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Behind The Numbers

Subban top-pair defenseman Devils needed

Numbers show positives outweigh negatives in trade with Predators

by Scott Cullen / Special to

The New Jersey Devils remain in the spotlight following the 2019 NHL Draft not only because they selected Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick, but they also made the biggest trade of the weekend, acquiring defenseman P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators.

Subban is a high-end talent who will have an immediate impact for the Devils, who have lacked an elite defenseman since the days of Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer. Subban won the Norris Trophy in 2013 as the top defenseman in the NHL and has finished third in voting for the award twice, including two seasons ago.

Although Subban is coming off a season when he missed 19 games because of injury and finished with an NHL career-low 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists), he was generating shots. His 2.67 shots on goal per game was his best since 2012-13, and Subban was in fine form in Nashville's loss to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with three points (one goal, two assists) in six games. The Predators had 60.68 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts when Subban was on the ice, the best rate among NHL defensemen to appear in at least five postseason games.


[RELATED: Subban traded to Devils by Predators | Fantasy spin: Subban trade impact on Devils]


During the past three seasons, Nashville controlled 53.20 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts when Subban was on the ice, the second-best rate among Predators defensemen behind Mattias Ekholm (54.04), but this occurred with Subban starting 47.92 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, the lowest rate among Nashville defensemen. He faced tough matchups, started more shifts in the defensive zone, and had a positive impact in terms of driving play; his relative SAT percentage of plus-2.45 ranked second on the Predators behind Ekholm.

Subban, who averaged 23:46 time on ice per game in three seasons with the Predators, will lighten the load on the other Devils defensemen. In the past three seasons, Sami Vatanen (22:16), Andy Greene (21:15) and Damon Severson (20:43) have been the leaders in average time on ice among Devils defensemen, and none is nearly as accomplished as Subban. So having the ability to redistribute ice time ought to provide immediate improvement in New Jersey.

Those haven't been empty minutes for Subban either. In three seasons with Nashville, he had 130 points (35 goals, 95 assists) in 211 games, his 0.62 points per game ranking 17th among NHL defensemen who played at least 100 games. 

When the games tighten up in the playoffs, Subban has stepped up. Throughout his NHL career, Subban has 62 points (18 goals, 44 assists) in 96 postseason games, 0.65 points per game, an even better rate than his average NHL regular-season production of 0.63 points per game. The Devils will have to get there first, but it doesn't hurt to bring in a veteran who has been able to produce under pressure in the playoffs.

Video: DAL@NSH, Gm1: Subban spins off defender and scores

In New Jersey, it would be reasonable to expect Subban to quarterback the power play. His 51 power-play points (10 goals, 41 assists) in the past three seasons ranked 15th among NHL defensemen, one more than Predators teammate Roman Josi.

With more of an emphasis on speed in the NHL, the slap shot is becoming increasingly rare, but Subban is still willing and eager to tee it up from long distance, another weapon in his arsenal. He has taken 301 slap shots in the past three seasons. Only Duncan Keith (360) of the Chicago Blackhawks and Brent Burns (305) of the San Jose Sharks have taken more. Subban has had success with it too, scoring 23 goals on slap shots in that time, ranking second among defensemen behind Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber, who has 28.

Naturally, there are risks that come with acquiring a 30-year-old defenseman. Subban has played 82 games three times in the past six seasons but has missed significant time in the other three seasons, playing 68, 66 and 63 games. 

If injuries have been a problem, it's not likely that Subban suddenly remains healthy as he gets older.

He also won't have the kind of protection that was available to him in Nashville, where the Predators boasted what was arguably the best top four defensemen in the NHL. Though the Devils' group of defensemen is getting better, with Will Butcher entering his third season and 2018 first-round pick Ty Smith set to compete for an NHL roster spot this season, they don't yet have a defense that would rival the group that Subban is leaving behind in Nasvhille.

This was a trade that the Devils absolutely had to make when given the opportunity. They had the NHL salary cap space to accommodate Subban's salary, and it didn't cost them a lot in terms of assets. Nashville received defensemen Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies, along with a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and another in the 2020 NHL Draft. Maybe some of those pieces will pan out, but there is far more uncertainty when it comes to prospects and picks than when it comes to an established elite defenseman. 

Video: Subban traded to Devils during Day 2 of draft

The Devils are taking this risk and making an investment in Subban from age 30 through age 32. Those are beyond peak years, which typically fall in the early to mid-20s, but are still typically productive seasons for an established No. 1 defenseman.


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