Subban is What the Devils’ Blue Line Needs

New Jersey Devils’ general manager Ray Shero has done it again. After a quiet first round of the NHL Entry Draft, which didn’t see a single hockey trade, he acquired All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators in exchange for defensemen Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies, as well as two second-round picks.

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban
Defenseman P.K. Subban is headed to the New Jersey Devils after a blockbuster trade. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

Subban is signed for three more seasons at a cap hit of $9 million, with the Predators not retaining any salary. Shero needed to make a big splash to not only improve his roster but to show Taylor Hall they’re serious about contending soon. Subban fits the bill and becomes the exact upgrade the team needed to take a step forward.

A Look at Subban’s Numbers

Subban has spent the last three seasons with the Predators after being acquired in a trade from the Montreal Canadiens in 2016. He put up 130 points in 211 games during his tenure there and was one of their top defensemen. He did miss some time with injuries this season, finishing with 31 points in 63 games, which you can bet isn’t up to his standards.

Although his health limited him, his results could have been worse. He finished with a Corsi for percentage of 53.61% and an expected goals for percentage (xGF%) of 50.62% at five-on-five. With that said, his impact was not what it’s been in the past.

P.K. Subban struggled in 2018-19 (RAPM via Evolving Hockey)

His offensive impact was still solid enough (Off_CF, Off_xG). But he didn’t have the same effect on defense (Def_CF, Def_xG) and even had a bit of a negative impact. The same can be said on the power play, but the Predators’ man advantage was also a disaster. It’s hard to say whether injuries played a role in the decline of his play, but he is 30 years old, so it’s possible his age is catching up to him just a bit.

Related: Devils Acquire P.K. Subban From Predators

Even though he didn’t produce to levels we’ve seen from him, there are reasons to believe he can bounce back. He had a strong 2017-18, finishing with 59 points in 82 games. He also had a goals above replacement (GAR) of 12.7 and 11.5 in each of the previous two seasons compared to minus-0.7 in 2018-19.

Even though his play fell in some areas, there are others where he’s still excelled for a couple of seasons. He’s going to make a huge difference for the Devils’ transition game, something their blue line has struggled with for a long time.

P.K. Subban helps solidify the right side of the Devils’ defense and gives them another option ahead of Damon Severson (Data by @ShutdownLine, Visual by @CJTDevil)

He has a strong impact in all three zones of the ice. He passes the puck at a high rate (shotassists/60) and is a beast at exiting his own end with possession (PossExit60, PossExit%). An underrated part of his game is his ability to defend his own blue line. It’s almost impossible for opponents to enter the zone cleanly against him, which will go a long way in helping goalies Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood.

A Risk Shero Had to Take

There’s always a level of risk in any trade, and it’s no different with Subban. He’s a 30-year-old defenseman coming off a down season, and he comes with a significant cap hit. But the good news is the organization has a ton of cap space. Even after trading for him, they still have $25.77 million in available money, which is the fourth-most in the league. Shero still needs to make other moves, like adding a top-six forward, but that shouldn’t be an issue.

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His deal also comes off the books in three years when a few of their important rookies — Jesper Boqvist, Ty Smith, and Jack Hughes — entry-level contracts expire. If those players live up to expectations, they’ll be getting sizable pay raises, so the timing is perfect.

This is the type of risk that the Devils were going to have to take at some point. They were in on the chase for Jacob Trouba but eventually lost out to the New York Rangers. Subban is a nice plan B, but he’s more than just that. He’s still a legit top-four defenseman, and he’ll play such a role and more in New Jersey.

P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators defenceman P.K. Subban celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

It also signals to Hall, who’s eligible for a contract extension on July 1, that they’re serious about winning in the near future. If Shero stood pat this summer, I doubt Hall would be chomping at the bit to sign an extension, especially since he’s only made the playoffs once in his career.

Subban Will Help One Way or Another

I’d bet money on Subban rebounding to a certain extent. I wouldn’t expect to be getting him in his prime again, but he’s still a very good defenseman. His ability to transition the puck is what they needed, and he should be able to help jump-start the rush by getting the puck to players like Hall and Nico Hischier cleanly.

At the end of the day, this is a great trade for the Devils. They gave up a B-prospect in Davies, a depth defenseman in Santini, and two second-round picks. Even if things don’t work out, they didn’t give up any of their top assets, so that’s a win. They need to get back to relevancy, and this is the kind of move that will help put them back in the playoff hunt in 2019-20.

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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey