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Nashville Predators dump P.K. Subban for salary cap space

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The Preds’ best all-around defender has been traded for spare parts.

2019 NHL Awards Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

With the projected salary cap lowering by the minute, Nashville Predators GM David Poile made a panic move and traded defender P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils for defender Steven Santini, defensive prospect Jérémy Davies, the Devils’ 2019 second-round pick (#34), and the Devils’ 2020 second-round pick.

A Massive Trade

It cannot be denied that Subban’s 2018-19 with the Predators was disappointing in some aspects, but not materially enough that it should have led to a trade. He was playing through injury for portions of the year and looked much better towards the end of the season as he returned to full health.

David Poile made the following statement about the trade:

We had to make a business decision. With an aim at strengthening our forward corps this offseason, and the continued strength of our defensive group, we felt it was necessary to clear up salary cap space this way.

This trade does move Dante Fabbro up in the depth chart; hopefully he, as well as other young defenders like Frédéric Allard or Alexandre Carrier, will be able to thrive with his increased responsibilities. It would also allow the Predators to reunite the extremely successful combination of Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis on defense.

It currently sounds as if Fabbro will not be exempt from the expansion draft. The 21-year-old Fabbro played four regular-season games for the Predators in 2018-19, as well as all six playoff games. That playing time will make 2018-19 count as a “pro” year for him and make him a third-year pro requiring protection after 2020-21.

However, ultimately Poile’s statement confirms that the primary concern in trading P.K. Subban, who could have gotten a player who would strengthen the forward corps as a return in a trade, was to clear up cap space hoping for a free agent signing—having already traded his best bargaining chip (a top-four defender), it’s difficult to imagine that the expectation is to improve the forward corps through trade this offseason.

[Update: In a post-draft media availability, Poile confirmed that his motivation in making this trade was the salary cap space. He said four teams in total had all made different offers, but the Devils were the only one able to take Subban’s entire contract without requiring the Predators retain salary. Poile also confirmed that the Predators will be speaking to pending unrestricted free agents once they’re allowed to do so, but—obviously—that they have no commitments from any such player (that would be tampering, and is against NHL rules).]

Instead of holding out to make a deal for a player already under contract, Poile is gambling that a UFA, such as the much-discussed Matt Duchene, will opt to sign in Nashville on acceptable terms. Another free agent but a much slimmer possibility is Artemi Panarin, who is a much more skilled player than Duchene but will cost more and has not been linked to Nashville in any rumors.

An Underwhelming Return

The Predators acquired a very early second-round pick in a draft where several forwards projected as first-round quality had fallen into the second. However, once they were on the clock, the Preds traded the #34 pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for the #45 and #65 picks in this year’s draft. There is speculation that they were hoping to draft Arthur Kaliyev, who fell to #33 before being drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, and opted for quantity over quality after that.

Steven Santini has a cap hit of a little under $1.5 million per year for the next two seasons, and will be a RFA in 2021. He is, probably, a third-pairing defender and should not under any circumstances be used on the penalty kill.

Individual player isolate for Steven Santini. Red means more shots are coming from that location, and blue means fewer are. For special teams, purple means more shots and green means fewer.
Micah Blake McCurdy/@IneffectiveMath, hockeyviz.com

There was no player on the Preds’ roster last year who was as much as a nonentity in the offensive zone as Santini. Cody McLeod was better at generating offense. Santini is decent in his own zone, which most players as horrible as he is at getting out of it are not, but it’s tricky to see how he fits in the Predators’ system.

The 24-year-old Santini has yet to play a forty-game season in the NHL. In a career-high 39 games last year, he had one goal and three assists. He is probably, at best, a sixth defender for the Predators, and might be a resource for the Milwaukee Admirals instead. Santini shoots right, an organizational surplus at almost all levels.

The other actual player involved in the trade is left-shooting prospect Jérémy Davies. The 22-year-old signed with the Devils in April after completing three years at Northeastern University. He had 35 points in 36 games his sophomore season and 36 points in 37 games his junior season. Davies is a promising prospect but not a guarantee.

Eric Dunay will have further analysis of Davies with the rest of the post-draft prospect analysis, but at the moment he seems like the best individual piece out of the deal, and, even then, for the best individual return for P.K. Subban on the day the trade was made to be a guy who might never play in the NHL is awful.


Data from hockey-reference.com, eliteprospects.com, hockeyviz.com, and capfriendly.com. Thanks also to Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey for answering my expansion draft eligibility questions.