Using the website stats.hockeyanalysis.com, we can see splits between players all around the league. What this means is that we can isolate a player, for example the returning P.K. Subban, and see how his teammates performed by a possession standpoint with him, and without him.
Before we do that though, we should clarify a few things. For starters, looking at Subban's 2011-12 season we know that he he was far and away the best defenseman on the Montreal Canadiens. He took the top competition, started mostly in the defensive zone, and was a special teams monster.
It's important to note that when a player is playing with Subban, it was more than likely that they were also facing tougher opponents than when they were away from him. This means that improvement in performance when playing with Subban is doubly impressive, so which players played better with Subban than away from him last year?
|Player||Corsi % with Subban||Corsi % without Subban||Difference|
Without Subban, 4 Habs players managed to have positive possession numbers last year. Of them, only 2 were facing even remotely tough minutes, as both Gomez and Palushaj were heavily sheltered.
With Subban 15 players were dragged up into positive possession.
The average player managed a 46.26% Corsi without Subban, while playing with him dragged the average player up to 49.49%, a 3.23 percentage point difference. The Subban Effect™ then, is a 7% increase in possession performance on average.
The biggest beneficiary of Subban last season who actually played significant time with him was Gorges, and looking at his play at both even strength and the penalty kill this season, that's a pretty obvious area area he could help. Gorges experienced a 17.1% boost to his possession while playing with Subban. That same increase this year would bring Gorges from a 44.8 Corsi percentage to a 52.4. That would create a second dominant possession defense pairing to go with Markov and Emelin.
It's kind of odd that Gorges' comments on Subban returning were interpreted negatively the other day. For the record, I don't buy for a second that Gorges was being negative. Nothing he said struck me as anything but par for the course for a teammate negotiating into the season. That said, if I'm wrong and Gorges is pissed with Subban, he should check his attitude at the door. Gorges was given a nice fat six year contract at $3.9M per year last season, and a large reason why he looked good enough to make that cash was because he was playing with P.K. Subban. Gorges is a good hockey player, but like David Desharnais, he is not a solitary talent. He is a complimentary player who thrives while playing with an elite talent. Can Gorges face top competition with Subban? Yes. Can he do it on his own? I highly doubt it. Without Subban, Gorges strikes me as a #4 defenseman, being paid like a very good #3.
Speaking of Desharnais, his line was also a big beneficiary of Subban's talents last season. In fact, while the difference in Corsi performance with and without Subban for the Pacioretty - Desharnais - Cole line was impressive, the big difference was in goals for.
While playing with Subban, last year's top line averaged 1.457 goals per 20 minutes played. Without Subban, they averaged just 0.74 goals per 20 minutes. That's nearly a 50% drop in effectiveness. Remember how that line is struggling to score at even strength? That may change very quickly with Subban back in the lineup.
The ripple effect of Subban returning also means that Raphael Diaz gets to drop from the second pairing to the third pairing. Whether he plays with Kaberle or Francis Bouillon doesn't really matter, he will be the talented guy who's anchoring the pairing. This means weaker competition for Diaz, and a better all around player sending the puck up the ice to the Alex Galchenyuk line, and defending behind them.
It's hard to overstate the impact bringing a player like Subban back into the fold will have. The guy is elite at everything that makes a defenseman important. Hopefully he's ready to go against the Sabres tomorrow afternoon.