He once was revered in Montreal. He was an extremely likeable, colourful player who could change the game at any point in time he was on the ice. He was spectacular, charismatic, a fan favourite and many were wearing his jersey at the Bell Centre. He was also one of the most hated players around the NHL, both by fans and players alike. How can a player who is considered a star in one City be so controversial anywhere else in the National Hockey League, including with the decision makers of internal competition of his own country?
It’s not as simple as it seems. Some P.K. Subban fans, who would have looked terrible all season had they complained about the trade, love throwing it back into Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin‘s face which ever way they can, whether it’s intelligent, truthful or not, now that the team is out of the playoffs. Because you see, it’s not black or white, but rather a shade of grey. No, Bergevin didn’t have it against Subban the man himself and no, he didn’t trade him because he didn’t like him. It was definitely a hockey decision, whether some people want to admit it or not.
They received, in return, the best player in the trade… at least for the next couple of years. No, Shea Weber is not as flashy. No, Weber doesn’t carry the puck from end to end. But yes, Weber is one of the best shutdown defensemen in the game, always playing the toughest minutes against the opponents’ top line. And yes, he produces points with at least as much if not more regularity than his counterpart. You see, in his first full season in Montreal, Weber tallied 17 goals and 42 points. He was a physical and intimidating force on the Canadiens’ blue line all year long. But yes, he is four years older and in a couple of years, his efficiency will drop… but this day is nowhere close!
When you have people like Doug Armstrong, Mike Babcock, Peter Chiarelli, Ken Hitchcock, Ken Holland, Claude Julien, Barry Trotz, Joel Quenneville, Marc Bergevin, Rob Blake and Bob Murray (amongst others) making decisions and they pick Weber as their number defenseman while Subban is an afterthought for the Olympics and not even considered for the World Cup of Hockey this past fall, don’t blame anyone for taking their word and expertise over analytic pretenders, bloggers (myself included) or fans who think that they know better. It’s not the case folks!
A controversial individual
One can go all the way back to the 2007 draft when NHL scouts were stating openly that Subban was a first round pick talent but his antics could scare teams away, and 42 times, he was passed on by teams before the Canadiens took a chance on him.
Since making the big club, while his on-ice play and his relationship with reporters and fans were top-notch, he was regularly getting into fights with teammates in practice. Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, amongst other leaders, have had their issues with Subban, all caught on camera. While this was downplayed by some, it raised some red flags for many, many others, including the Habs’ brass.
The controversy continued when Bergevin, still unsure about his defenseman’s relationship with key teammates and his ability to be a team player, insisted on giving him a bridge deal, wanting to buy more time to see exactly how Subban would mature and cope in the dressing room. Some fans were outraged by it, but the GM knew something that fans and even members of the media didn’t. You see, the decision had less to do with recognizing that Subban was a special hockey player as much as an important question mark on his ability to get along with teammates and adhering to a system, same concerns as several years before, in his draft year.
While he was selected to represent Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, the year after winning his Norris Trophy in the lockout shortened season, Mike Babcock only gave him one game and made him a healthy scratch the rest of the tournament. While Subban remained professional about it, his fans were once again outraged at the “unfair” treatment he was getting.
When came time to name a new captain for the Canadiens, after the departure of Brian Gionta, fans were split between Subban and a few others about who was worth of the captaincy. Management decided to leave it to the players who voted, as we know, Max Pacioretty as their ultimate leader. This is not a huge deal, but it is another drop in the bucket.
In what completely destroys the conspiracy theory some of Subban’s fans like to use in that the trade was driven by Bergevin’s dislike for the enigmatic defenseman, it also the players who didn’t vote Subban as the team’s representative for the King Clancy Award, even after he committed to donating an astounding $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, for what was qualified as the biggest philanthropic commitment by a sports figure in Canadian history. This message is ignored by Subban’s fans but it speaks volume of the type of individual or teammate he was in the dressing room.
Just this past Fall, the decision makers for Team Canada passed on Subban all together when came time to chose the players representing the country at the World Cup of Hockey. Aside from conspiracy theories, does anyone in their right mind think for one second that there isn’t something wrong with this, that those guys don’t know hockey, at least not as much as fans and media think they do? Particularly after the team they selected won the tournament?
Once in Nashville, it didn’t take long before Subban drew some controversy as it was reported on 98.5 Sports that Predators’ captain Mike Fisher and the front office met with him about the chemistry in the dressing room. I was asked on Twitter why this news came from Montreal and not Nashville, to which I replied that perhaps, the one beat writer (tongue in cheek) for the Preds didn’t get wind of it or might want to keep his job covering the team. Things seem to have fallen back into place for the time being as the Preds are pushing in the playoffs, but don’t forget that they are in year one of an eight year deal here. Let’s be smart and wait before claiming victory and that the Habs’ were wrong about his antics.
When asked about Subban by Le Journal de Montréal, the great Larry Robinson had this to say:
“P.K. has all the tools to succeed. But you must understand that no athlete is more important than his team. When a player becomes bigger than the team, you have a problem. I don’t care which player it is. Guy Lafleur is the best player I played with. Everyone wanted to talk to him after his performances, but what counted for him, was what he had done for the team.” ~ Larry Robinson
I have claimed all along that this was a hockey trade, and a business trade. A hockey trade in the sense that the Canadiens have been working with Subban to try to cut the turnovers, repeatedly asking him to get rid of the puck sooner in order to improve his horribly costly and high risk turnovers, if not because he had the best goaltender in the league saving his bacon more often than not. When he was about to enter an eight year contract with a no-movement clause, there is no captain, no coach and no GM that could have reeled the distracting and dressing room dividing individual Subban appears to be.
His fans look at all of the red flags raised up above and dismantle one by one to justify their love for the colourful defenseman, just like fans were downplaying the stories of Carey Price’s out to town nightlife when he first joined the team. They will question the credibility of the sources, they will put the blame on the coach, his teammates, the waterboy, so long as the name of their idol doesn’t get dragged in the mud, as that’s what it seems to feel to them. But like other cases before him, there is no smoke without fire… particularly when there are so many signs dragging over such a long period of time. And no, it’s not about racism folks so don’t even go there.
There is no denying that P.K. Subban is a world class athlete and an outstanding individual in the community. He loves Montreal and Montreal loves him. Maybe I am reading way too much into this and if that’s what you think, you may be absolutely right. But those are way too many flags to just put our head in the sand and play ostrich, thinking that it didn’t happen and that it’s not happening. Maybe, just maybe, there could be some correlation between all of those events. Maybe, just maybe, Subban is not the person, the teammate, that his fans want to believe he is. And maybe Bergevin was justified in not wanting to take the risk.