Top Landing Spots for Free-Agent Defenseman P.K. Subban
The NHL season is fast approaching, and with training camps set to open in a few weeks, there are still a few big-name free agents still available. After Phil Kessel signed with the Vegas Golden Knights last week, none of the remaining free agents has the kind of star profile of P.K. Subban.
At 33 years old, Subban is headed into his 13th season and is coming off a three-year stint with the New Jersey Devils, which saw two of his worst point-production seasons as well as lower-than-average possession stats at 5-on-5.
Last season, his CorsiFor percentage was fifth on the Devils among defensemen, but his expected goals percentage was second-best with the D corps. At one point in his career, Subban was a key figure on the power play, but that’s evaporated the past two years. Considering the Devils were a lottery team, it’s a bit more damning than it seems.
Subban is still out there in search of an opportunity with another team, and at this point, you’ve got to think looking for a team in pursuit of a Stanley Cup would get priority. Then again, a healthy dose of ice time and the opportunity to show he’s still got it could be just as appealing. But which places make sense for the 2013 Norris Trophy Winner? Let’s look around the league.
We know what you’re thinking: “Why would Subban want to play for the team he reveled in torturing during his time with the Montréal Canadiens?” The answer is easy: There’s opportunity to be had.
The Bruins had a laundry list of defensemen who had surgery in the offseason who most likely will not be available to play when the season opens in October. Charlie McAvoy (shoulder) may not be ready until December, Matt Grzelcyk (shoulder) is likely out until November, while Mike Reilly (ankle) and Jakub Zboril (knee) may be back in time for training camp.
Playing without McAvoy for two months is rough because he’s a Norris-caliber defenseman. Grzelcyk is one of their better puck handlers and has a solid all-around game in which his offensive abilities are his strong point. McAvoy is a righty shot and patrols the right side of the defense. Coincidentally, that’s also where Subban plays. Finding someone to replace McAvoy is an impossibility. There just won’t be anyone good enough.
But the Bruins lack blue line depth, and if they’re in need of a puck mover who can help in their time of need, asking Subban to pinch hit and provide depth couldn’t hurt. New coach Jim Montgomery also brings a style of hockey that demands strong defensive play, which could help reduce some of Subban’s more aggressive tendencies.
Vegas Golden Knights
There’s no brighter city than Las Vegas, and there’s no NHL player who embraces the limelight like P.K. Subban. There’s also the fact that the Golden Knights could stand to use some depth all throughout their defensive unit.
Vegas owner Bill Foley has been all about winning and bringing the height of sports entertainment to the Strip. Through five seasons, he’s been able to do that…until last season, however. Vegas missing the playoffs became a huge point of consternation for the team's management, and that it is fairly cap-strapped makes it difficult to fix up the roster. Of course, it has found ways around that. With Robin Lehner being out for the year as well as adding an injured Shea Weber’s contract, Vegas has plenty of LTIR spending ahead to take care of things. So why not add some experience to the blue line by adding Subban?
Vegas has six defensemen squared away, and with elite players like Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore to go with solid support from Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb, and Zach Whitecloud the Golden Knights are in good shape. Ben Hutton and Nicolas Hague should round out their NHL setup, but Vegas can always use a little more help. Asking Subban to lean into his strengths of carrying the puck and contributing to the offense could give the Knights' attack a jolt.
Subban’s personality is a natural fit for the aura of Las Vegas, too. There are some cities in the NHL that get a boost when personalities play there, and Vegas is one of them. It could use a little bit of juice right now.
One team in the NHL with a lot of pressure on them this season is the Florida Panthers. They won the Presidents’ Trophy last season with 122 points but didn’t retain interim coach Andrew Brunette, choosing instead to hire Paul Maurice. They made a blockbuster trade with Calgary to acquire Matthew Tkachuk. The Panthers mean business, but their defense lacks depth. Subban could be the kind of guy to help them in a bind.
Florida isn’t truly lacking in any area, and its defense, particularly on the right side (Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour, Radko Gudas), is hardy. The left side is a bit youthful, albeit with some experience (Marc Staal aside). If there’s something that’s true of any championship team it’s that no position is taken for granted and an injury or two can’t sink it.
The idea of Subban in South Florida on the third pairing—and perhaps not playing much, either—may not appeal to him. That said, being on a team that’s an immediate Stanley Cup contender and just happens to have proximity to Miami Beach could be attractive enough to be OK with a diminished role.
The Canucks are always in need of something to keep things lively. This summer has been loaded with "will they, won’t they" debates about trading impending UFA forward J.T. Miller, as well as wondering what, exactly, the direction the franchise is headed in. It hasn’t been a summer filled with happy talk, that’s for sure, but there’s also the part about how they haven’t done much all summer to fix up the roster.
Vancouver has a lot of holes, and its depth is suspect at all positions, particularly along the blue line. It has name quality with Quinn Hughes, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers, but with Luke Schenn and Travis Dermott, it needs more. It could get a boost on the back line from youngsters like Jack Rathbone or even Jett Woo, but they are both green.
We know the NHL group isn’t exactly swimming in defensive prowess and that Subban’s defensive game has gotten weaker the past few seasons, but with Bruce Boudreau behind the bench, he’s capable of getting the best out of players—especially those who like to push the pace and play with the puck. That sounds like a great place for Subban to work. Boudreau is a bit of a whisperer when it comes to reaching his players, and if Subban’s got more to prove, Bruce can show him where it is.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are on a roll this offseason. They signed Johnny Gaudreau out of Calgary and got Patrik Laine taken care of on a four-year, $38 million contract. They’re exciting players in a market that could use more excitement, and who better than P.K. Subban to do it?
The Blue Jackets' seeming explosiveness up front is countered by how mysterious their defense looks. Zach Werenski is the main man. They signed Erik Gudbranson to a four-year $16 million contract to give them a physical force. Vladislav Gavrikov has been a solid two-way defender who’s developed into a steady minutes-eater the past couple seasons. Younger guys like Adam Boqvist and Jake Bean are still proving themselves at the NHL level, and beyond them, their depth gets a bit cloudy.
Adding Subban to the mix would give them an experienced player, obviously, but also someone for Boqvist and Bean to learn from when it comes to puck carrying and pushing the pace on offense. Subban would also add another veteran voice in the group to go with Jakub Voracek and Gustav Nyquist (both are 33). Columbus surprised a bit last season with its performance, particularly when it was believed things would get a bit ugly. The Jackets are riding high with the vibes, and if there’s a player who exemplifies what “vibes” means, it’s P.K.
Always fun to end with a bang, right? The relationship between Subban and the Habs at the time he was traded to Nashville for Shea Weber was one of the most awkward ones to play out in public. Subban was a bigger-than-life figure in Montréal and a man of the people because he donated so much money to Montréal Children's Hospital. He also made Habs executives eat crow when they signed him to a bridge deal at the peak of his abilities, which essentially made him prove he deserved a long-term deal. He did that by winning the Norris Trophy, and things were never the same after then. GM Marc Bergevin signed him to an eight-year, $72 million contract.
Bergevin is gone, Weber’s career is over with his rights dealt to Vegas, and Carey Price’s future is on the brink. To say things are different from the last time Subban wore the "bleu, blanc et rouge" is a vast understatement. The Canadiens are, on paper, set to be one of the worst teams in the NHL, but with Martin St. Louis as coach, there’s hope on the horizon. But they could stand to make people feel better and perhaps mend some fences while also giving their defensive corps some veteran support.
Three or four spots are essentially spoken for on the Canadiens defense, with Mike Matheson, Joel Edmundson, David Savard and Chris Wideman locked in. Youngsters Justin Barron, Jordan Harris and Kaiden Guhle may factor into the mix, but throwing a pile of young players into what will be a tough season on defense may not be overly appealing. Bringing Subban back as a third-pairing player and welcoming him back with warmness could go a long way to providing some smiles on what may be a down season.