While the rest of the world prepares to watch International Hockey Practice, we are over here pining for the real thing. We’ve been looking ahead to the upcoming season by examining each division. So far we’ve covered the Pacific, the Metro, and the Atlantic.
On that note, lets take a moment to preview everyone’s favorite division, the Central.
Best Off-Season Acquisition
P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
The Predators acquired the most game-changing defenseman in the league. Even at the cost of losing their captain, Shea Weber, this addition for the Preds automatically qualifies as the best acquisition. Subban instantly brings award-winning defensive and offensive play to an already outstanding defensive group. Weber will be missed, but Subban reframes the narrative of the Preds: they are here to compete for a Stanley Cup. And how.
There's been considerable analysis on the Weber-Subban trade and an almost equal amount of analysis on Subban as a player, but there's always room for more. Here are some brief points on why Subban is best acquisition in the Central.
One, he's one of the best possession defenders in the league. Over the last two years, Subban has been near the top of the league among defensemen in relative Corsi, a measure of how effective a player is at driving puck possession relative to the rest of his team. Regardless of how good Subban's teams have been at holding onto the puck (incidentally, puck possession is something the Habs have been both good at and bad at over the last two years), Subban has excelled.
Subban's playing style contributes to his elevated offensive production; the more you have the puck, the more likely you are to score and Subban is a guy who likes to play with the puck. But he is also extremely smart with the puck. His possession numbers reflect that. In addition, his elite level passing helps maintain puck possession despite pressure from opponents.
Two, even though he is three years removed from winning the Norris Trophy, Subban is playing at Norris level or better right now. Here he is compared to last year's Norris winner, Drew Doughty.
Equal or better in every category, save for shot suppression. That's impressive for a guy who was paired with 37 year old Andrei Markov for most of last year.
Finally, Subban is remarkably consistent from an offensive standpoint from game to game. This is something that is hard for a blue-liner to do, as they simply don't see as many offensive chances as forwards. But look at his game by game offensive production over the last two years:
Outside of late in the '15-'16 season where Subban's only major injury kept him out of the Habs final 14 games of the season, Subban provides consistent point production across an 82 game schedule. He is an offensive weapon that can be relied on from game to game.
All of this offensive firepower in Subban's game should make Predators fans giddy to watch him in Laviolette's system.
Worst Off-Season Acquisition
Fedor Tyutin, Colorado Avalanche
I’m not going to spend an extraordinary amount of time analyzing Fedor flipping Tyutin. According to John Tortorella, Tyutin was “too slow” to play defense for the Blue Jackets, which did not make Tyutin happy (take a number, bro). I agree with Torts. Over his career, Tyutin has been a decent defenseman, but brings relatively little to the offensive end of the ice. He’s a decent shot blocker, I guess, in the sense that he can block shots. For the most part, he’s uninspiring and one dimensional. To Colorado he goes!
Other Notable Additions
- Eric Staal, Minnesota Wild: Is Staal an important piece for Minnesota? Sure. Is he the missing piece? No. Staal’s 39 points last season would have put him 8th on the Wild’s roster in terms of production. He will turn 32 this season and isn’t likely to reach the 60-70 point shelf that he did in his twenties.
- Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: A great draft pick for the Jets. Laine will likely be an immediate starter on the 2nd line, and he might possibly find himself a top liner by the end of the season. He already feels at home and this should make the rest of the Central worry. Haha, jk, it’s the Jets, don’t worry.
- Jordin Tootoo, Chicago Blackhawks: Tootoo is farrrr removed from that “productive” 30 point season in 2011-12. But he did score 10 goals, a near career high, two seasons ago for the Devils. A decent 4th line signing for the Blackhawks. Might we hear the Tootoo whistle at Bridgestone on opening night?
- Dan Hamhuis, Dallas Stars: Ok, I don’t really get the interest in Hamhuis. He’s not an offensive defenseman, though some try to paint him as such. He’s not particularly fast or adept with the puck. He doesn’t have overwhelming size. He is a decent defender that plays an OK possession game. He’s never (consistently) been a top 10 defenseman in the league. How in the world he has raked in $40 million in total earnings as an NHLer is beyond me.
Player To Watch
Robby Fabbri, St. Louis Blues
With the Blues losing two of their top three scorers from last year, they will need someone to step up. While they have a number of skaters capable of doing that, Fabbri might fit the bill better than any of them. The rookie center put up 18 goals in only 72 games and with only about 13 minutes of ice time per game last year. He also put up 15 points in the playoffs, tied for the team lead with Vladimir Tarasenko. He has great offensive instincts, as you can see in this playoff goal against the Blackhawks:
Perhaps more impressive is Fabbri’s ability to generate consistent offensive chances at considerably high rates. His 58.63 Corsi For per 60 minutes was better than David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Jaden Schwartz, and Jori Lehtera. He also put up 22.64 Scoring Chances per 60 minutes, better than Backes, Brouwer, and Schwartz.
He found himself on the 2nd line for much of last year, alongside Brouwer and Paul Stastny. Brouwer is gone, but his chemistry with Stastny has staying power. Both Stastny and Fabbri see a boost in possession numbers when they play together.
Will he remain a center? Or make the switch to wing? The Blues lineup needs and not Fabbri’s development as a player will likely determine that. Still, Fabbri is only 20 years old and smack dab in the middle of his ELC. With similar production over the next two seasons, he will likely be looking at a nice payday in 2018.
Coach or GM On The Hot Seat
Looking around the Central, it doesn’t look like any coaches or GMs really have to prove anything just yet. Mike Yeo and Patrick Roy, the only obvious choices this time last year, are now gone. The rest of the positions are locked down solidly enough.
Keep Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill on your radar though. If the Stars don’t properly recover from that walloping by the Blues in May and can’t play enough defense to cover up their awful goaltending situation, he may be next up.