Maple Leafs’ Commentary: Would P.K. Subban Be a Good Fit?

As readers of our posts know, sometimes Stan Smith and I collaborate to produce co-authored pieces. Although Stan and I often are on the same page, sometimes we disagree. Specifically, Stan wasn’t a huge Jason Spezza fan either before he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs. I was. 

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Although I didn’t know a great deal about Spezza, I knew he brought veteran leadership to the team and I appreciated that he wanted to put his money where his mouth was to join the Maple Leafs on an NHL league minimum contract. As I watched Spezza interact with his teammates and the media, I only came to appreciate him more.

Jason Spezza Toronto Maple Leafs
Jason Spezza, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Spezza changed Stan’s mind big-time once he saw how the veteran forward played on the ice and acted off the ice. He was disappointed that Spezza retired at the end of this past season. He thought that, by the eye test and the numbers, Spezza might have been a mere shadow of his former self ability-wise, that he was still an excellent fourth-line player.  

Related: Maple Leafs Seeing in Spezza What Babcock Never Could

Finally, Stan believed that, if Spezza were given a couple of young prospects to play alongside, help coach, and mentor, he would still have lots to give on the ice. Together, we even wrote about how we might not have seen the last of Spezza on the ice, and how we could see a return of Spezza post-trade deadline.

Moving from Spezza to P.K. Subban

The link between P.K. Subban and Spezza is that Stan also acknowledges that he’s never been a Subban fan. Regardless, he’s engaged in considering the possibility of bringing Subban to the Maple Leafs if there’s a hometown discount to have.

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens
PK Subban had some good seasons in Montreal (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Currently, rumors are floating around that the 33-year-old Subban, who’s a Toronto native, would like to return home and finish his career playing for the Maple Leafs. It made us wonder if Subban would be willing to take a deal similar to the last three one-year, $750,000 per season contracts that Spezza signed, or the two-year, $800,000 per season deal that Mark Giordano inked. If he was willing to do that, do we think it would be a good idea?

Why Bringing in Subban Might Be a Good Idea

Like Spezza, Subban isn’t close to the player he was back in 2103 when he won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defensemen. Our thoughts about Subban are that, although he’s had excellent offensive qualities and has been strong physically, he wasn’t really that good defensively. 

Related: Oilers, Devils Swapping Barrie & Subban Would Benefit Both Teams

Then when he signed the eight-year, $9 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens, many fans believed it was a huge mistake. While Subban put up some decent offensive numbers for the Canadiens and then went on to have some fairly strong seasons with Nashville Predators, our opinion of him, which we readily admit was more on the “old school” side, was that Subban felt he was bigger than the teams he was playing for. 

Eventually, Subban was traded to the New Jersey Devils, where he struggled to put up the numbers he had in previous seasons. 

The Two Sides of Subban

To Subban’s credit, he’s engaged in a variety of charitable activities. In fact, he won the 2021-22 King Clancy Memorial Award, which is presented to the player “who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” That’s not anything to sneeze at. It matters.

At the same time, Subban the hockey player and person has been called “loud,” “bombastic,” “a showman,” and many other things in his career. Still, he’s always been a great humanitarian. He created the PK Subban Foundation and has given over $10 Million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Although we might have voted for a different Noris Trophy winner in 2013, we heartily agree that he deserved to win the Clancy in 2022. It’s an award he truly deserves; and, in that, he’s a good example of what’s possible if hockey players become engaged in the wider world outside the rink. 

Subban’s Play Between the Boards

Getting back to his play on the ice, Subban frankly has not been very good the past few seasons. He’s gone from averaging over 22 minutes a game in the top four of the Devils to playing just over 18 minutes on the bottom pair. Last season he scored five goals and added 17 assists (for 22 points) in 77 games. 

Related: PK Subban’s Struggles Make the Devils Worse in Every Possible Aspect

Subban was also a minus-8 on a team that had 57 more goals scored against them than they scored. He’s also not the physical force he was at one point in his career when he averaged 100 hits a season over five different seasons. He still has some physicality to his game and recorded just under a hit a game last season (69 hits in 77 games). However, that physicality sometimes translates into a chippy style on the ice.

If Subban would be willing to play for the Maple Leafs at half or even one-third of the $9 million he made annually on his expiring contract, we’d definitely vote no. But, what if he were to play for a Spezza-like deal for one season? At the least, if Subban were willing to play for that little money in his hometown, we feel it should be an option that should be explored.

Where Might Subban Play?

In his favor, Subban naturally plays the right side. If the Maple Leafs felt confident enough to have Timothy Liljegren play in the top four on the right side, their two most likely options for a third-pair right defenseman would be Justin Holl for $2 million or Ilya Lyubushkin for at least the same money as Holl gets, or possibly more. 

Timothy Liljegren Toronto Maple Leafs
Timothy Liljegren, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Might Subban be a better option at the league minimum? Might he be a good partner for either Mark Giordano or Ramsus Sandin on that third pair? 

To be honest we aren’t totally sold on the idea ourselves. But we do feel maybe it should at the very least be considered.

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]