Not all that long ago, the idea that an available P.K. Subban would be ignored by NHL GMs seeking to improve their defense was a laughable one.
The veteran and multi-time all-star had an on-ice talent as immense as his personality, and teams that employed him were able to command a notable amount of assets in return for him in a trade.
Today, though, Subban is nearing the end of the eight-year, $72-million contract he signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 2014 – and as the NHL’s March 21 trade deadline looms large, you don’t hear a peep of his name in rumors. At age 32, and now, as a New Jersey Devil, Subban has declined as an offensive force – he has just three goals and 18 points while averaging 19:10 of ice time in 53 games this season – and he was never an elite defender to begin with. Lately, he’s become more famous for being a slew-footer than anything else. And the idea he was going to be offered anywhere close to his current $9-million salary to remain in New Jersey is preposterous.
“I sat down with P.K. yesterday, and we talked about uncertainty, and the deadline, and that we're not at a spot where we're looking to extend him at this point," Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald told The Athletic this weekend. “He’s done a lot for community here and the organization. But I told him, ‘On the last day (before the trade deadline), somebody may lose a right-shot ‘D’ and may call me, and if the move makes sense for the New Jersey Devils and makes sense for you to potentially have a chance to win, I have to do what's best for the organization.”
The thing is, what’s best for the Devils at this point may well be to hang onto Subban and utilize his cap space next season to sign and/or trade for a higher-end blueliner such as Dallas’ John Klingberg. It’s true New Jersey could speed up that relationship if they dealt Subban for Klingberg, but the Stars are in very tight to the cap ceiling this year, the Devils aren’t a playoff team, and why would they move assets for a declining player right now when you could keep Klingberg (a far better competitor) and pick up Subban for no cost (other than a drastically-reduced salary) in the off-season?
The Stars could be a landing point for Subban this summer, provided he comes in at half or one-third of his current salary. The Los Angeles Kings are another potential destination for the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent. Subban doesn’t need to break the bank on any new contract. Now, he should be looking for his best chance at a Stanley Cup, and he won’t get that if he insists on being compensated the way he is at present. But on a playoff team like the Kings or Stars, he could shore up a defense corps that doesn’t rely on him to do heavy lifting.
Perhaps Fitzgerald does move Subban this season, if he retains some of his salary in any trade. But that would require the team acquiring him to add assets like top prospects and/or draft picks – and again, this is no longer a Norris Trophy contender we’re talking about. Yes, his offensive statistics would be better if he weren’t stuck on a non-playoff team like the Devils, but how much better is the question. And the answer isn’t a compliment to Subban’s skills at this stage. Subban’s offense fell off in his first year after Montreal traded him to Nashville, and the more precipitous fall came in his final year with the Predators. In his first two years with New Jersey, he failed to crack the 20-point plateau.
Does that sound like someone you want to commit $3-4-million per season to, even on, say, a three-year contract? That’s a gamble that may prove too rich for many, if not most teams.
It’s a stark statement about the state of Subban’s game that teams are no longer lining up for his services. His salary may play a large role in making him relatively radioactive right now, but his effectiveness is nowhere near where it was at his peak. He’ll be able to control his destination come summer, but that’s about the only thing he can control these days.