talent does not guarantee that a player becomes a star.
The Nashville Predators traded an immense talent for one of the true stars of the game Wednesday afternoon amid a flurry of stunning activity in the NHL. To land defenseman P.K. Subban the Predators traded away the face of their franchise, their captain and a player whose brand was synonymous with all of the things that have become valued so highly in hockey circles.
They lose all that in Weber, who is no doubt a special player. But P.K. Subban is not just a player. P.K. Subban is an event. P.K. Subban is truly a star.
In many ways Subban and Weber are polar opposites in everything but their talent. And that might be exactly what the Nashville Predators need. In Subban, the Predators are gaining a star whose brilliance is unmatched by previous players in the organization. Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya were Predators once, but that was after their best years were behind them. Many players that Nashville developed in their system, Weber included, turned out to be great talents.
Subban comes in at 27 years old, with a Norris Trophy not terribly far in his rearview mirror. This is peak Subban, which means the Predators are getting something that they have never had on their roster -- an honest to goodness celebrity hockey player with the talent to match.
Weber may have been known in and around Nashville and has been one of the biggest names in the NHL. Subban transcends hockey, though.
There's a very specific reason for that. He is one of the few that allows himself to be more than a hockey player. He is what hockey has so sorely lacked for so long. He both is and has a personality.
Subban puts himself out there and has ingratiated himself to the world at large by being unflinchingly himself. He is doing that in a sport where individuality can often be viewed as a character flaw instead of a weapon of mass marketing. He is also unafraid to step out from the hockey bubble, and like anyone that lives inside a bubble, those that choose not to aren't welcomed back.
Subban celebrates his individuality because it seems like no one else is willing to. He is not marketed as one of the league's stars. And that was while he was playing in Montreal, the most traditional market the league has to offer.
There are so many things about Subban that make him stand out, and almost all of them are positive. Subban has interests away from the game and pursuits that are solely his own. He is among the NHL's most charitable individuals, having recently pledged to raise more than $10 million for a local children's hospital in Montreal, which then named an atrium after him. He has dreams of being a fashion designer and even custom designed his own skate for last year's Winter Classic (which were awesome, by the way). He might be the best interview in the league, candid and honest and unafraid of being held accountable. He brings humor and levity to various situations and seems to have a vested interest in those he comes in contact with to be happy.
For whatever reason, all of that clashed with the Montreal Canadiens. That, plus it never appeared that his style on the ice meshed well with coach Michel Therrien. There were also always rumblings of uneasiness in the locker room, things that we may never know fully.
Subban took the high road, even though he received word of the trade while vacationing in Paris. He delivered this message to the fans that treated him so well in Montreal, but also had a very important message for the fans he's about to make in Nashville: "Get ready."
Get ready, indeed. With the slate wiped clean, Subban goes to a new team with a core that is starting to look like the kind that can go on championship runs together if the right pieces get filled in around them. The Preds got younger at a key position and have Subban under contract for the next six years.
They also have a player that is now better suited for playing coach Peter Laviolette's attacking style. Not that Weber wasn't suited for it, because he adapted and fit in fine, but now the Predators can get even faster thanks to Subban's puck-moving and skating abilities. Speed with talent and smarts kills in the NHL today. Just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With Weber gone, even though he represents the very best of what this team was and what it has become, this is a new era of Nashville Predators hockey. The tide has been turning for a while, but the Subban addition takes things to another level. For too long the Predators have simply been either ordinary or just good enough to get by.
General manager David Poile has been aggressive in his restructuring of the franchise, which is amazing considering he has been with the club from the very beginning. What he tried for nearly 15 years hadn't been working, but this new approach looks and feels fresh. It also feels like it could work.
Poile nabbed core forwards Filip Forsberg, James Neal and Ryan Johansen through trades. Now he adds Subban to that mix, which also includes defensemen Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis and goalie Pekka Rinne. Aside from the goaltender, who has trended downward in recent years, those are all players right in the sweet spot of their careers.
And with all of that in mind, the Predators very well could be a team that spends to the cap this year, which is not something we always see from them.
All of this suggests that the time for the Predators to make a move is now. Subban certainly senses that, too, and feels he might be in a better place to help make that happen.
Subban: "I feel a whole lot closer to winning a Stanley Cup after today's trade." Brutal honesty.— Conor McKenna (@mckennaconor) June 29, 2016
If the Predators do make that move, they'll be doing it with a player unlike any other they've had before.
Nashville may be a small market, but they have loyal and passionate fans. Subban, however, can be a game-changer on so many levels. An attraction in and of himself, he's one of the players you pay to watch. He's also the kind of player that demands attention because he is one of the few in the NHL that won't shy away from it when it comes his way. That's going to go a long way in attracting new fans and bringing more attention to the Predators than they're used to getting.
Subban is the kind of player whose impact on Nashville can stretch far beyond his career. He can change the franchise forever. And while he's doing that, he'll also be able to make one of the most storied franchises in the history of the sport ask itself what the heck it was thinking when they let a star like him go.