Devils Should Expect a Subban Comeback Season in 2020-21

With the start of the new NHL season right around the corner, the New Jersey Devils will be looking for redemption this year after a subpar 2019-20 season. Their star defenseman, PK Subban, is certainly no exception due to his poor production and lack of consistency throughout the entirety of last season.

On the second day of the 2019 NHL Draft, Subban was acquired by the Devils from the Nashville Predators in exchange for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, and two second-round picks. After the teams finalized the trade, people expected the Devils to return to playoff form once again due to them now having two high caliber players in Subban and Taylor Hall on their roster. However, the experiment fell flat, and it left more questions than answers for a backtracking organization.

The Dream That Turned Into a Harsh Reality

The trade for Subban stunned the hockey world due to the Devils acquiring the former Norris Trophy winner for essentially nothing. With all due respect towards Santini, his production and impact doesn’t come anywhere near Subban’s. Last season, he only appeared in two games for Nashville, and he also provided little to nothing during his four year tenure with the Devils organization (NHL and AHL).

As for Davies, who currently plays for the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL), if he translates his style of play from the AHL to the NHL, then he’ll be a solid player. However, I am more than certain that he will not be able to reach Subban’s level of impact. This move was obviously a salary dump on Nashville’s end, and they clearly had no real intention for Subban to start the season with them.

P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
Former Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (76) celebrating his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 7, 2019. (Nathan Denette-THE CANADIAN PRESS)

So, it’s safe to say that the Devils’ organization thought that they struck gold in this deal. Unfortunately, the dream was quickly turned into a nightmare, as Subban finished the shortened year with a career-low of 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) and a disappointing plus/minus rating of -21.

The Devils attempted to clean house during the course of last season by trading away Hall and Andy Greene. However, despite not having a no-trade clause in his contract, the Devils couldn’t find a team willing to take on Subban. To go along with his career-low numbers, he still has two years (cap hit: $9 million) left on his 8-year, $72 million deal that he originally signed with the Montreal Canadiens back in 2014. With Subban getting up there in age, not to mention declining production, there’s certainly some cause for concern for our former all-star blueliner.

Is There Any Hope?

Obviously, people were frustrated with Subban’s play last season. However, I firmly believe that he can have a bounce-back season if he approaches the game with a different mindset.

For starters, he needs to find alternative methods for his even-strength defense. His Corsi against per 60 minutes (CA/60) and expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60) rates have steadily been declining throughout the years. As proven over the last three seasons, his CA/60 were -1.61, -2.36, and -0.38, whereas his xGA/60 were +0.07, +0.15, and +0.24.

In order to improve upon this, Subban needs to become more adaptable due to him not being the young defensive star that he once was. Albeit, he would need to make a remarkable amount of adjustments, but there’s nothing that more film sessions can’t fix. When a player loses their youth and agility, they need to rely on their mindset and IQ in order to remain effective.

Since Subban is considered a two-way defenseman, he needs to attempt to change his offensive style as well. However, his offensive numbers can be a bit murky at times due to the fact that he has always been an inconsistent shooter throughout his time in the NHL.

Last season Subban did try to create more goal opportunities for himself by taking 82 wrist/snapshots (Result: 2 goals) and 113 slapshots (Result: 4 goals). While the slapshot is clearly his go-to move, if he continues to take the puck closer to the net, he might be able to break back into the double digits for goals once again.

P.K. Subban New Jersey Devils
P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Objectively, Subban needs to be more productive in his power play opportunities because two goals and four assists in 160 minutes of playing time in that category is completely unacceptable.

It’s also worth mentioning that, while the assist numbers don’t demonstrate it, Subban did an excellent job of creating alternative scoring opportunities for his teammates. He was able to create 0.67 rebounds per 60 minutes (13 total rebounds created), which led the team. If he can create more opportunities like that for the Devils’ young forwards in the low zone, then I fully expect for him to have the same amount of rebounds and also a higher assist rate this upcoming season. However, with a new system set to be implemented by Lindy Ruff, it is completely up to the forwards to help Subban out.

Overall, a change in coaching staff and leadership can really help benefit Subban. Because going back to his power play production, the Devils can certainly move the puck and draw up plays a little bit better in that regard.

But similar to Subban’s style of play, this goes two ways because he needs to be smarter himself. For example, taking slapshots at the point area, most of which get blocked repeatedly during power play opportunities, makes yourself vulnerable and predictable. If he can become more adaptable, study more film, and also continues to better himself and his younger teammates, then I expect a big leap forward for Subban and the Devils.

Subban certainly doesn’t lack any self-confidence, because as he stated in Men’s Journal, “I’m still one of the top defensemen in the league.” On the contrary, if he doesn’t improve, and the Devils are once again unable to trade him, then maybe the Seattle Kraken’s expansion draft can help.

All of Subban’s advanced stats are courtesy of HockeyViz