The Leafs Should Absolutely Bring PK Subban Home (for the right price)

Heading into the 2020 NHL trade deadline, it’s a perfect opportunity to eye up some trade possibilities to try to improve the Maple Leafs. There’s a laundry list of qualities (aside: what is a laundry list? –who makes lists of the laundry they need to do?) that the Leafs should be searching for in a trade target. No trade is going to materialize all of those qualities, but a trade for PK Subban crosses off quite a few of mine.

Why Trade for Subban?

Some of these qualities are tangible, some are not, but all are important to some degree.

The most obvious reason is that the Leafs are in desperate need of a right handed defender to round out their defense core. Although Barrie and Holl have reached new highs since Sheldon Keefe took over as head coach, showing a lot of value that wasn’t coming through during Mike Babcock’s reign because of limited opportunity, Ceci remains a bit of a black spot on this team, and edging him out of a job will save the Leafs some grief in the short term.

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Another reason Subban is a good trade target for Toronto is that New Jersey is bad. Like, really bad. Season over already level bad. That’s the kind of team the Leafs need to deal with, because all that team will want is future value, and all the Leafs can afford to lose is future value, besides some good bottom 6 forwards that are a dime a dozen this time of year.

The intangible reasons are in your face and obvious, but worth mentioning nonetheless. Subban is a Toronto-born talent, and it’s always exciting bringing star-level players from the area in to play for the Leafs. With the homecoming of John Tavares this summer, adding Subban as well would be thrilling for Toronto fans and for Subban himself.

The other main intangible reason in favour of this deal is even less tangible, but important to me: Subban is an active, positive and engaging voice in the hockey community who also is a person of colour. Having him in the Toronto spotlight could be a great liftoff point for making him one of the great voices in this game, if he isn’t already. The platform that playing in the big smoke gives a player is unbelievable, and seeing what Subban could do for bringing disadvantaged populations into the hockey community, and elevating those who are already here, is exciting.

But he’s on the decline!

It’s true that Subban’s days of stardom seem to be behind him. With just 11 points in 51 games, he’s not looking his Norris-winning self, to be sure. His production stats actually seem to be representative of a normal aging curve, on which he’s now on a significant decline.

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However, there’s a little more to it than that.

This season’s 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage is just 6.2%, the lowest Subban’s seen in years. Oddly enough, the lowest 5-on-5 shooting percentage he’s seen, 6.1%, was the lockout-shortened year where he also had his highest points-per-game rate. The correlation there is pretty non-existent.

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So shooting percentage isn’t really the problem. His scoring has been on the decline the last few years, but the shooting percentage was only a concern after he joined the maligned Devils squad.

Where is the problem then, you ask? It’s in the Corsi stats of course! I say this in jest of course, because shot attempt statistics don’t always directly relate to scoring droughts for a player, it can be delayed or just not nuanced enough to cover what’s going on in the production stats.

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Note: Points per 100 games used so that a similar scale could be used for both stats.

It doesn’t look dramatic, but from 2010 to 2020 Subban’s 5-on-5 Shot Attempts % (SAT%) decreases consistently from 56.4% to 48.9%, and appears to bring with it a corresponding decrease in production.

This is just a correlation, and I haven’t dug in enough to label it causation, but I do think it’s worrisome at best.

All statistics provided by NHL.com.

The Proposal

Everyone is bad at these, but I’m going to try one of them just so you all can have fun yelling at me.

Subban’s statistics are concerning, his contract is huge (although relatively short), but brings a lot of pedigree, pizzazz, and poise to the Leafs that they sorely lack from their defense. The Leafs are completely strapped to the cap, so this deal has to be money-neutral or else it’s impossible for Toronto. With that constraint, there are precious few options.

Here’s the best I can come up with:

Toronto gets: New Jersey gets:

P.K. Subban (25% ret)

7th round pick 2020 (NJ)

Cody Ceci (50% ret)

Kasperi Kapanen

Adam Brooks

Joseph Woll

4th round pick 2020 (TOR)

2nd round pick 2020 (TOR)

In total, the Leafs gain $260k in cap space in this deal for this season. The Devils get a bunch of small parts of future value in Brooks, Woll, and the picks, as well as a solid chunk of future and present value with Kapanen. The Leafs get a good, once great, RHD to complement a full quality complement of 6 defenders.

Final Thoughts

To me, this trade is a dream for the Maple Leafs which probably means I’m not including enough picks/prospects to get it done, but this is generally how I think the trade would be constructed.

What are your thoughts? What would you give up for Subban, if anything?