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Behind The Numbers

P.K. Subban might be missing piece for Predators

Analytics show defenseman's superb two-way game could make Nashville top Stanley Cup contender

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

When Nashville Predators general manager David Poile defenseman acquired P.K. Subban from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for franchise player Shea Weber on June 29, 2016, it may have been the final move required for the Predators to win their first divisional crown and join the list of top contenders for the Stanley Cup.

In his six seasons with the Canadiens, Subban, 27, established himself as one of the top scorers at his position. He has the outstanding shot-based metrics typical of players who can drive possession, and he is highly trusted defensively for someone who doesn't play a traditional shutdown role. Subban has all the qualities required to unlock the full potential of Nashville's underrated blue line, which would be a key to lifting this franchise to the next level.

Settling the score

For the past four seasons, Subban has been one of the League's most dominant offensive defensemen.

In terms of traditional statistics, his 202 points are third behind Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators (236) and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks (203). Subban has been particularly effective on the power play, where his 94 points (on Montreal's 169 power-play goals) lead all NHL defensemen.

In terms of style, Subban is both a playmaker and a goal-scorer. His 160 assists during the past four seasons rank second to Karlsson (173). He also ranks ninth with 42 goals and eighth with 676 shots.

Video: Weber vs. Subban in 16-17

Subban's playmaking ability is of particular interest to the Predators. He is practically the prototype of a puck-moving defenseman who can carry the puck up the ice, create scoring chances and tilt the ice in Nashville's favor.

These kinds of contributions often reveal themselves in shot-based metrics. During the past four seasons, Montreal outshot its opponents 4,892-4,499 at 5-on- when Subban was on the ice. The resulting SAT of plus-393 is 32nd among NHL defensemen.

The leader in this category is Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, with plus-1,613. However, the SAT statistic can influenced by a player's team in much the same fashion as the plus/minus statistic. Given that the Kings have very strong shot-based metrics no matter who is on the ice, Doughty's numbers were probably boosted by his team to a greater extent than Subban's.

That's why it can insightful to measure these shot-based metrics relative to the rest of a player's team. In Subban's case, the Canadiens were responsible for 52.1 percent of shot attempts when he was on the ice, but 47.9 percent when he was not. That difference of 4.2 percent ranks No. 12 among NHL defensemen (minimum 50 games), and is ahead of Doughty's 2.9 percent.

200-Foot Trust

In terms of his defensive contributions, Subban may not specialize in shutting down top opponents, but his complete, 200-foot game was trusted by Montreal's coaching staff, and most informed observers.

His ice time makes it clear that Subban was trusted by Canadiens coach Michel Therrien. During the past four seasons, Subban averaged 25:18 per game, eighth among NHL defensemen. He played an average of 1:39 killing penalties, and his 19:17 per game at even strength ranked 14th. Each of those metrics is much higher than those of more one-dimensional players.

Based on modern estimates of the quality of one's opponents, Subban was also trusted against top competition. In terms of even-strength ice time, his most frequent opponents during the past four seasons included Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (10th), and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins (12th), according to the data compiled at Hockey Analysis.

Video: MTL@CBJ: Subban unleashes rocket from mid-ice

Subban's complete game has also been trusted by voters for the Norris Trophy, which is awarded annually to the defenseman with "the greatest all-round ability at the position." He has received 90 first-place votes, 319 total votes, and 2,079 voting points in the past four seasons. Doughty, with 154 first-place votes, 360 votes, and 2,470 voting points, is the only play to score better than Subban in each of those three metrics.

The Bridgestone Blue Line

The addition of a Norris-caliber offensive catalyst makes particular sense in Nashville, which is already home to a core of strong defensemen at their peak.

Built through the NHL Draft with the patience afforded by having a player like Weber handling the tough minutes for several seasons, the Predators have carefully assembled a top four that was so strong that they had the flexibility to trade Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for the help Ryan Johansen provides them at center.

These young defensemen are now in their prime, and ready to fly on their own.

The best example is their homegrown scoring threat, Roman Josi, 26. His 156 total points during the past three seasons ranks fourth among NHL defensemen, right behind Subban's 164. Karlsson has 225 points and Burns has 184.

Video: ARI@NSH: Josi powers to the net for overtime winner

The top four is rounded out by Ryan Ellis, 25, and Mattias Ekholm, 26, each of whom were drafted by the Predators in 2009. For depth, Poile acquired Matthew Carle, Yannick Weber, and Matt Irwin this summer.

In the end, Poile may have assembled the strongest group of defensemen in the League. It is always a gamble to part with a player like Weber, but the addition of Subban may be the final piece of the Stanley Cup puzzle.

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