Puck moving defensemen series: Nashville Predators

The Preds racked up 94 regular season points before making a memorable Stanley Cup run that fell just short. It’s widely known that the strength of this team is it’s blue line – we explore.

***Note: for a detailed overview of our methodology, you can check out our puck movement metric (here) and our approach to quality of competition (here).

29JUN2017 -- preds puck moving d -- v1.JPG

Rapid fire observations

+ PK Subban, who was acquired in a trade for longtime Pred Shea Weber last summer, led the way with a PMF of + 3.30. That’s a really impressive number. In addition, Subban faced solid QoC (2nd line opponents) and started 34% of shifts in the defensive zone (vs 30% in the offensive zone) – as many as any other Preds d-man. After a bounceback from his sub-par 2015/16 (by Subban’s standards), PK looks to carry his top-end puck movement ability into 2017/18.

+ Roman Josi had a very good year for Nashville, too. His PMF of +1.39 is also strong, especially when you consider he did it against mostly top line opponents. What’s interesting is that Josi appears to have taken his game to another level in 2016/17. Josi’s high point total (~33% of which came on the PP) in 2015/16 (61 pts) and 2014/15 (55 pts) masks the fact that Josi wasn’t nearly as effective as a puck mover 5v5 in those seasons, posting PMF of -2.33 and -2.21, respectively. In addition to facing top QoC, Josi brings lots of value on the PP.

+ Mattias Ekholm was rock solid in 2016/17 posting a PMF of +1.56 while playing alongside PK Subban against solid QoC (2nd line pairing). Ekholm has been perhaps the Preds most consistent blue liner over the past 3 seasons (3-year average PMF of +2.44), playing with Ryan Ellis from 2014-2016, and Subban this past season.

+ Irwin and Weber formed the 3rd pairing for much of the season. While Irwin was serviceable in a 5/6 role, Yannick Weber was particularly awful in 2016/17. Despite facing the weakest QoC (the opponents he faced scored 13% fewer goals/60 mins than the league average) starting a higher percentage of shifts in the offensive zone than any other Preds’ defender, he still managed an extremely poor PMF of -2.86.  With decent lower-pair options available in free agency (or through Vegas), Nashville might look to upgrade the 3rd pairing.

+ Ryan Ellis had a poor 2016/17 regular season as a puck mover 5v5.  This number might come across as surprising at first given Ellis is known as part of the “dominant 4” on Nashville’s back-end, so we take a deeper look:

29JUN2017 -- Ryan Ellis 14-17 -- v1.JPG

Ellis was actually very solid as a 2nd pairing puck mover in 2014/15 (PMF +2.35) and 2015/16 (PMF +1.29), and had a big drop off in 2016/17. There could be several explanations. Perhaps Ellis just had a poor season? It’s possible. Another factor is that Ellis was in a sense ‘promoted’ to the top pairing with Josi once Weber was traded. This is a good example of QoC factoring into a team’s assessment of a player. Maybe Ellis was able to dominate as a possession-driver against 2nd line competition but struggled when facing the opposition’s best night after night.

Still, Ellis has shown he can be an above average 3/4 d-man and – still only 26 – it’s reasonable to expect improvement next season as it will mark his 2nd year facing high QoC.

PK Subban – an elite puck mover

It’s interesting to examine how PK’s 2016/17 (first season in Nashville) stacks up against his career averages:

24JUN2017 -- PK Subban analysis -- v1

PK has been phenomenal as a possession-driving / puck-moving defenseman throughout his career. His one sub-par year, 2015/16 – his last in Montreal – was still very adequate by league standards.  While Michel Therrien limited Subban to an offensive role early on, he quickly emerged as an “all-situation” player, averaging 25+ mins per night and facing top QoC, posting elite puck movement numbers each year.

Verdict

It’s well known in the hockey community that Nashville boasts the top – or one of the best – blue lines in the entire league. Our analysis supports that claim. Subban, Josi, and Ekholm all had terrific years in 2016/17. While Ellis had a sub-par year, it’s reasonable to expect improvement / bounce back in 2017/18. With Nashville in search of help down the middle, teams will certainly be asking for a defender in return (likely Ekholm or Ellis). With their window wide open, Nashville might be better suited dealing picks and prospects to keep their core engine intact.


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