Weber-Subban debate still unsettled ahead of teams' 1st meeting

The Montreal Canadiens visit the Nashville Predators on Tuesday for the first meeting between the teams since they swapped star defencemen in the summer.

Subban out with injury as Weber visits Nashville for 1st time since blockbuster deal

Montreal Canadiens defenceman Shea Weber, left, will face his former team in Nashville on Jan. 3. (CBC Sports)

A little more than six months removed from the summer trade that rocked the NHL and enraged many of the Montreal faithful, the Canadiens visit their former defenceman P.K. Subban at his new home in Nashville on Tuesday night.

Although Subban won't play after being put on injured reserve with an upper-body injury, the player he was traded for — Shea Weber — will return to the city where he spent 11 seasons and developed into one of the league's most reliable blue-liners.

Subban has missed the last seven games and is expected to be re-evaluated in two to three weeks. 

The NHL regular season is nearing the halfway mark and each player has found a nice fit with his new franchises, but the first game for any player against his former team always comes with some reflection.

For those debating which organization "won the trade" it's still largely an even race. Each team received an elite right-shot defenceman who carries a high price tag.

Weber performed well early

One of the initial knocks on Weber was his age and contract term — he turned 31 over the summer, which means he will be 40 years old when his $7.85-million US per season contract expires in 2026.

Weber got off to a quick start in his first 22 games with Montreal, racking up eight goals and 10 assists. In his best offensive season (2013-14), he scored 23 goals, added 33 assists in 78 games and has never scored more than 14 power-play goals in a season.

Weber's production was bound to slow down and it did just that in December with only two assists in 14 games along with a single power-play goal against Tampa Bay on Dec. 28.

However, his team-leading eight power-play goals (many of which were scored with his signature one-timer) have given the Canadiens' long-struggling man-advantage a boost and he also takes on the heaviest workload at an average of 26 minutes and two seconds per game. 

The Weber-Subban trade was the most dramatic off-season move Montreal made. Weber, alongside Andrew Shaw, Alexander Radulov and a healthy Carey Price have helped the team rebound from last season's embarrassing crash in the standings. The team got a former captain in Weber, who seems to have been a positive change in the locker room.

"It's exciting to see him have success because there's so much talk around what type of player he is and how he could help our team," captain Max Paciorettty said in October. "And I know it was up for debate, but we know what he brings to this team."

Subban finds rhythm

After a markedly slower start, the 27-year-old Subban has settled in to nearly match Weber with seven goals and 10 assists in 29 games before an undisclosed upper-body injury sidelined him since Dec. 16.

Subban is four years younger than Weber and will likely further develop his defensive skills in the coming years. The 2013 Norris Trophy winner gets the opportunity to take on a leadership role as one of the veterans on Nashville's youthful blue line. 

And like he did in Montreal, Subban is becoming a presence in the Nashville community. Most recently, he surprised local children battling sickle cell disease with a holiday horse-drawn sleigh ride. His charisma will undoubtedly continue to impress the fans in Nashville. 

Unfortunately, the Predators (16-14-6) are not looking like the title contenders they had designs on being this season. In Montreal, by contrast, even the loss of to -scorer Alex Galchenyuk, Shaw, David Desharnais and Andrei Markov has not derailed the Canadiens (22-9-6).

The Habs have cooled off since November, but they are still finding ways to win and they sit atop their division. Montreal's early ability to overcome adversity in a way it couldn't last year with Subban in the lineup suggests that the Canadiens, at least in the early returns, may have the advantage in the trade.