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2015-16 Montreal Canadiens Season Preview: P.K. Subban

Don't be surprised if Subban produces yet another statistically dominant season next year

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

When P.K. Subban signed his massive eight-year, $72 million contract last summer, the question on many people's minds was whether or not he could possibly live up to the mega deal.

If we're being honest, Subban's numbers were already elite, but the pressure of a record-breaking deal can break some players. Fortunately for Habs fans, Subban isn't just some player.

Not only did he surpass the inflated expectations, he did so while putting together a career year in goals (15), assists (45), and points (60). And he did so while facing incredibly contrived criticism for the first half of the season, which was based not on his performance, but on his price tag.

"Sure, he's playing well, but is he worth $9 million?"

2014-15 Review

Subban's fantastic season earned him a Norris Trophy nomination, and even though he lost the award to a very legitimate candidate, Erik Karlsson, there's no doubt in my mind he should have finished second in voting. Drew Doughty finished as the runner-up, although there's no metric available that supports the idea that Doughty had a better season than Subban. In all likelihood, Doughty received a plethora of votes from voters that wanted to avoid giving Karlsson or Subban first-place nods. Either way, it's tough to argue with the fact that Karlsson won the award, seeing as he had a Norris-worthy season.

Subban 10-game CF% condensed
2014-15 10-game average Corsi-for percentage with Subban on the ice (blue line) compared to when he was not (orange line). Score-adjusted five-on-five data from WAR On Ice. Charts created by Spencer Mann.

As we all know, awards are great, but in the long run they don't matter much. What's important in Subban's case was his incredibly positive effect on the rest of his teammates. Virtually every player is better with Subban on the ice, and the reverse can be said when he's sitting the odd shift out.

Subban finished second on the entire team with a glowing Corsi-for percentage of 52.09%. His 31 even-strength points were good for fifth among all Habs skaters, with Max Pacioretty leading the charge at 42, followed by Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec at 33, and Alex Galchenyuk with 32.

His on-ice shot differential (+45) was second only to Gallagher (+63), and miles ahead of the third-ranked Pacioretty with 23. That goes to show that despite Subban's incredible offensive prowess, he rarely gets outshot while he's on the ice.

In a nutshell, Subban produced the type of season every GM lays awake at night hoping for; a strong presence in his own end, combined with great numbers on offence.

Subban Passing Project
Data provided by contributors to the Passing Project, led by Ryan Stimson. | Glossary of Terms

It was quite apparent to everyone who's watched Subban throughout his career that he curtailed his offensive zone entries this season, relying instead on the team's dump-and-chase strategy. The lack of scoring chances created per 60 minutes seems to support that theory. The end-to-end rushes we've all come to know and love have disappeared.

However, when looking at his composite SAG/60 (total shot attempt contributions), it's clear that Subban is still ranked among the best in the league. On a team that plays a very restrictive offensive system, Subban still stands out as an elite player, which is no small feat.

2015-16 Projection

subban preview

2015-16 Marcel statistical projection courtesy of Domenic Galamini | Calculation procedure

Subban will once again be Montreal's most important skater, and the team will count on him to spearhead their offensive forays, as well as to lower the quantity of shots against while he's on the ice. Fortunately for Subban, the addition of Jeff Petry should alleviate some of the pressure, seeing as how the deadline acquisition also plays a very mobile style of hockey, which concentrates on re-launching the offense as quickly as possible.

As you can see, Domenic's projection predicts a decline in most metrics. Seeing as he's coming off a career year, it's definitely not a far-fetched scenario. That being said, even if his projected relative Corsi-for percentage is down, it's still the highest projected number among all defenders next season.

If Subban is paired with Andrei Markov, as he was for the majority of the time last year, he'll once again have to cover for Markov's lack of speed and increasing errors. That's not to say that Markov has become a terrible player, but time stops for no man, and that's starting to become apparent in the veteran's case.

Of course, Subban has made a career out of exceeding expectations, and as a result you shouldn't be surprised if he's once again in the Norris Trophy conversation once the 2015-16 season wraps up, especially since he's entering the prime of his career.