MONTREAL, QC. –We Quebeckers are a sensitive bunch. We’re always on the lookout for something that can be misconstrued as a slight against the province. It’s tough carrying around a giant chip but it’s a burden we have gotten used to carry.
When Macleans magazine published an expose on corruption, rather than discuss how to clean it up, we sent Bonhomme’s lawyers after them. Fair warning to all who plan to use our cherished symbols in their critiques.
So, it’s with some trepidation that I begin this discussion of the newly anointed provincial idol, P.K. Subban.
This has not been a long courtship. It was a full-blown love affair with Subban right from his very first shift in a Canadiens uniform. Chants of “P.K., P.K.” rained down from the Bell Centre crowd during a game last February against Philadelphia. It continued for the two-game call-up and for 14 playoff games last season.
This season Habs fans assumed that Subban was guaranteed to be in the opening night roster. Some have even mentioned him as a lock for the Calder Trophy given to the league’s top rookie. Isn’t it a little premature to be engraving the plaque, ordering the hats and t-shirts?
Listen, this is a crazy notion, I know, but perhaps we can watch him play all or most of 82 regular season games before the votes are cast.
From a hockey perspective there is a lot to like about Pernell Karl Subban. He had a successful junior hockey career with the Belleville Bulls highlighted by being a two-time gold medal winner as a member of Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. During the 2009 tournament, Subban tallied most point by a defenseman and was selected to the tournament All-Star team.
Subban was drafted by Montreal in the second round of the 2007 NHL amateur draft with 43rd overall pick.
In his first season as a pro with the Hamilton Bulldogs last season he recorded 53 points, including 18 goals in 77 games. Subban was third in points by defensemen and was honoured with the AHL President’s award.
P.K. can excite a crowd with his ability to move the puck up the ice with flair. His offensive talent is both an exciting blessing and a dangerous curse. As he progressed through midget, junior and the AHL, Subban was used to playing a high-risk, high-reward game and beating the odds.
So far, Subban is finding it much more difficult to parlay his gambling style into success in the NHL. But just as Montrealers are irrationally critical of some, they can be blind to transgressions of their heroes.
Perhaps it’s that Subban is equally comfortable with a microphone as he is with a hockey stick. A flash of a sparkling smile and his charisma has been all that’s needed to win over many fans.
That led to teammates settling on “Hollywood” as a nickname when Subban was called up last Spring to join the Canadiens for their playoff run. The name has evolved to “Prime Time,” coined by Mike Cammalleri, for the current season.
The “Prime Time” label immediately brings to mind the name, Deion Sanders. Sanders was a dual-sport star excelling as a cornerback in the NFL and an outfielder in MLB. While he was a supremely talented athlete, he was also known to be a prima donna.
Such fan adoration and media attention is not without its negative consequences. Expectations are high for the Canadiens 21-year old rookie. It has also led to fans and media alike challenging a normal development path for their superstar.
Doesn’t Subban deserve a free pass questioned some when it was announced that he would be attending the Canadiens development and rookie camps?
Perhaps the chosen one was reading his own press clippings as there was a perceptible attitude particularly when the rookies met. Some may call it a swagger, others may accuse him of having a sense of entitlement. Whatever it was, Subban didn’t enjoy the same popularity with his teammates as he does with his fans.
It began as Subban over-zealously celebrated meaningless goals in drills. Enthusiastic participation is one thing but showing up fellow camp attendees is quite another. Some verbal jousting followed.
The disputes escalated and resulted in at least three moderate skirmishes with Aaron Palushaj, Gabriel Dumont and Benjamin Maxwell. Following the bout with Maxwell where Subban held nothing back, Ryan White took the young defenseman aside in the locker room. Reportedly, Subban was confronted about his air of superiority.
During the pre-season Subban was wildly inconsistent varying between inspired and reckless play. He was constantly being caught out of position. Discipline was a problem as he recorded 16 minutes of penalties in just five games.
Subban has been no better since the start of the regular season. In three games, he has zero points, a minus-one rating and six penalty minutes.
Wednesday’s game against the Lightning was Subban’s worst in a Canadiens uniform. He tried to over-handle the puck, committed turnovers and took a costly penalty with 2:12 left that led to Tampa’s tying goal. While Habs fans preferred to dispute the penalty, Subban gave officials an opportunity to make the call by going into a check with his stick held high.
On offense, Subban has tried to go it alone too often as he hasn’t been making good use of his teammates. On more than one occasion, Habs forwards are forwards are frozen at the opposition blueline while Subban dipsy-doodles through the neutral zone. When he finally does dump the puck in, his teammates don’t have a chance to retrieve the puck from a standing start.
Coach Jacques Martin says that the keys to Subban’s success are “helping him to keep his focus, his game simple, making sure he’s not trying to do to much, and keeping him in rein.”
It’s obviously still a work-in-progress.
Subban supporters would prefer that the wild stallion be allowed to gallop freely. All Habs magazine reader Steve wrote, “…to paraphrase Herb Brooks, asking this guy to play a system is like asking Picasso to paint your garage door solid white.”
I understand the analogy, but in my opinion, Subban is more of a Jackson Pollock than a Picasso.
Subban’s offensive talents are diminished if he is a defensive liability. He then becomes more of a specialty player. Since no one wants to see that happen, he must devote himself to being a more defensively responsible, disciplined, team player.
The frentic ball of energy has to be channeled. Subban must play smarter.
From the Canadiens perspective is Perry Pearn the coach to refine and improve Subban’s game? It would have been interesting to see what Guy Boucher could have accomplished given another year with P.K. We have many times discussed the crucial need for the Habs to hire a coach specifically for the defensemen, someone like Larry Robinson.
Habs fans and media have a role to play too. Here’s a few guidelines.
- Let’s shelve the “Orr” word. Perhaps the ban should extend to all Hall of Fame legends. The comparisons are frankly silly.
- Let’s hold our tongues when Subban’s ice-time is reduced, he is sent to the press box, or a stint in Hamilton is required. All are normal methods of getting a rookie’s attention, making him earn his spot or helping him to improve his game.
- Let’s celebrate Subban’s talent and success without handing him the keys to the city. Praise should be truly earned.
To Canadiens brass, fans, media and P.K. himself, let’s get it right. This one is a keeper and a potential gem of the organization.
(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
About the Author (Author Profile)Rick is the Editor-in-Chief, lead contributor, and owner of the All Habs network of websites. His mission is to build a community of Canadiens fans who are informed, engaged and connected. He is the vision behind all four sites within the network - All Habs, Habs Tweetup, We Are Canadiens, and The Montreal Forum - and is responsible for the design and layout of each. In concert with the strong belief that "Habs fans are everywhere!", Rick is pleased that people use All Habs as a conduit to find and connect with other Habs fans worldwide. He is also proud that Habs Tweetups have allowed fans to meet in person and develop long lasting friendships.
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