Malcolm Subban can be great goaltender, if Blackhawks let him

Chicago needs to give their new goalie more frequent starts than he had with Vegas for him to have success.

As a person who writes about the Blackhawks for Second City Hockey and the Golden Knights for SB Nation’s Knights on Ice, I have some experience with Malcolm Subban, and with liking his game. But there’s something you should know about the newest Blackhawk.

Subban isn’t a backup goaltender, he’s a 1-B. That’s the same role Robin Lehner was filling for Chicago before he was traded to Vegas on Monday for Subban, defenseman prospect Slava Demin and a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL draft. Subban was forced into the backup role by a team determined to use the last years of Marc-Andre Fleury to their fullest. It seems like the Blackhawks will move forward with 35-year-old Corey Crawford, which is great news but something they will have to take care to monitor given his age and concussion history. Inserting Subban long term into the equation should help.

Looking at Subban’s numbers this season, you might not be pleased.

2019-20 season: .890 save percentage, minus-10.42 goals saved above average, minus-10.27 goals saved above expected

Career with Vegas: .901 save percentage, minus-12.30 GSAA, minus-26.3 GSAx

Yet, Subban is fantastic in high-danger situation with a .812 save percentage, including 4.33 GSAA with Vegas.

There’s also one massive distinction between Subban’s starts, as mentioned above. I wrote about this in December for Knights on Ice, so I’ll update those stats here: In starts made less than a week in between games played, Subban has a .895 save percentage, .830 high-danger save percentage and minus-4.14 GSAx. In games further apart than a week, Subban has a .880 save percentage, .742 high-danger and -5.6 GSAx.

What’s better, is if you subtract Subban’s two worst starts with the fewest shots against (Dec. 27 and Feb. 13; both below 24), he has a .911 save percentage with starts within a week (.870 at high-danger, minus-.26 GSAx). Subban is a volume goaltender, who needs to face shots to stay alert, and that will not be a problem with Chicago’s defense, which has allowed less than 24 shots against five times this season.

Chicago is a much more ideal situation for Subban, if they use him properly. With an aging Crawford that shouldn’t be a problem. Subban can be one of the best high-danger NHL goaltenders, but Vegas’ usage of him led to below-average production.

Vegas didn’t help Subban out this season either. The Golden Knights played worse in front of him than Vegas’ other three goaltenders to the tune of a nine-point difference:

Despite that Subban played better than Fleury. Subban’s record speaks for itself: 19-12-5 in games within a week and 11-8-2 in starts further apart. He’s 30-21-7 altogether, which means he’s a goaltender a team can win with.

While he is 26, and hasn’t won a starting job (Crawford did not have his before 27), Subban has proven to be an effective and capable 1-B in a platoon situation. That’s what the Blackhawks had before with Lehner, and that’s what they should have now with Subban.