P. K. Subban can’t recover quickly enough for the Nashville Predators.
The All-Star defenseman – All-Star captain, at that (at least until the Habs find a way to give it to Max Pacioretty, instead) – missed the Preds’ December 17 game against the Rangers, and has been out of the lineup ever since.
Ten games on the sidelines for one of the league’s best defensemen is not ideal under any circumstances, but doubly so in this situation. Newly acquired this past offseason, Subban missed Tuesday night’s game against his old team, the Montréal Canadiens – and is expected to remain out of the lineup for the foreseeable future; this in a season in which the eyes of the hockey world are looking to determine the victor in the blockbuster trade which saw Subban dealt to Nashville in exchange for Predators captain Shea Weber.
Following tonight’s game with the similarly floundering Florida Panthers, Nashville is a pedestrian 4-3-3 without Subban. With him in the lineup, the Predators are a top-three possession team in the National Hockey League, with a Corsi For percentage (CF%) of over 53%. Without him, the Preds languish in the bottom-third of the circuit, posting a rather worrying 47.91%.
In terms of the quality of these shots, Nashville averaged 52.81% of the scoring chances in games in which Subban played this season, generating 8.33 per game. In contrast, without him, the Preds are averaging just over half of the scoring chances earned per game, managing just 6.36 per night.
With numbers like these, the Predators can expect to score 2.58 times per game when number 76 is in their lineup, compared to 2.07 without him (in actual goals, Nashville has potted 2.62 per game with Subban and 2.13 without). For a team whose strength is defense, this dip of over half a goal per game could very well mean the difference between making the playoffs and starting golf season early.
Analytics aside, let’s get to the meat of the matter: Subban’s seven goals and 17 points in 29 games equate to 20 goals and 48 points over 82 games. Hey, that’s not bad. One might even say that’s Shea Weber territory (for those counting at home, Weber is currently on pace for 21 goals and 50 points in 82 games). Take that out of any lineup and there will be issues, let alone for a team that is built around a core of magnificently talented two-way defensemen.
Perhaps even more frustrating for the Predators – and Subban personally, is the fact that the team currently finds itself on the outside looking in, scratching and clawing just to stay in Wild Card contention, the comfortable, 14-point playoff cushion they had last season just a distant memory.
Meanwhile, Montréal is first – by 10 points – in their division (which definitely has everything to do with Subban’s absence and nothing whatsoever to do with all-world goaltender Carey Price being healthy, no siree). To add insult to (back) injury, the Canadiens rolled into the Music City on Tuesday night and beat the Predators, with Weber, of all people, potting the game-tying goal.
Shea Weber and P. K. Subban are different players. Subban is a swift-skating, creative-minded defenseman who gives opposition teams fits with his skating and puck skills. Weber hammers bombs from the blueline and uses his size and strength to dominate opponents. Both are elite, just in wildly opposite ways.
Nevertheless, the trade threw the hockey world asunder and created a true dichotomy between fans, with each group blindly defending their preferred player. I happen to think that the trade is a boon for Nashville and will, in a year or two, begin to cripple Montréal. Many others share this point of view.
The argument – from sane-minded hockey fans – was never, “It is a bad trade because Shea Weber is a bad defenseman”. The argument was merely, “It is a bad trade because you’ve traded an elite, right-shooting defenseman for an elite, right-shooting defenseman who is older and only marginally cheaper” – in fact, Weber makes more than Subban in actual salary, both this year and next.
A Fair Fight
The early returns for Montréal are unequivocally brilliant. As for Nashville? Subban’s solid production and fancy stats aside, the Predators are currently not in a playoff spot and have struggled to find their rhythm.
Regardless, as Carey Price alluded to this past summer with regards to Weber, perhaps the two defensemen are better fits on their new teams. Subban’s skating and possession game suits Peter Laviolette’s up-tempo style in Nashville, while Weber’s conservative, structured defensive game has been welcomed in Montréal.
Stock hockey player platitudes aside, there is no question in my mind that both players are out there feeling that they have something to prove. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for Subban to make this a fair fight, both for his own brand and the Predators as a whole.
(All advanced stats are thanks to Corsica and do not include most recent game)
Peter Ferrell covers the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, with a side of jersey and logo (over)analysis, for The Hockey Writers.