P.K. Subban vs. the NHL’s other big-money defensemen

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There were basically three types of responses to P.K. Subban’s mammoth eight-year, $72 million extension on Saturday:

1) Those spouting “That’s way too much money” while critiquing the player and/or the deal.

2) More than a few people who believe that Subban is worth every penny.

3) Those who praised other deals as huge bargains in hindsight. (Erik Karlsson’s name came up a lot there.)

The third consideration probably brings up the most interesting – and healthiest – discussions. By receiving that ransom at 25, Subban sets a new bar for blueliners in much the same way that forwards have a new ceiling to shoot for following dual $10.5 million marks for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Ignoring the many contextual factors that went into this deal as compared to the contracts owned by his elite peers – from a rising salary cap to a new CBA – how does Subban compare to other expensive blueliners? To start things off, let’s do things the simple way by glancing at Cap Geek’s most comparable contracts at his position in 2014-15:

Name Age Length Start Expiry Salary Cap Hit Cap Pct
Subban, P.K. » 25 8 2014 2022 $9,000,000 $9,000,000 13.04%
Weber, Shea » 28 14 2012 2026 $14,000,000 $7,857,143 11.19%
Suter, Ryan » 29 13 2012 2025 $11,000,000 $7,538,462 10.74%
Letang, Kris » 27 8 2014 2022 $7,250,000 $7,250,000 10.51%
Campbell, Brian » 35 8 2008 2016 $7,142,875 $7,142,875 12.60%
Doughty, Drew » 24 8 2011 2019 $7,000,000 $7,000,000 10.89%
Phaneuf, Dion » 29 7 2014 2021 $8,000,000 $7,000,000 10.14%
Chara, Zdeno » 37 7 2011 2018 $7,000,000 $6,916,667 10.76%
Karlsson, Erik » 24 7 2012 2019 $6,500,000 $6,500,000 9.26%
Pietrangelo, Alex » 24 7 2013 2020 $5,500,000 $6,500,000 10.11%
Green, Mike » 28 3 2012 2015 $6,250,000 $6,083,333 8.67%
Seabrook, Brent » 29 5 2011 2016 $5,000,000 $5,800,000 9.02%
Burns, Brent » 29 5 2012 2017 $5,760,000 $5,760,000 8.21%
Niskanen, Matt » 27 7 2014 2021 $5,750,000 $5,750,000 8.33%
Enstrom, Tobias » 29 5 2013 2018 $5,750,000 $5,750,000 8.94%
Markov, Andrei » 35 3 2014 2017 $7,000,000 $5,750,000 8.33%
Keith, Duncan » 31 13 2010 2023 $7,600,000 $5,538,462 9.32%
Myers, Tyler » 24 7 2012 2019 $5,000,000 $5,500,000 7.83%
Carle, Matt » 29 6 2012 2018 $5,750,000 $5,500,000 7.83%
E.-Larsson, O. » 23 6 2013 2019 $4,000,000 $5,500,000 8.55%
Wisniewski, James » 30 6 2011 2017 $5,000,000 $5,500,000 8.55%

Interesting stuff, huh?

Depending upon the person who’s framing an argument, Subban’s peers can fall more in line with Shea Weber – the most recent defenseman who experienced a bumpy ride in which arbitration was prominently involved – or someone like Karlsson or Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Any way you slice it, many of those deals really do look great with hindsight; one could imagine the cackles of Chicago Blackhawks fans who delight in Duncan Keith only taking up 9.32 percent of their cap or Victor Hedman’s ludicrous steal-of-a-deal at $4 million per season.

In all honesty, it’s not totally fair to Subban or the Canadiens to compare his deal with other blueliners who were in very different situations. If nothing else, the rest of the NHL should be very pleased that their blue-chip blueliners aren’t set to hit the market anytime soon, though.

Bargains and value discussions aside, where does Subban fit among the NHL’s elite? That’s a tricky question, especially since he’s received mixed treatment from those who deploy him.

Perception, reality and P.K.

As much as the numbers seem to indicate that Subban is the real deal – not just offensive numbers, but the whole picture – there’s the (probably unfair) impression that he needs to improve greatly in his own end.

Consider the fact that he was often used lightly by Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock during the 2014 Olympics. Without getting into speculation about his relationship with Habs bench boss Michel Therrien, Subban didn’t carry the toughest workload in 2013-14:

If you judge a player based on the opinions of the decision-makers, Subban falls behind some of the best of the best.

Here’s the thing, though: his numbers are pretty sterling in just about any situation, making an argument that he can handle the burden of huge expectations. Subban generated 165 points since his first full season in the NHL back in 2010-11, ranking him seventh among defensemen. The numbers only get better if you restrict them to more recent seasons. He doesn’t get enough credit for his overall work, either.

Here’s a look at how he compares to some of the league’s best via Extra Skater’s handy “compare” tools:

Player GP G P CF% CF% rel PDO ZS% ZS% rel EVTOI% PPTOI% SHTOI% QoC TOI% QoT TOI%
P.K. Subban 82 10 53 49.90% 0.051 99.8 47.40% 0.038 39.00% 80.30% 11.20% 28.80% 27.90%
Erik Karlsson 82 20 74 54.80% 0.043 99.1 55.00% 0.076 43.20% 76.00% 24.00% 29.00% 27.80%
Brian Campbell 82 7 37 52.70% 0.03 99 49.90% 0.009 42.20% 66.20% 37.50% 28.80% 27.20%
Drew Doughty 78 10 37 58.50% 0.029 100.8 54.10% -0.90% 38.90% 64.20% 42.20% 29.00% 26.90%
Alex Pietrangelo 81 8 51 54.90% 0.029 101.7 52.30% -0.50% 38.50% 50.70% 55.70% 29.50% 29.50%
Duncan Keith 79 6 61 56.60% 0.02 100.4 57.30% 0.027 37.20% 61.30% 48.40% 28.90% 28.50%
Zdeno Chara 77 17 40 55.20% 0.018 101.3 48.30% -9.10% 37.00% 55.20% 58.10% 29.90% 27.70%
Ryan Suter 82 8 43 48.60% -0.40% 102.2 54.20% 0.098 45.60% 71.50% 44.90% 29.30% 29.10%
Shea Weber 79 23 56 48.00% -0.70% 100.1 44.60% -6.60% 41.00% 63.10% 54.10% 29.60% 29.10%
Kris Letang 37 11 22 48.80% -1.50% 97.3 53.10% 0.039 36.30% 71.70% 41.00% 28.90% 28.00%
Oliver Ekman-Larsson 80 15 44 49.20% -1.80% 100.5 48.40% -4.60% 37.10% 74.40% 54.00% 29.80% 27.60%
Dion Phaneuf 80 8 31 40.80% -2.80% 103.1 37.20% -4.90% 34.10% 62.50% 52.40% 30.10% 29.10%

(Note: it’s OK if your eyes are glazing over at some of those categories.)

To generalize, Subban stacks up nicely in most regards … although his lack of PK work (pause for giggles) is indeed glaring.

With that in mind, the most interesting question might shift from “Where does Subban rank?” to “Will Therrien use his best defenseman in a way that gives his team the best chance to succeed?” Whatever happens, it won’t be easy for Subban to live up to these expectations, yet the Canadiens could very well be happy that they made this huge investment … if they play their cards right.

The Buzzer: Canucks continue Red Wings’ slide

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Player of the Night: Sven Baertschi

Last season, Baertschi was a bright spot for a dismal Vancouver Canucks team, generating new career-highs in goals (18) and points (35) in 68 regular-season games.

The 25-year-old carried over some of that momentum early on, generating three points in seven games, but they were all assists. Sunday marked his best moment of 2017-18, as Baertschi scored his first two goals of the campaign (giving him five points in eight contests).

Bo Horvat is the honorable mention in the Canucks’ 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings, collecting his first two assists of the season. Jake Virtanen also found the net for his first goal of the season.

(As an aside, Derek Dorsett somehow has five goals already in 2017-18. Dorsett’s career-high is 12 goals, but he’s already in range of tying his second-best mark of seven.)

Highlight of the Night: Why not go with Baertschi’s two goals?

Factoid of the Night: This marks the fourth straight loss for the Red Wings, dropping them to 4-4-1 after a promising 4-1-0 start. But the hits could keep coming.

Beginning with Tuesday’s game against the Sabres in Buffalo, Detroit will play three straight road games and seven of their next eight away from home. The bright side is that they’ll enjoy a ton of contests at their expensive new pad starting in mid-November, but the next few weeks could really dim whatever optimism the Red Wings built up early on.

(For pro-tanking Red Wings fans, this might not be such a bad thing.)

Sunday’s lone score: Canucks 4, Red Wings 1

Can Golden Knights keep winning as they keep losing goalies?

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The Vegas Golden Knights confirmed today’s fearful report: Malcolm Subban is expected to miss about a month thanks to a lower-body injury suffered during another Golden Knights upset (3-2 in OT vs. the Blues) on Saturday night.

It makes for a dizzying run of turnover in the Cinderella expansion team’s net; Calvin Pickard went to the Toronto Maple Leafs as the odd man out, Subban is headed to IR, and Marc-Andre Fleury is sidelined with another concussion.

The spotlight, then, turns to Oscar Dansk, the 23-year-old goalie who stopped 10 of 11 shots against St. Louis when Subban went down with that injury.

Golden Knights GM George McPhee said the predictable, right things regarding Dansk and the situation:

“Injuries provide opportunities for others and that is the situation we have here,” McPhee said. “Our top two goaltenders are currently sidelined so we will now give our AHL goalies the chance to play in their absence. We felt Oscar Dansk performed well in relief on Saturday in his NHL debut.”

In a way, Dansk feels like a lower-level version of Subban. While Subban is/was a struggling former first-rounder, Dansk was the second-round version; the Columbus Blue Jackets made him the 31st pick of the 2012 NHL Draft.

(Hey, the 31st pick is now a first-rounder thanks to the Golden Knights, so there’s that.)

Dansk hasn’t been setting the hockey world on fire at other levels, but maybe that makes him an interesting fit for this weird situation, as the Golden Knights continue to defy odds and puck-gravity during a 6-1-0 start.

What to expect

While the Chicago Blackhawks boast the sort of firepower that could make for an unpleasant introduction for Dansk, at least the Golden Knights still have a few games remaining on their first-ever homestand:

Tue, Oct 24 vs Chicago
Fri, Oct 27 vs Colorado
Mon, Oct 30 @ NY Islanders
Tue, Oct 31 @ NY Rangers

That back-to-back to end the month could be Halloween-scary, but at least Vegas has some time to prepare. The losses are likely to come starting on Oct. 30, as they face a six-game road trip and eight of nine games away from home. That’s challenging, no expansion disclaimers needed.

How they’ve been playing

Some wonder if the Golden Knights should loosen their defensive logjam by trading for a netminder.

Rather than wading too deep into that discussion, this seems like a reasonable time to look at the Golden Knights seven games (and six wins) in.

  • One thing that stands out is Vegas’ penalty kill. They’ve been almost perfect if you exclude a rough showing in their overtime win against the Sabres (Buffalo went 3-for-5 in that game). Aside from that, they’ve only allowed one power-play goal. They’ve also only hit the penalty box three or four times most nights, with one night with just one trip and the five opportunities for the Sabres standing as the outliers.

The Golden Knights should expect more struggles in both regards, at least at times, this season. Maybe this long run of home-ice advantage and their expansion status helped avoid most whistles? Perhaps Gerard Gallant has them playing extra-smart?

  • So far, the shot counts have been pretty reasonable in five of seven games. They’ve only been heavily outshot twice so far: their first game (46 shots on goal for Dallas, 30 for them) and this past one vs. the Blues (49 for St. Louis, 22 for Vegas). That’s surprisingly competent stuff.
  • With any team enjoying success, close games can be a red flag, especially if there are OT wins. Vegas has three wins in overtime and one other one-goal win. Their 3-1 win against Boston included an empty-netter.

This isn’t to dismiss those wins, but sometimes close games are more like “coin flips,” and some of those will start going against the Golden Knights eventually.

  • The Golden Knights are a top-10 team in two luck-leaning categories: PDO and shooting percentage. That said, they’re not the top team in either spot, so it’s not outrageous to give them some credit.

***

Through some intriguing combination of competence and beginner’s luck, the Golden Knights are off to a shockingly good start.

It’s one thing to lose one goalie, but seeing both go down is brutal for any squad, let alone an expansion team. The Golden Knights have every excuse to start to fade, and were likely to see slippage even at full strength.

Even so, credit this team for being far better than anyone expected, and this hungry bunch will at least be able to point to doubtful bits like these if they need some “us against the world” motivation.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Appreciating Stamkos after he hit 600 points

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The modern NHL is no stranger to star players missing extended stretches because of injuries, opening the door for “What if?” frustrations.

As glorious as the last couple years have been for Sidney Crosby, the threat of another concussion looms like Michael Myers in the bushes. Connor McDavid lost half of his rookie season. Carey Price has already dealt with serious issues of his own.

Still, you can forgive Steven Stamkos and Tampa Bay Lightning fans for being especially miffed over the years, as his issues have bordered on the freakish. Stamkos has dealt with blood clots, his most recent right knee injury that required surgery, and broke his tibia after taking this bad-luck spill in 2013:

(Even about four years later, it’s still unsettling to watch Stamkos rapidly become aware of how bad his injury was.)

Stamkos has missed playoff time and saw at least two seasons short-circuited by injuries, as he only played in 17 games in 2016-17 and 37 in 2013-14.

Heading into this season, it was reasonable to try to limit expectations; most athletes struggle in the first year after significant surgeries. Maybe Stamkos will hit a wall at some point, but so far, he’s enjoyed the best start of his career, riding shotgun with budding superstar Nikita Kucherov.

It almost seems fitting, then, that Stamkos scored his 600th regular-season point during the Lightning’s 7-1 beatdown of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even so, it’s resounding that – with all Stamkos has been through – he’s at that level at 27, and he’s done so in 595 games.

Impressive. With this incredible head start of 18 points in nine games, a healthy Stamkos might match or exceed the work he did during his best days earlier in his career. Note how dominant he was from his second through fourth seasons (while Stamkos managed 29 goals and 57 points in the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, his fifth):

2009-10: 51 goals, 95 points

2010-11: 45 goals, 91 points

2011-12: 60 goals, 97 points

The other eye-popping stat from that run: he played in all 82 regular-season games in each of those three campaigns.

For some perspective, during the stretch of 2009-10 to 2011-12, Stamkos’ 283 points ranked second in the NHL, with only Henrik Sedins’ 287 ranking higher. His 156 goals easily led all players for that three-year stretch.

If that’s not enough to make you wonder where a healthy Stamkos might rank among the NHL’s upper echelon, consider this: from his sophomore 2009-10 season through today, he’s third in points-per-game among players who’ve played in at least 200, slightly edging Patrick Kane (1.06):

  1. Sidney Crosby (1.28)
  2. Evgeni Malkin (1.14)
  3. Stamkos (1.07)
  4. Kane (1.06)
  5. Alex Ovechkin (1.03)
  6. Nicklas Backstrom/retired Martin St. Louis (1.01)

As you can see, Stamkos ranks among six active players who’ve averaged at least one point-per-game since 2009-10.

Chances are, Stamkos will cool off mainly because, as great as Kucherov is, he’ll settle down a bit too. The Russian winger currently boasts a 29.4 shooting percentage, nearly doubling his already-impressive career average of 15.1 percent.

Still, it’s plausible that Stamkos could enjoy one of the best seasons of his career, and the interesting wrinkle might be that this stupendous sniper may serve as something of a facilitator (he currently has three goals versus 15 assists).

Now, don’t forget that Kucherov has been the catalyst for this burst, even if Stamkos makes this one of the NHL’s most scintillating symbiotic relationships. Hitting the 600-point milestone is merely a friendly reminder that Stamkos shouldn’t get lost in the elite conversation, and that hockey fans should be very, very happy to have him around.

Just stay a while this time, Stamkos. We like seeing you.

(Many stats via the wonderful resource that is Hockey Reference.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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Throwing Babcock a bone? Leafs bring back Roman Polak

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Sometimes you need to zoom out from a shaky move and appreciate the bigger picture.

Mike Babcock nailed it when he described the Toronto Maple Leafs, at least at times, as dumb and fun. The Leafs currently lead the NHL with 37 goals, one more than the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning, despite Toronto playing one fewer game. Still, these young Buds also must raise Babcock’s blood pressure at times with their double-edged sword style.

Credit Babcock, then, with mostly embracing what makes this team tick. More rigid coaches would strain against such designs, almost certainly lowering the Maple Leafs’ ceiling in the process.

The Maple Leafs raised some eyebrows on Sunday by handing slow-footed, limited veteran defenseman Roman Polak a one-year, $1.1 million contract. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that the Maple Leafs slumped some shoulders.

None of these Twitter reactions are really off-base, honestly.

Polak, 31, simply isn’t an ideal fit for the modern NHL, and the Maple Leafs are very much embracing the fast, attacking style that’s (delightfully) coming in vogue.

Here’s a working theory, though: even the best coaches (at least right now) have “their guys.”

“Their guys” are often well-traveled, gritty types. Some only help teams in minimal ways while taking spots from prospects who might eventually be able to make bigger impacts. Others are even worse: actively hurting their teams whenever they get on the ice while taking spots. New York Rangers fans are currently having Tanner Glass flashbacks.

Every GM in the NHL should limit the number of “guys” available to a coach. Otherwise, they’re echoing “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” by holding an intervention at a bar.

(By this analogy, Nazem Kadri is definitely wine in a can.)

Allow a hypothesis: with some injuries surfacing and the Maple Leafs generally playing well, and roaming free, signing Polak stands as something of a reward for Babcock’s patience.

It’s not great, and here’s hoping that Polak doesn’t take meaningful ice time away from better defensemen. There are some discouraging worst-case scenarios where Polak is used as a shutdown guy who really only shuts down the Leafs’ ability to counterpunch.

Ideally, Polak is used in a limited role and Toronto remains one of the most dazzling, heart-stopping, and successful teams in the NHL. That would make everyone happy (except the Maple Leafs’ opponents).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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