Subban Trade a Botch Job by Predators

Nashville Predators general manager David Poile finally pulled the trigger and parted ways with defenseman P.K. Subban, trading him to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for defensemen Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies and two second-round picks. In doing so, Poile confirmed and put to bed the long-running rumors that he’d move the star blueliner. As Predators fans, how should we feel about the trade?

Saying Goodbye to Subban

The Predators acquired Subban from the Montreal Canadiens in June 2016 in a one-for-one deal for captain Shea Weber. At the time, the trade was viewed as a win for both teams in the present and immediate future but a long-term win for the Predators.

P.K. Subban New Jersey Devils for Steven Santini Jeremy Davies Nashville Predators

In his three seasons in Nashville, Subban appeared in 211 regular-season games and accumulated 35 goals, 130 points, and 22.4 point shares while possessing a 53.2 Corsi for percentage (CF%), second-highest among Predators defensemen during that span. He also added seven goals and 24 points in 41 postseason games and generally stepped up his play in the playoffs. He was even named a Norris Trophy finalist and to the league’s second All-Star team after the 2017-18 season.

Related: 7 Things About P.K. Subban

Yet Subban never looked overly comfortable in his Predators tenure. He didn’t display that ease of play he did so often in Montreal and he often appeared to be laboring on the ice. Perhaps it’s just that I was hyper-focused on his play after he joined the Predators, but there were a lot of times when he was out of position in the defensive zone and he turned to interfering, holding, and borderline dirty play to regain positioning on his assignment. Even on the offensive side of the game, he rarely displayed the dazzling skillset that won him the 2013 Norris Trophy. He struggled with making the flashy over safe play in the offensive zone, and it led to turnovers at the blue line on many occasions.

That said, he remains a quality defenseman who is a game-breaker and was one of a few Predators who was reliable in their first-round loss to the Dallas Stars in the 2019 Playoffs. When he’s on his game, few in the league are better than him. The problem, however, is that he wasn’t on his game enough during his Predators tenure. Plus there’s the presence of his $9 million cap hit, which was highest on the team in 2018-19 and the highest for his position across the league. His cap hit was going to hinder the team’s ability to address their biggest weakness this offseason: a lack of scoring.

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban
Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

Conversely, I’m a huge Subban fan and love his on-ice and off-ice presence. His charisma and personality are a breath of fresh air in a league that’s stuffy and closed off. The Predators parting ways with him is a blow to their excitement level. Then there’s the element of losing his talent. The Predators are built around their blue line, one that is still among the league’s best. Losing a top pairing guy like Subban, even if he was on their second pair, will hurt. But it had to happen. Rookie Dante Fabbro didn’t look out of place after turning pro at the end of 2018-19, and he deserves a shot at a top-four role, and because he’s a right shot, either Subban or Ryan Ellis had to go, with Subban holding the higher value. The question is, though, was this the correct trade?

Analyzing the Return

When rumors surrounding a potential Subban deal really took off, some of the prominent ones included the Predators receiving top-six forwards, top prospects, or first-round picks. So when the actual return for him was two defensemen, neither considered a sure thing, and two second-round picks, it was a bit underwhelming.

Related: Analyzing P.K. Subban Trade Rumors

Santini, the only player coming back who’s played in the NHL, has never been anything more than a part-time player. The recently-turned 24-year-old played in a career-high 39 games in 2018-19. He scored one goal and four points while averaging 16:39 of ice time per game. He’s also possessed a 41.8 CF% for his career. That’s not good. It’s tough figuring out how he fits with the Predators. Their top four is set in stone now, and their bottom pair will consist of Dan Hamhuis and one of Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin, or Santini. With Santini and Weber both being right shots, they may have the advantage, but we’ll see. Either way, the Predators now have Santini for the next two years (unless traded) with a cap hit of $1,416,666.

Steven Santini
Steven Santini during his Devils tenure. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Davies is a defense prospect with some upside. A 2016 seventh-round pick of the Devils, he played three seasons at Northeastern University. He finished the 2018-19 season with eight goals and 36 points in 37 games, a great scoring rate in college hockey. He was also a second-team All-American and helped Northeastern win the Hockey East Conference. He’s a left shot blueliner who’s a great skater and his creativity and vision stand out. He’s a modern-day defenseman and should be a future NHLer. He’ll start 2019-20 in the AHL.

One of the two second-round picks was a 2019 selection while the other is in 2020. Poile parted ways with this year’s second-round pick, which was the 34th selection. He dealt it to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for the 45th and 65th picks. He used the 45th selection on forward Egor Afanasyev and the 65th selection on forward Alexander Campbell.

The Value of Cap Space

Of course, the amount of cap space freed up in dealing Subban has to be considered part of the return. Shedding Subban’s $9 million cap hit and freeing up over $7 million in cap space when you consider Santini’s cap hit will go a long way in helping Poile address the team’s need for scoring. What he does with that new-found cap space will determine the success of this trade.

If he uses it to go after pending free agent Matt Duchene, who’s been connected to the Predators for years, then it may end up being successful for Poile. The Predators need offense, especially down the middle, and Duchene would help this. However, if he misses on Duchene and doesn’t land a free agent forward the caliber of Artemi Panarin, this trade will immediately be a bust.

Columbus Blue Jackets Matt Duchene
Will the Predators use their new-found cap space to pursue Matt Duchene? (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

What Does this Say About Poile?

Poile has long been considered one of the league’s most aggressive GMs. He’s never afraid to pull off the big trade: see Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen, the Kyle Turris acquisition, and Weber for Subban deals as examples. While the Subban deal may have been a win, acquiring Johansen is a wash at best while the Turris deal has been a bust. In both of the latter deals, the Predators would have been better off not pulling the trigger. Poile may be aggressive, but it hasn’t always been to the team’s benefit. Hopefully that won’t be the case for this Subban trade, but the early returns on it don’t look good. Either way, it closes the book on Subban’s Predators tenure, one that was full of successes even if the team didn’t reach its ultimate goal.

*All stats came from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, and Elite Prospects