As we gear up for the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have found themselves back in the rumour mill. Training camp hasn’t even started and the Maple Leafs are already being linked to high profile New Jersey Devils defenceman, P.K. Subban.
Jimmy Murphy of Boston Hockey Now recently reported that the Maple Leafs have “more than lukewarm interest”, in the 2013 Norris Trophy winner. Murphy mentions that half of his salary would need to be retained as he still carries a $9 million cap hit in his final year. It would probably be more if you’re looking at the Maple Leafs cap situation.
A veteran of 12 NHL seasons and a hometown kid, Subban has been traded twice going from the Montreal Canadiens to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Shea Weber and then being sent to the Devils in 2019. He would bring a high-octane offensive game that could make him an intriguing target for the Maple Leafs. Though, there are other factors that could come into play before Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas makes his move.
Subban Brings A Lot On and Off the Ice
Back at the draft in 2019, the Maple Leafs were kicking the tires on Subban as they were in the market for a right-handed offensive defenseman.
I’ve always been a big fan of Subban’s game. What isn’t there to like about it? For the longest time, he was one of the most productive defenseman in the NHL. From his rookie season in 2010-11 to 2017-18, he ranks fifth among defencemen in points with 375 and seventh in goals with 89. He was a force on the power play with 43 goals (fourth overall) and second in power play points with 167.
Subban takes control of the shift and wants to be the one to dominate every time he’s out there. He has great speed to carry the puck in transition and a booming shot from the point that defenders would be hesitant of blocking. He wants to be a difference maker offensively, which has always been his main strength even in the Ontario Hockey League.
Jake Muzzin has shown to utilize his shot more so than the other defenders. Aside from him, the Maple Leafs don’t have the major shooting threat on the blue line, where Subban could be another strong addition to tee up a shot for a one-time opportunity.
Subban also likes to play with a lot of energy, bringing that sandpaper element to a team that started to show some toughness in their game. With Wayne Simmonds re-signed and new addition Kurtis Gabriel in the fold, Subban brings the physical aspect that could make the team even tougher to go up against.
His infectious energy and personality on the ice translates off the ice as well with his quality social media posts, his wit and multiple charitable donations and work with the P.K. Subban Foundation. He’s a player that matches the Maple Leafs’ values and would no doubt thrive with this team.
Will Dip In Production Play a Factor?
While Subban does bring a lot to the table, there could be signs that he may not be the same player that he once was. He was always good for 15 goals and 50-60 points. He last cracked that range in 2017-18 where he finished with 59 points with the Predators.
Since then he’s been on a decline. He finished with 31 points in the 2018-19 season, but missed 19 games due to an upper body injury, which was still good production despite the injury. Though things were a little different in his last two seasons with the Devils, as he finished with 18 points in 2019-20 and 19 in 2020-21. Those numbers are way too low for someone who was always a scoring threat on the blue line.
According to PuckIQ, Subban has seen his lowest Corsi For percentage (CF%) against elite competition, having a CF% of 44.6 in 2019-20 and 47.8% in 2020-21. His goals for percentage (GF%) isn’t great as it was at around 40% at five-on-five for both seasons. Now, let’s not forget that he was on a Devils team that definitely had it’s fair share of struggles finishing 29th overall in the league last season and 25th the season before, based on points percentage. At 32 years old, given the stage that he’s at in his career, it’ll take a lot to go right for him to get back to the quick offensive play driver that he once was.
There is the possibility that if Subban is on a more successful team like the Maple Leafs, he could get back to form and definitely be a critical piece in driving offense from the back end. In addition, he could provide a steady presence defensively and break up chances in his own end. We did see a more stable and two-way defensive unit last season that lowered the goals and shots against. The Maple Leafs finished seventh in GA/GP with 2.64 and 5th in SA/ GP with 27.8.
Subban is a riskier player than what the team currently has, but does excel at what he does. Would the Maple Leafs bring in an offense first kind of player for one more year after one of their better defensive seasons? With a player of his caliber, it’s definitely up for discussion.
Maple Leafs Already Deep on Defense
As enticing as it is to trade and acquire Subban, the Maple Leafs are already deep enough on defense with the improvements made last season. T.J. Brodie was a fantastic signing, being a defensive stalwart while breaking up multiple odd man rushes and Muzzin was probably the most consistent defender all season.
Despite his contract situation, the Maple Leafs already have a strong puck moving defenseman in Morgan Rielly. Dubas has the utmost faith and confidence in Justin Holl. While he was inconsistent at times, he does have his upside when he’s on his game. The top four were great, so it would be hard to try and see a fit for Subban unless Holl is demoted and gets third pairing minutes.
The main reason why the Maple Leafs should elect not to acquire Subban is the talent coming up from the farm system. THW’s The Old Prof mentions in an episode of the Maple Leafs Lounge that he would like to see more of the prospects get their chance to prove their worth. If a team has a promising piece in your system they should be given every opportunity to succeed.
A player like Timothy Liljegren who has improved tremendously in the minors, has a chance to seize an opportunity with the team now that a spot on the right side has opened up. Already with a crowded top-four, bringing in Subban would likely push him down the depth chart. Liljegren does deserve a chance to battle and earn a spot based on his development, even if it is in a third pairing role.
The same goes for Travis Dermott as it’s a make or break season for him. It’s possible that he could be a piece in a deal for Subban, where he can be on the second pairing and provide a significant impact. That does work well for the Maple Leafs as it does improve their depth.
Given the way the defense played last season and the opportunity being given to younger players to take a spot could be a reason why the Maple Leafs may not add Subban. While there’s only one year remaining on his contract, the Maple Leafs aren’t in dire need of a defenceman like they were in the past and should look to promote players internally.
While adding Subban does seem like a good move to bolster the blueline, there’s a lot to consider if the Maple Leafs were to pounce on the opportunity to bring him in. Even though his best days could be behind him, he still can bring a lot of positives and be a dominant threat on the ice. If they don’t trade for him, they can always sign him in the offseason.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.