After a difficult start to the 2011-2012 season, P.K. Subban has been subject to trade rumours and criticism of his play.
MONTREAL, QC. — While Carey Price and Raphael Diaz spend this weekend enjoying some of hockey’s lighter moments at this year’s all-star game in Ottawa, another Montreal Canadien may find himself pondering over some darker ones.
With the Canadiens finishing a disappointing first half of the season, flashy, young-gun P.K. Subban has found himself surrounded by controversy. After forcing dangerous plays and supposedly showing-off some ego problems, many fans, members of the media and even his opponents, are not only criticizing the Toronto native’s play, but questioning his demeanor.
It’s no secret that Subban exploded out of the gate when he first played for the Canadiens. After an injury forced Jaroslav Spacek out of the lineup in the 2010 playoffs, the organization called up Subban and saw him immediately make an impact by earning an assist in his first ever NHL game against the Washington Capitals. Subban went on to earn one goal and eight assists in the Hab’s miraculous playoff run, solidifying his spot on the 2011-2012 roster. Subban then continued to show off his star-status by scoring 38 points in his rookie season, ultimately winning over the hearts of Canadiens’ fans everywhere. However, this season hasn’t gone to plan for the 22-year-old, where he and his team have been subject to criticism and controversy all season long.
The Habs currently hold a 19-21-9 record, eight points out of a playoff spot. After an incredibly slow start to the season, fans began to voice their displeasure and local media started to throw the book at players and personnel. Of course, Scott Gomez was blamed, but when he fell to injury he could no longer be the scapegoat. For about the first 10 games of the season, Erik Cole was also blamed, but under Jacques Martin, he was only playing an average of 10 to 15 minutes, with minimal, if any power-play time. So, ultimately the blame was put on coach Jacques Martin and he was fired on December 17, 2011.
At that point in the season, it seemed as if all the attention was now put on the young P.K. Subban. The day Martin was fired, Subban only had 13 points in 33 games and was nowhere near the point production many fans or hockey analysts expected. Since then, Subban has only gone on to add another six points to the total, giving him a total of 19 points in 48 games.
During that span, Subban’s season began to teeter into trouble. During the last week of December, Subban struggled mightily in road games against the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks, seeing him turn the puck over on several occasions, some of which, led to goals. After his unimpressive play in those two games, Subban then became a healthy scratch; a message sent by Randy Cunneyworth to play smarter and to limit turnovers.
The dark times kept on rolling for Subban when, on January 2, 2012, a camera caught a lack-lustrous fist-fight between he and veteran Tomas Plekanec at practice. Then came January 20, when he was fined $2,500 for a dangerous trip on Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz. That same game, a very well-documented discussion between Subban and assistant coach Randy Ladouceur was also caught on camera. The punches kept rolling number 76’s way after Ladouceur scalded Subban for messing up a drill in practice, telling him to “wake the [expletive] up.” The very next day in a matchup against the Detroit Red Wings, Subban took a selfish, undisciplined penalty for elbowing Dan Cleary in the head. With the Habs up 4-0 in the first period. Cunneyworth found this to be an opportune moment to bench Subban for the entire second period.
The young, enigmatic defenceman has been a lightning-rod of controversy this season, but is it warranted? Subban is only playing in his sophomore season and has a small total of 127 NHL games experience. Even with his inexperience, he leads the team in ice-time, averaging nearly 24 minutes per game. He is a workhorse and is constantly used on the power-play as well as the penalty kill. On five-on-five, he is paired with Josh Gorges to form the Habs’ top shutdown tandem, going against opposing team’s most dangerous players. Still, with the Habs going through a disheartening season, Habs fans have to put the blame on someone and right now that’s Subban.
Considered to be a high-end offensive defenceman, the 22-year-old sophomore is getting a ton of ice time with the man-advantage, but has only scored one power-play goal all season. For a team that finds themselves with the worst power-play in the NHL at 12.57 per cent, the Canadiens could really use the Subban of last year, who’s 9 of 14 goals were scored on the man-advantage. Along with having trouble finding the back of the net, the youngster has an abismal 2.4 per cent shooting percentage, compared to last year’s 7.1 per cent accuracy.
But of course, there are two sides to each coin. Subban, along with Hal Gill and Josh Gorges are, by far, the three most used defencemen on the penalty kill, where the Habs rank first in the league with an 89.42 per cent efficiency rate. Subban also finds himself on the ice more than any other Canadiens defender, he actually plays more hockey than anyone on the team, averaging 23:55 minutes per game.
Another facet to the controversy is the suggestion that Subban isn’t a team player, can be selfish, and has an ego with the ability to divide the locker room. With all these allegations floating around, Subban has been front and center for trade talks.
If the Habs were to be so quick in sending off the young defenseman, they would be trading away a player with undeniable potential. For a player that came out of junior hockey and the American Hockey League as an offensive defenseman, the Canadiens needed him to be a shut-down guy, and a defense-first type player. In the span of one season, Subban was able to do what many other players could not imagine, as he completely changed his style of play to accommodate the needs of the team — in my opinion, a rather selfless act.
Subban has incredible upside, and the potential return for him in a trade could be rather rewarding, but is giving up on this young defenceman the right decision? Subban is a tremendous shut-down talent that goes up against the league’s best players with regular success. He’s a big guy, with a tremendous work ethic, always willing to better himself and his game. His offensive skill-set is impressive to say the least. He has the ability to create plays, rushing the puck from end-to-end resulting in time and space for himself and his teammates. Then, he has enough presence of mind to set up on defense.
Like many other young players, Subban will undoubtedly go through some growing pains. But the question is simply whether or not the Canadiens’ management are willing to be patient with him? He is a young man of 22-years-old who already has tremendous skill-set. Of course, at his age, Subban still has a lot to learn about the game and himself, and with time he should do so. Will the Canadiens be patient? Subban has all the makings of being one of the best defenseman in the league in the future, and if the Montreal Canadiens can overlook the present terrible season, they should be able to see just how much of a valuable asset Subban will be for the future.