Frozen Tools Forensics: Weber Subban Trade Revisited
One thing I worry about is passing judgement on a trade, free agent signing, or draft pick too early. We crave instant analysis of events that have yet to happen, and more often than not, we draw conclusions before a game has even been played. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy analyzing these events right away, but it usually takes years to pass true judgement on them, and sometimes there is no clear conclusion.
The Shea Weber and P.K. Subban trade on June 29, 2016, is a deal that had generally been determined a loss for Montreal and Marc Bergevin and put to bed by some. With the current campaign over 30 games in, I wanted to have another look at the deal three and half years in.
When the swap was made in 2016, Weber was a month shy of 31 years of age, the captain, and coming off a 20-goal year with 51 points, while providing a physical element with 169 hits and 160 blocked shots. He averaged over 25 minutes per game and was a fixture on the first unit of the power play on a stacked Nashville defence. He also was signed to a 14-year contract with a $7,857,143 AAV that will be on the books until he is 40.
P.K. Subban was 27 years old and coming off a 51-point season, with six goals, 102 hits and 80 blocked shots. He averaged over 26 minutes per game and was cemented on the first unit of the power play in Montreal. He was just entering the third year of an eight-year deal that had a $9 million AAV.
On the surface, it looked like an even deal, other than perhaps that Weber was older, fading a little, and Subban was seemingly on the rise, with a slightly better contract. Nashville had a lot more depth on defence, so trading Weber actually opened up opportunities for their other skilled defencemen. Montreal didn’t have that luxury, and trading the very popular Subban was heavily scrutinized.
Both players had fairly good seasons with their new teams, with both reaching 40 points. Subban potted 10 goals (in 66 games) and Weber had 17 (in 78 games). Subban did have 0.61 pts/game compared to Weber at 0.54, while Weber was a beast on the power play with 12 goals and 22 points where Subban had three goals and 16 points. I would give the slight edge to Weber in the regular season, but the playoffs are what people remember. Nashville went to the final and lost, while Montreal lost in the first round. Subban played very well and had 12 points in 22 playoff games and was a main catalyst for the team’s success that year. I’d give Subban the slight edge after year one.
This is the season that Subban and Weber were at opposite ends of the spectrum with their play. Subban played all 82 games, had 16 goals and 43 assists, and finished third in Norris Trophy voting. Weber broke his foot early in the year, missed a few games, and then tried to play through the injury before finally shutting it down for the season after 26 games. It was a disaster of a season for Weber as he missed most of the year and looked slow when he did play (which is understandable in hindsight). Many fans were questioning if he could play again at anything close to the level he had played in seasons before. I’d give a big edge to Subban.
Weber missed the first 24 games of 2018-2019, recovering from the previous year’s foot injury. It took a while for him to find his timing and he still looked like he had lost a step, but he did manage 14 goals and 33 points in 58 games. Subban missed 19 games during November and December and was more than likely nursing an injury all year as he only posted 31 points in 63 games. I’d give a slight edge to Weber.
There was a lot of excitement when Subban was dealt to New Jersey this past summer and I think most of us figured that Subban would rebound from last season and get back up to 45-50 points. After 33 games, he has two goals and three assists and is minus-13, not a start that anyone envisioned. Now the question is, will Subban rebound and if so, to what level of production?
Meanwhile, Weber has put up 11 goals and 29 points in 35 games and is on pace for 68 points. The most impressive aspect of Weber and his season so far is that eight of his 11 goals and 22 of those points are at even strength. He is averaging over 24 minutes per game and is looking as good as he has for the past three or four years. I’d give a big edge to Weber.
Here are two pairs of RAPM charts from www.evolving-hockey.com comparing Weber and Subban. The first charts show just how good a year Weber is having and how there might be a little hope for Subban moving forward as his expected goals are much higher than his actual. The second RAPM charts are over the past four seasons for both players which are fairly similar.
To summarize, it looks like Montreal is in a fairly good situation with Weber. After this season, he will have six more years owing on his contract, but Montreal only owes him $18 million. I didn’t know this, but Nashville had paid Weber $56 million in the first four years of his 14-year $110-million contract. If Weber retires before the end of the contract, it will actually be Nashville that will have a recapture salary cap penalty charged against them (much like the Canucks and Roberto Luongo this offseason), not Montreal.
I also think it is fair to say four years after the trade was made that Montreal has the better player for the next two or three years at the very least. I think at this point the trade was a lot more even than many people first thought, and Montreal has actually fared better than Nashville.
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