Despite the recent struggles, the New Jersey Devils are actually doing better than they were expected to perform. Albeit, expectations weren’t exactly high, however, it shows that their organization is headed in the right direction in terms of rebuilding. Some players including Jack Hughes and Mackenzie Blackwood have elevated their games to another level. It’s worth mentioning that some of the younger players are exceeding expectations as well, a good example would be rookie defenseman, Ty Smith.
However, despite some improvement, there have been a couple of blemishes in the rebuilding strategy. A good example would be how much worse the Devils have become in their respective specialty team game plan. But, another example of where their disappointments have been traced would have to be the recent subpar performances put up by one of their veteran defenseman PK Subban.
Why Did the Devils Acquire Subban in the First Place?
It’s hard to believe that not too long ago, the trade to obtain Subban made headlines as being considered a “steal” for the Devils due to how little they gave up in order to obtain him. Last season, from a statistical standpoint, was Subban’s worst performance of his career. It was a season in which he was only able to get 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) and had a horrendous plus/minus rating of minus-21. What makes last season even more painful is that the Devils, after missing the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, thought that they found their potential final piece in Subban. Because a year before the 2018-19 season, they actually made it to the playoffs in which they ended up losing to the Tampa Lightning in five games in the first round.
Logically speaking, the Devils thought that they weren’t far off from being a consistent playoff team once again, so they believed that making a trade for a former Norris Trophy winner wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Especially since they already had an MVP caliber player in Taylor Hall and a few other key pieces as well. Some of which included promising young players like Hughes, Blackwood, and Nico Hischier that were full of potential. But, as everybody remembers, last season was a complete failure that resulted in a complete change of personnel ranging from the players on the roster to the front office staff. However, this season the Devils were able to take steps in the right direction of their rebuild, despite dropping three of their last four games.
Where Are Subban’s Struggles Coming From?
With strides of improvements being demonstrated from players like Hughes and Blackwood, it’s surprising to see that Subban still continues to struggle, despite having been named a replacement alternate captain by the organization back in January. However, advanced analytics show that Subban’s production is equivalent to a replacement-level player. Despite being placed into Ruff’s defensive system, which is supposed to help benefit him due to his personal physical attributes, Subban is still trying to find his place in the Devils organization but it hasn’t been easy. To put his production into perspective, according to Evolving-Hockey’s xGAR chart, the only category where Subban’s production is above replacement-level is the powerplay offense, however he’s doing so barely with his value being rated at 0.1.
As for the other categories: even-strength offense (-1.3), even-strength defense (-1.0), shorthanded defense (-1.1), penalties taken (-0.5), and penalties drawn (-0.2). It doesn’t matter the scenario or situation that the Devils face themselves in, Subban has made the Devils relatively worse in every possible statistical category. With his strong slapshots either getting redirected, blocked or even turned over, Subban has made the Devils more vulnerable and predictable in that field as well.
And if that’s not convincing, he and Ryan Murray both lost their starting top line positions to Smith (a rookie) and Damon Severson. It’s definitely frustrating to see, especially since I covered the fact that Subban could potentially make a comeback with a new look Devils organization. Subban, being the big social media presence that he is, even showed his fans his offseason grind. He was even seen working out with former WWE performer, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
What Does the Future Hold for Subban?
Even though Subban only has seven points (one goal and six assists) through 16 games played, there’s still some hope that he can rebound once again. Even though the Devils have played more than a quarter of their games this year, if Subban can find a way to get the puck closer to the net, instead of always taking slapshots, then he could see his goal total climb just a little more. Last season, he was more effective when he shot the puck within closer range.
The one category that Subban is on pace to top this year is his assists total. With Hischier finally returning to action, Subban should continue to search for open passing lanes for all of the Devils’ young players so that way he can improve upon his offensive ratings and effectiveness. There’s still plenty of time left for a comeback, but with the Devils struggling recently, it’s time for Subban to elevate his game, like the rest of his teammates, to another level.
Trey Matthews is currently the play-by-play announcer for the hockey programs at Adrian College. Matthews is also one of the only black hockey play-by-play announcers in the entire country. He has been featured in USA Today, USCHO, & others for his work. In addition to that, he’s also the host of a podcast show called Locked On Devils. His past writing experience includes him writing for his high school’s paper, Cub News, at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School & Academy.