There are a few reasons why the Montreal Canadiens
’ blockbuster swap with the Nashville Predators quickly upstaged the Hall-for-Larsson deal. P.K. Subban and Shea Weber were cornerstones of typically strong teams. Weber was a Canadian Olympic hero, Subban the Norris Trophy winner of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. And since they play the same position, it’s inevitable they’ll be compared for the duration of their careers.
In that spirit, here at the end of their first regular season with their new teams, let’s compare them.
A few caveats should be noted from the outset. Claiming Weber had a superior season to Subban, as most metrics discussed below indicate, doesn’t mean Weber, who’s four years older and signed through 2025-26, has made Montreal the winner of the trade. And their bodies of work this season are not quite equal: Subban missed 16 games from Dec. 15 to Jan. 20 with an upper-body injury.
That said, Weber has the edge through 2016-17. Here’s why.
AGE AND CONTRACT
Weber: 31, under contract until age 40 (2025-26) with a salary-cap hit of $7.85 million per year
Subban: 27, under contract until age 32 (2021-22) at $9 million per year
Montreal: 47-26-9, 103 points, first in Atlantic Division; 226 GF, 200 GA; 0.31 SRS*
Nashville: 41-29-12, 94 points, fourth in Central Division (second wild-card); 240 GF, 224 GA; 0.16 SRS
*Simple Rating System: a Hockey Reference metric that melds a team’s goal differential and strength of schedule.
Montreal improved markedly from last season, when Carey Price played only 12 games and the Canadiens missed the playoffs by 14 points. They allowed 36 fewer goals than they did in 2015-16. Their 19.6-per cent power play ranked 13th in the league this season; their penalty kill, at 81.1%, was 14th.
Nashville rung up wins and points at a similar rate to 2015-16 (when they had 41 and 96). Their offence was more potent and their defence more leaky than last season (228 goals for and 215 against), though the difference in each category isn’t dramatic. Their power play (18.9 per cent, 16th in the league) and penalty kill (80.9 per cent, 15th) were average, like Montreal’s.
Team results are contextually valuable, but given the mitigating factors at play — a full season of Price, the presence of dozens of other players in every game — they shouldn’t be taken alone as an affirmation of Weber over Subban.
Jan. 3 at Nashville: Canadiens win 2-1 (OT)
March 2 at Montreal: Canadiens win 2-1
Subban didn’t dress for Nashville’s first meeting with his former club amid his month-long injury absence. Weber scored on a third-period wrister from the slot and logged 24:13 in ice time, second on his team. (Max Pacioretty netted the winner with 30 seconds left in overtime.)
Two months later, the Canadiens won by the same score in Subban’s grand, tearful return to Montreal. Subban managed an assist on Ryan Ellis’ power-play goal, while Weber was a pointless and plus-1. (Paul Byron scored on a breakaway with 8.3 seconds to go in regulation, denying the Predators a point.)
These games were entertaining, but essentially meaningless for this comparison.
Weber: 78 games: 17 goals, 25 assists, 42 points (0.54 PPG), 12-10-22 power-play scoring, plus-20, 25:03 average time-on-ice, 9.3 shot percentage, 157 blocks
Subban: 66 GP: 10 G, 30 A, 40 PTS (0.61 PPG), 3-13-16 power-play scoring, minus-8, 24:24 average time-on-ice, 7.0 ShPct, 104 Blk
Both defencemen put forth solid offensive seasons, though neither reached the lofty standard they’ve set in past years. Subban recorded points at a slightly higher rate and had 12 primary assists to Weber’s nine. Weber’s overall edge can be attributed to his power-play scoring and to the month his counterpart spent on the shelf. (Of course, Weber’s longevity is an asset in itself: he has missed only 24 games over the last nine seasons.)
Weber and Subban played similar minutes on teams with drastically different distribution patterns. Weber outpaced all Montreal defencemen by at least 2:57 per game, while Nashville’s first and fourth blueliners (Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm, with Subban and Ellis in between) were separated by just 1:37.
(Claude Julien, it should be noted, curtailed Weber’s ice time by almost two full minutes after he took over as coach on Feb. 14. The defenceman averaged 25:30 in 58 games under Michel Therrien and 23:45 in his next 20 games.)
These deployment strategies — Weber-centric on one hand, balanced on the other — held true on the power play and the penalty kill. Weber led the league’s defencemen for the second straight season in power-play goals (he had 12), a category in which he tends to excel.
Weber: 50.73 per cent close (2016-17) … 49.58 per cent close (2013-14 to 2015-16)
Subban: 54.72 per cent close (2016-17) … 51.51 per cent close (2013-14 to 2015-16)
As they typically do, the possession stats favour Subban. When he was on the ice in “close” situations — a tied or one-goal game, in which both teams’ degree of effort and risk-taking would be relatively even — the Predators generated 54.72 per cent of shot attempts, the 13th-best individual mark among defencemen in the league. (The Predators’ overall “close” shot rate was 50.49.)
The Canadiens were one of hockey’s strongest possession teams; they drove 52.16 per cent of shot attempts in close games, third in the NHL. Of the five defencemen who played more than half the season in Montreal, Weber’s close shot rate was fourth, half a percentage-point below Nathan Beaulieu.
Taken alone, Corsi is a limited stat, precisely because Beaulieu isn’t a better defenceman than Weber in any regard. Zone start rates come in handy here.
Weber: 46.00 offensive zone start percentage (2016-17) … 47.02 (2013-14 to 2015-16)
Subban: 47.56 offensive zone start percentage (2016-17) … 49.42 (2013-14 to 2015-16)
This season, Weber lined up for 950 face-offs at 5-on-5 in an attack zone, only 46 per cent of which came when Montreal was on offence. Beaulieu, conversely, was deployed for 664 face-offs at an offensive start rate of 50.75 per cent. Weber was on the ice for more defensive draws than any Montreal defenceman, but still drove nearly 51 per cent of possession.
The draws Weber faced were also tougher than Subban’s, as is typically the case. Still, Subban lined up in the defensive zone more often than not, which makes his possession metrics look all the more remarkable. Of the 12 blueliners with higher Corsi close figures, eight started on offence at least 53 per cent of the time, and none started on defence as often as him.
QUALITY OF COMPETITION
Weber: 2.37 OppGF60; 50.75 OppGF%
Subban: 2.32 OppGF60; 50.34 OppGF%
*Numbers via Puckalytics
Just as zone starts affect the ease with which a player can drive possession, the strength of that player’s opponents is another element to weigh in considering Corsi. OppGF60 indicates how many goals Montreal and Nashville’s opponents scored per 60 minutes when Weber and Subban were off the ice; OppGF% shows the rate at which opponents scored when they were off the ice.
Weber’s OppGF60 mark is one of the very best in the league: opponents scored 2.37 goals per 60 minutes with him on the bench, 0.02 goals behind defensive leaders Jacob Larsson of Anaheim and Jaccob Slavin of Carolina. He leads Montreal defencemen comfortably in both categories. Subban’s figures are below those of Weber and Ellis, his Predators teammate.
Weber: 4.1 offensive, 6.0 defensive, 10.1 total point shares
Subban: 3.6 offensive, 2.4 defensive, 6.0 total point shares
*Numbers via Hockey Reference
Like Win Shares in baseball — the metric it’s based on — Point Shares, calculated by Hockey Reference, express the number of standings points “created” by an individual player throughout a season, accounting for goals they contribute to on offence and the rate at which goals are scored against their team when they’re on the ice.
By this metric, Weber enjoyed one of the five best seasons of his 12-year career, and one of his best defensive seasons ever. He finished fifth among defencemen in the league, behind Brent Burns (15.4), Erik Karlsson (12.9), Victor Hedman (11.6) and Drew Doughty (10.3). (He was seventh in defensive shares, 1.1 points behind the top-ranked Drew Doughty.
Subban’s season, meanwhile, was actually the least effective of his career in this regard — largely because of his injury, since Point Shares are expressed as a total rather than as a per-game rate. Subban has never produced fewer defensive point shares than now, and he’s capable of much better: his 6.6 led the league in 2014-15.
GOALS ABOVE REPLACEMENT
Weber: 4.3 EVO, 5.7 EVD, 2.5 PPO, -1 DRAW, 2 TAKE, 0 FAC — 13.5 overall
Subban: 3.2 EVO, 1 EVD, 0.9 PPO, 1.8 DRAW, 1.3 TAKE, 0 FAC — 8.1 overall
*Numbers as of April 2; via analyst Dawson Sprigings
GAR is another stat that derives from baseball analytics. It transposes the purpose of wins above replacement into a hockey setting; the idea is to estimate the totality of a player’s contributions to his team.
Sprigings accounts for these six components in his GAR model:
• Even-strength offence (EVO)
• Even-strength defence (EVD)
• Power-play offence (PPO)
• Drawing penalties (DRAW)
• Taking penalties (TAKE)
• Face-offs (FAC)
By Sprigings’ evaluation, Weber has been worth 13.5 more goals than a replacement-level player when combining all six components. That’s fifth league-wide among defencemen; Edmonton’s Oscar Klefbom is first at 15.5, with Ryan Ellis, Subban’s teammate, behind him at 14.7. Compared to other blueliners, Weber’s strongest suits are his power-play production (he’s sixth in the league among defencemen) and defence at even-strength (10th).
In fact, Weber outranks Subban across the board here, except for drawn penalties and face-offs (since defencemen don’t take them). Subban’s offensive figure would have been higher had he played the full season, but he’s hindered by relatively lacklustre defensive play (just as Point Shares indicates).
What have we learned? Weber and Subban have had better offensive seasons, but both tallied points at a dependable rate, Weber especially so on the power play. Subban drove possession like few others in the league, though Weber faced tougher zone starts and competition. In metrics that try to quantify defensive play, Weber came out far ahead.
Subban, who didn’t miss a regular-season game between January 2013 and March 2016, lost ground during his prolonged absence; his offensive numbers, in particular, would look stronger had he evaded injury. And Weber, of course, is further along the age curve. The website Hockey Graphs has found that a defenceman’s offensive production, both at even-strength and on the power play, tends to decline precipitously around the time he hits 32, which Weber will turn in August.
All told, though, it seems Weber did more to bolster his new club this season. His next challenge is doing so in the playoffs — and for years to come.