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Scott Cullen

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The Montreal Canadiens seemed to have an uneasy relationship with defenceman P.K. Subban for quite some time.

Subban’s name was hot and heavy in the rumour mill leading up to last week’s draft, but when the dust cleared and he still remained in Montreal, it looked like the Habs might have avoided making a big mistake.

Not so fast. 

Statistically Speaking examines a blockbuster trade involving two very different first-pair defencemen.

 

2015-2016 STATS

 
PLAYER TEAM POS. GP G A PTS CF% CF%Rel PDO OZS% ATOI
Shea Weber NSH D 78 20 31 51 51.3 -2.8 98.2 50.9 25:23
P.K. Subban CHI D 68 6 45 51 52.5 0.4 101.4 51.7 26:22
 

The Canadiens Get: D Shea Weber

Weber, 30, has finished in the top five of Norris Trophy voting five times in the past eight seasons. At 6-foot-4 and more than 230 pounds, he’s an intimidating physical presence who has a rocket shot and is far-and-away the leader in goals among defencemen since 2008-2009.

 

DEFENCE GOAL LEADERS SINCE 2008-2009

PLAYER TEAM GP G
Shea Weber Nashville 602 141
Dustin Byfuglien Winnipeg 500 114
Erik Karlsson Ottawa 479 100
Mike Green Detroit 475 99
Zdeno Chara Boston 588 93
Brent Burns San Jose 461 92
Dan Boyle N.Y. Rangers 570 87
Drew Doughty Los Angeles 606 80
Mark Giordano Calgary 537 80
Oliver Ekman-Larsson Arizona 415 76

The trouble is, for a top-pair defenceman, Weber has negative relative shot differentials (ie. teams outshoot Nashville by more with Weber on the ice than they do when he’s off the ice.) It wasn’t always this way – early in his career, Weber dominated shot differentials too – but it’s hard to imagine this trend reversing as he gets older, especially as he joins a Montreal team that consistently gets outshot.

In Montreal, Weber will be a force on the power play and will play a physical game in the defensive zone, but if he doesn’t do a better job of generating controlled zone exits, Weber will ultimately spend too much time in the defensive zone and that leads to problems.

Weber’s cap hit is $7.857-million for 10 more seasons, but the actual outgoing money gets cheaper starting in 2018-2019, so he’s due to get $54-million over the rest of the deal.

The Predators Get: D P.K. Subban

Subban is a 27-year-old dynamo on defence. In the past four seasons, he ranks second among defencemen in scoring.

 

DEFENCE POINT LEADERS SINCE 2012-2013

PLAYER TEAM GP PTS
Erik Karlsson Ottawa 263 236
P.K. Subban Montreal 274 202
Dustin Byfuglien Winnipeg 271 182
Keith Yandle Florida 296 182
Kris Letang Pittsburgh 212 181
Shea Weber Nashville 283 180
Duncan Keith Chicago 273 176
Roman Josi Nashville 282 174
Andrei Markov Montreal 292 167
Oliver Ekman-Larsson Arizona 285 166

Subban can skate the puck out of his own end, and that can work to his detriment because sometimes he turns it over. However, the positives dramatically outweigh the negatives in this respect, because there are so many more instances in which Subban is responsible for the Canadiens exiting the zone with the puck. 

As a result he’s one of the best in the game moving the puck in the right direction, which tended to stand out on a Montreal team that tends to get outshot more often than not. Although his shot may not be feared quite like Weber’s, Subban does have a potent one-timer on the power play, so he can fill that spot on the Nashville power play.

In Nashville, Subban could fit quite nicely alongside Roman Josi on the top pair. Two elite, mobile defencemen that can move the puck and handle big minutes? That’s a dream scenario for any team and since the Predators can back up that pair with Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis, they are really set in their top four.

Subban doesn’t come cheaply; his six-year, $54-million contract kicking in next season, with a no-movement clause that takes effect July 1. That will take Subban through his age 32 season, so he should be a star in Nashville for a good portion, if not all, of the deal. 

Verdict: The long-term implications of this deal could be costly for Montreal. While Subban is already the better performer, the gap is likely to become more of a problem in the future, because Weber turns 31 this summer and is signed until he’s 40. How much longer can the Canadiens reasonably expect Weber to log big minutes? 

If Weber retires before the end of the contract, there could be massive cap recapture penalties on the Predators, but that’s a function of a contract that was bad from the get-go. 

Scott Cullen can be reached at scott.cullen@bellmedia.ca