NHL Central Division Outlook After P.K. Subban Trade

By Colin Likas
March 3, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban (76) moves the puck against Los Angeles Kings during the second period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
March 3, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban (76) moves the puck against Los Angeles Kings during the second period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

Nashville Has Gotten Stronger With Its Trade For P.K. Subban

A bizarre day in the NHL didn’t have a whole lot of bearing on the Chicago Blackhawks, or even on the NHL’s Central Division. Three huge happenings went down Wednesday afternoon — the Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed Steven Stamkos for eight years, the Montreal Canadiens flipped defenseman P.K. Subban for Nashville defenseman Shea Weber, and the Edmonton Oilers moved forward Taylor Hall to New Jersey for defenseman Adam Larsson.

While Edmonton intentionally made itself worse by moving Hall, the Predators made themselves better by adding Subban. Weber is a really solid defenseman, and was also the team’s captain, but he is also on the back end of his career. Subban, meanwhile is currently entering his prime.

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So, what does this mean for the Central Division? Bringing in a dynamic player like Subban not only will have an impact on the Predators, it will also have an impact on the teams that see the Preds the most — AKA the Central Division clubs.

The Central has carried some of the league’s tougher competition in recent seasons, with the Blackhawks and Blues consistently hanging around the top with the Stars, Predators, Wild, Avalanche and Jets having varying levels of success over the last few seasons. It’s been a far more combative group of teams over the last three to five seasons than the other divisions can boast.

But we may be at a turning point. The Blackhawks are in a weird spot of trying to bulk up for another Stanley Cup run while also giving youngsters some necessary ice time. The Blues could lose their captain in David Backes, have moved goaltender Brian Elliott, are likely to move defenseman Kevin Shatenkirk and could lose other faces from last season’s team.

The Stars are in need of a goaltender to make a serious Cup run. The Wild are so middling at pretty much everything that it’s hard to take them seriously as a Cup threat. Colorado and Winnipeg could be better next season (the Jets really should be), but it’s hard to say they’re going to challenge for a division title.

So that leaves us with a Nashville team that was probably somewhere between the Blackhawks/Blues/Stars level and Wild level prior to the Subban deal. Signing Filip Forsberg to a long-term deal prior to Wednesday’s action was a great look for the Preds, as Forsberg figures to a be a top-six forward for them for quite a while.

And now they’ve got Subban. Make no mistake, moving Weber for Subban is a fantastic deal, speaking strictly from an on-ice standpoint. Subban is a puck-moving defenseman who has cracked 50 points each of the last three seasons. He is a weapon on the man advantage and on the powerplay who is currently entering his prime hockey years at 27.

Subban is a guy Nashville can build around as a franchise. Hockey has been sketchy there as a serious venture. With someone like Subban around, the Predators can become a more serious destination for free agents and the like.

Weber is certainly no hack. He’s been a critical piece of Nashville’s attempts to stay relevant in the Western Conference in recent seasons. The guy eats a ton of ice time and has had some nice offensive success the last few years while paired with a breakout Roman Josi.

However, Weber is into his 30s and is on a contract through 2026, while Subban’s deal lasts through just 2022. The Predators are likely to get far more value out of a reaching-his-prime Subban than the Canadiens are out of a already-reached-his-prime Weber.

The only way this deal could really cause a problem for Nashville is if the team has some sort of upheaval with the captain Weber gone. It should be interesting to see who the next captain is. However, from all other standpoints, the Preds have gotten much better by adding Subban.

So, getting back to the Central Division, what does it mean? Well, there’s a good chance the Preds could be the next team to make a “surprise” run at the top of the division next season. The Avalanche did it a couple years ago, and the Stars did it last season. The Blackhawks and Blues have stuck around all the while. It could be the Preds’ time to do the same. But the thing is, there’s a good chance the team could stick there with Subban in the fold.

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Nashville has taken a big step toward making itself fearful in the immediate future, and it could change the face of the Central Division. It’s going to be really important for the Preds to build on this moving forward, and if they can, they’ll be a force really soon.