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.