On June 29, the Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators made a blockbuster trade involving each team's top defenseman, P.K. Subban and Shea Weber. Based on early results, Weber is providing the Canadiens with the better immediate return.
The Canadiens are 11-1-1 and lead the NHL with 23 points. The Predators are 4-5-3, and their 11 points are one more than the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes, who are tied for last in the Western Conference. Montreal needed that strong start to put last season's disappointment behind it; a knee injury to goaltender Carey Price on Nov. 25, 2015, sent the Canadiens' season into a nosedive. They were 17-4-2 and led the NHL with 36 points when Price was injured and went 2-0-1 in their next three games, but had a League-worst 19-34-3 record after Dec. 1 and failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Weber has been a key factor for Montreal this season. He has 11 points (five goals and six assists) in 13 games, one behind Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks for the NHL lead among defensemen. Subban has eight points (three goals, five assists) in 12 games.
Offensively, each has different strengths. Weber has the stronger shot; Subban is the superior playmaker. Overall, their scoring levels have been comparable during the past few seasons.
Video: BOS@MTL: Weber lasers PPG to open scoring
Broken down by manpower situation, Subban and Weber each have five power-play points, one behind the NHL lead among defensemen. But Weber is outscoring Subban 5-3 at even strength and 1-0 when shorthanded.
Weber has five goals, tying him with Burns and Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Coyotes for the NHL lead among defensemen. Three of the five have been game-winners; he's tied with Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Artem Anisimov of the Chicago Blackhawks and Mitchell Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the lead in that category. Subban has one game-winner.
As covered in more detail in the initial statistical assessment of this trade, Weber's primary advantage over Subban is his ability to handle plenty of tough minutes against top opponents in the defensive zone, in any manpower situation and with virtually any defense partner. Canadiens coach Michel Therrien has taken full advantage of those abilities.
Weber's average ice time of 25:49 per game is sixth in the NHL (Subban is 12th at 24:41). Weber and Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames are the only players to average at least 3:20 per game on the power play and the penalty kill.
At even strength, Weber has lined up for 99 faceoffs in the defensive zone, and 45 in the offensive zone, for a zone start percentage of 31.25. That's the second-lowest among NHL defensemen to have played at least four games; Andrej Sustr of the Tampa Bay Lightning has the lowest zone start percentage at 30.7 percent. Weber played the first five games with depth defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, 23, and the next eight games with hard-hitting defensive specialist Alexei Emelin, 30.
Video: OTT@NSH: Subban's shot through traffic finds the net
Subban's primary advantage over Weber is his ability to drive possession by breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and setting up scoring opportunities. Since the end results are shots on goal, this talent typically reveals itself in superior shot-based metrics.
With Subban playing the first four games paired with Roman Josi and the next eight with Mattias Ekholm, the Predators have been out-attempted 216-210, for an SAT of minus-6. Weber, who plays more and tougher minutes, is minus-34 (210-244).
However, there's a big difference in the goal-based data. Subban is minus-5; Weber's plus-15 leads the NHL, and he didn't even lose ground in Montreal's 10-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets last Friday.
Subban is 27, four years younger than Weber, and has plenty of time to make contributions in Nashville. That means that it's far too early to determine which team received greater value in this trade, but Weber has given Montreal a head start.