Cage Match: PK Subban vs. Roman Josi

by Rick Roos on March 21, 2018

It’s rare enough to find top defensemen who match up well for this column, but this week’s battle is a true first in the nearly five years I’ve been doing Cage Match because it features two rearguards from the same team: Roman Josi and P.K. Subban. Who should you pursue in your leagues going forward? What should you do if you already own one, or both? Let’s find out – Cage Match starts now!

Career Path and Contract Status

Josi, 27, was picked 38th overall in 2008 and became an NHL regular in 2012-13. Once with Nashville, he started a steady climb to fantasy stardom, with his per game scoring rate increasing from 37 as a rookie, to 45 in 2013-14, to 55 in 2014-15, then to 61 in 2015-16. Last season saw Josi fall back to a 56-point scoring rate, yet for 2017-18 he’s right back at a 60-point scoring rate, such that his 0.71 points per game since 2014-15 puts him fifth among all NHL blue liners.

Subban, 28, was drafted a year earlier, 43rd overall. After another campaign in juniors then one in the AHL, he was in the NHL to stay by 2010-11. Subban also saw steady year-to-year scoring progress, except in his case he reached the 60-point mark in just his third full season (2014-15). After then scoring at a 70-point pace – albeit in 68 games – in 2015-16, Subban was shockingly traded to Nashville, where, in his first season, he posted only 40 points in 66 games. Even still, with his rebound this season, his 0.70 points per game since 2014-15 makes this match, on paper, just about as even as they come.

Even that is, except in cap leagues, where Subban’s $9M per season cap hit is more than double that of Josi ($4M). But Josi will get a much bigger payday in 2021 after his current deal expires, while Subban’s contract runs through 2022-2023.

 

Ice Time (2017-18 stats in this and other tables are current through March 18th)

Season

Total Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

PP Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

SH Ice Time per game

(rank among team’s forwards)

2017-18

24:34 (R.J.) – 1st

24:036(P.K.) – 2nd

3:00 (R.J.) – 2nd

3:07 (P.K.) – 1st

3:02 (R.J.) – 1st

2:41 (P.K.) – 3rd

2016-17

25:04 (R.J.) – 1st

24:24 (P.K.) – 2nd

3:01 (R.J.) – 1st

2:36 (P.K.) – 2nd

2:17 (R.J.) – 2nd

2:05 (P.K.) – 4th

2015-16

25:29 (R.J.) – 1st

26:21 (P.K.) – 1st

3:03 (R.J.) – 1st (tied)

4:36 (P.K.) – 1st

2:41 (R.J.) – 2nd

2:20 (P.K.) – 2nd (tied)

2014-15

26:28 (R.J.) – 1st

26:12 (P.K.) – 1st

3:06 (R.J.) – 1st

3:41 (P.K.) – 1st

2:26 (R.J.) – 2nd

2:09 (P.K.) – 4th

 

Josi’s productive (i.e., Total and PP) Ice Times are on pace to decrease for the third straight season, with his 2017-18 SH Ice Time also set to be highest among these four campaigns. Yet Josi is still scoring at his now familiar 55-60ish point pace, which means either he’s elite enough to stay productive despite worsening deployment, or he’s slowly but surely getting luckier with each passing season, with the latter being difficult to believe in view of his sustained top production for now not one, not two, but three seasons. Still, we’ll have to pay close attention to his luck metrics below, just to be sure.

 

Subban’s Ice Time-to-production correlation also isn’t straightforward. His poor scoring from last season is better explained when we see he lost 2:00 of PP time from what he had while in his final Habs season; however, even though for 2017-18 he’s back above 3:00 per game on the PP, that alone shouldn’t explain his production rebound. In Subban’s case, it’s easier to suspect the influence of unsustainable bad luck last season and/or unsustainable good luck this season, so we’ll scrutinize his luck metrics as well.

 

Secondary Categories

Season

PIMs

(per game)

Hits

(per game)

Blocked Shots (per game)

Shots

(per game)

PP Points

(per game)

2017-18

0.31 (R.J.)

1.04 (P.K.)

1.04 (R.J.)

1.41 (P.K.)

1.56 (R.J.)

1.07 (P.K.)

3.42 (R.J.)

2.57 (P.K.)

0.28 (R.J.)

0.28 (P.K.)

2016-17

0.25 (R.J.)

0.66 (P.K.)

0.75 (R.J.)

1.18 (P.K.)

1.65 (R.J.)

1.57 (P.K.)

3.01 (R.J.)

2.15 (P.K.)

0.25 (R.J.)

0.24 (P.K.)

2015-16

0.53 (R.J.)

1.10 (P.K.)

0.73 (R.J.)

1.50 (P.K.)

2.28 (R.J.)

1.17 (P.K.)

2.44 (R.J.)

2.59 (P.K.)

0.29 (R.J.)

0.35 (P.K.)

2014-15

0.32 (R.J.)

0.90 (P.K.)

0.65 (R.J.)

1.18 (P.K.)

2.58 (R.J.)

1.73 (P.K.)

2.48 (R.J.)

2.07 (P.K.)

0.19 (R.J.)

0.25 (P.K.)

 

I was expecting Subban to dominate across the board; but in leagues which count all these as categories, it’s Josi who holds the overall edge. While Subban is a PIM machine, Josi has outshot Subban in three of these four seasons, including this season and last by quite a significant margin. Both have seen their combined Hits and Blocks drop slightly, from about three per game in the 2014-15 campaign to closer to 2.5 of late.

 

It bears mentioning that Josi’s 2017-18 multi-cat stats literally put him in uncharted fantasy territory, as since nhl.com has kept track of real-time stats no defenseman had ever averaged 1+ Hit per game, 1.5+ Blocks per game, 3.4+ SOG per game and one power-play point per every 4 games, and yet Josi (along with Brent Burns) is on pace to do so for 2017-18. What’s more, Josi is giving poolies a combination of elite scoring and multi-cat contributions notwithstanding stiff blueline competition in Nashville, which is something Burns doesn’t have to contend with as a one-man source of rearguard offense for the Sharks.

 

Luck-Based Metrics

Season

Team Shooting % (5x5)

Individual Points % (IPP)

Offensive Zone Starting % (5x5)

Secondary Assists %

2017-18

8.36% (R.J.)

8.48% (P.K.)

49.5% (R.J.)

51.5% (P.K.)

52.3% (R.J.)

43.6% (P.K.)

43% (R.J.)

33% (P.K.)

2016-17

8.07% (R.J.)

7.13% (P.K.)

45.8% (R.J.)

51.9% (P.K.)

50.0% (R.J.)

47.5% (P.K.)

46% (R.J.)

56% (P.K.)

2015-16

7.11% (R.J.)

9.38% (P.K.)

56.0% (R.J.)

46.8% (P.K.)

51.0% (R.J.)

52.5% (P.K.)

29% (R.J.)

51% (P.K.)

2014-15

7.88% (R.J.)

8.77% (P.K.)

50.5% (R.J.)

49.6% (P.K.)

45.4% (R.J.)

49.9% (P.K.)

45% (R.J.)

53% (P.K.)

 

Subban’s 2016-17 team shooting percentage was by far his lowest not only among these four seasons, but dating back to when he was a rookie, in turn going a long way toward explaining his atypically low production last season. With that number back trending in the right direction this season, and his IPP and team shooting percentage still seemingly leaving room for further growth based on past numbers from his Montreal days, not to mention an offensive zone starting percentage and secondary assists rate that look to have nowhere to go but up, it’s difficult not to come away with the sense that Subban could produce at least his current scoring pace in future seasons.

 

As for Josi, his IPPs have been below 50% for both seasons since Subban arrived, after two straight 50%+ outputs. Also, his team shooting percentage has crept up, although in that case not nearly high enough to eliminate the chance of realistic further growth. And although his secondary assists percentage has increased as well, it’s yet to cross the 50% threshold. All of this data collectively suggests Josi is an elite offensive talent who is directly responsible for many of the points he gets, as opposed to benefitting from lucky bounces, and thus should not see his production drop either.

 

So this means poolies can safely rely upon both Subban and Josi to get 55+ points in future seasons? Although signs would seem to point to yes, we can’t come to that type of conclusion in a vacuum.

 

One issue is four defensemen on Nashville are capable scorers -- these two, plus Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Between what he showed late last season (26 points in his final 44 regular season games and his torrid 2017-18 pace (24 points in 33 games) since returning from injury in January, Ellis has 50 points in his last 77 games, for a 53-point full season pace. So, clearly, he’s arrived. And although it’s not difficult to predict that Ekholm will be the odd man out when it comes to the scoring picture, what with him only posting ten points in the 32 games since Ellis returned to the lineup from injury, can all three of Ellis, Subban, and Josi realistically score 50-55+ points in a full season? Let’s dig deeper to find out.

 

First, what does past precedent say? It’s clear in suggesting it would be highly unlikely for three d-men to all post even 50 points in the same season, as only once in the past 25 campaigns (Detroit back in 2008-09) did a team include three rearguards who all posted 50+ points (51, 59 and 59 to be exact).

 

In that case, who among Ellis, Subban, and Josi would be the likeliest odd man out when it comes to the 55+ point production picture? Or, to put it another way which is more relevant for this particular cage match, assuming that Ellis does indeed score at a 50-55+ point pace in future seasons, who among Subban or Josi would end up suffering more in terms of scoring?

 

Since Ellis debuted on January 2nd of this season, Subban has 22 points and Josi has 24, so that doesn’t tell us too much. But let’s also remember that when Ellis had his second half breakout last season, Josi posted 30 points in his final 37 regular season games while Subban had 23 points in his final 37 (with both missing seven contests due to injury). Therefore, if Ellis stays healthy and plays full seasons going forward, it’s seems more likely that Josi would be less adversely affected than Subban, if indeed Josi ends up being negatively affected at all.

 

Who Wins?

 

This is a close one (except in cap leagues), but I think I’m giving the win to Josi. Not only does he have a better track record of success with a productive Ellis in the line-up, there’s also the cost vs. value factor to consider. Last season was by far Subban’s worst in terms of per game scoring since 2011-12 (only a 49-point full season pace), whereas Josi had his third straight season of 55-61 point scoring pace. Yet when it came to draft day, Josi was picked – on average 36th overall in Yahoo drafts and Subban right behind him at 41st overall.

 

Fast forward to now, and Subban certainly remains one of the most recognized, larger-than-life faces in all of “real” and fantasy hockey, which means even if he finishes with roughly the same or even slightly fewer points than Josi, the fact that he rebounded will once again shoot up his cost, when in truth their costs should be roughly even or perhaps Josi should cost a bit more (especially in multi-cat leagues). Plus, Subban is a year older and in more danger of slowing down sooner.

 

If you own Josi, keep him and enjoy the ride, although be wary in a year or two in cap leagues. As for Subban, if you have him already you might kick the tires on selling either now or perhaps once the offseason rolls around, as chances are he’ll see a downtick in production with a healthy Eliis in the lineup all next season.

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