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Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The P.K. Subban Deal

Some Background On The Current Montreal Canadiens Hockey Team
A few days ago the Montreal Canadiens traded their star defenceman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators for their star defenceman Shea Weber. A lot of Montreal fans were really pissed off about the trade. Some swore that they would never watch another Canadiens game in their lives and some even claimed that racism was part of the reason P.K. was traded.
Montreal is probably the most storied franchise in professional hockey. They have won 23 Stanley Cups in their history, 12 more than the team with the 2nd most cups, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs haven’t won the cup since 1967, 49 years ago. The last time Montreal won the cup was in 1993, 23 years ago. Their coach at the time was a man named Jacques Demers who could neither read nor write. His team that year saw 16 French Canadian players suit up for at least one game. Vincent Damphouse was one of those players and probably the last French Canadian scoring star on the team.
Montreal is a unique city to coach hockey in. Almost every head coach that they’ve had in the past 50 years has either been French Canadian or bilingual. Part of the reason for this is the need to communicate with the French press in their first language. The spelling of the “Canadiens” is French and their nick name “Les Habs” is short for “Les Habitants”.
It would probably be fair to say that most French Canadian hockey fans would dearly love to see another French Canadian superstar on their team. With 30 teams in the NHL (soon to be 31) the Canadiens chances of finding that player aren’t that great. The really good French Canadian players are tied up with other teams and Montreal never gets close to getting a top 5 draft pick. Out of the playoffs this year Montreal drafted 9th. The best French Canadian junior player, Pierre-Luc Dubois, was drafted 3rd by the Columbus Blue Jackets. My guess is Montreal would love to get their hands on Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning but that isn’t very likely.
Montreal has eaten up some pretty good coaches over the years including Alain Vigneault, Claude Julien, Jacques Lemaire, and Pat Burns. Although the current Canadiens have some English speaking scouts and advisors like Rick Dudley, the coach Michel Therrien, the GM Marc Bergevin, the 3 assistant coaches, the goalie coach, and the video coach are all French. This year Bergevin traded for two French Canadian players who had all of 6 points between them.
Assessing The Canadiens After They Didn’t Make The Playoffs
Many hockey people think that Carey Price is one of the 3 best goalies in the game. He is good enough to win some games on his own. Price only managed to play 12 games this year before he was hurt and sat out the rest of the year. Price’s replacement, Mike Condon, had a reasonable year considering he was a rookie but he wasn’t Price. Up front Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk both had 30 goals which tied them for 20th in NHL goal scoring. Brendan Gallagher managed 19 goals even with missing 29 games. Losing Price and Gallagher may have been the difference in the Canadiens not making the playoffs.

Carey Price
Hockey has changed in the last few years. With fighting pretty well out of the game for the most part, more is expected from 4th liners for starters. Pittsburg won the cup this year with constant pressure and speed from 4 lines, an outstanding effort by their rookie goalie, and balanced scoring led by Sydney Crosby. They also had one of the league’s best defencemen in Franch Canadian Kris Letang. Chicago won cups with a core group of 4 players, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. LA won cups by wearing out other teams with bigger players and a great defenceman in Drew Doughty.

Sidney Crosby with Stanley Cup.
Montreal doesn’t resemble any of these teams. They weren’t going to go anywhere with a 5’7” center like David Desharnais and his 11 goals and 3.5 million a year contract. Andrei Markov is another year older. Over 40 different players played for the Canadiens last year. Maybe 8 of them are worth keeping. Signing Andrew Shaw from Chicago is a step in the right direction.  
P.K. Subban
Montreal hockey fans have been starving for a hockey hero for years. The 2 most notable players on the Canadiens team over the last several years have been defenceman P.K. Subban and goalie Carey Price. Price is a pretty low key person who doesn’t seek attention. Subban on the other hand thrives on attention.
Before writing this piece I did some research on P.K. I read a Huffington Post article written by some woman who obviously doesn’t know much about hockey. In her story she used a number of adjectives to describe P.K.’s character as candid, energetic, passionate, confident, articulate, etc., etc. This describes hundreds of professional athletes. At one point she mentions that P.K. has 2 brothers who also play in the NHL. She also says that brothers playing in the NHL are a rarity as are black hockey players. PK’s brothers are not NHL players. One brother is a goalie for the Boston Bruin’s farm team and the other is a defenceman who plays for the Vancouver Canuck’s farm team in Utica, New York. He is a pretty decent defenceman but he is only 5’10” which is pretty short for a defenceman in the NHL. There have been quite a number of brothers who have played in the NHL including the Sutters, the Hulls, the Benns, the Richards, the Mahovlichs, The Bures, the Courtnalls, and on and on. Black players are no longer a rarity in the NHL. Here’s a brief list of some current black NHL hockey players. Devante Smith-Pelley, Jerome Iginla, Evander Kane, Kyle Okposo, Johnny Oduya, Mike Grier, Darnel Nurse, Joel Ward, Trevor Daley, and Dustin Byfuglien.
I went to P.K. Subban’s personal website. I was interested in seeing how he promotes himself. I found an interview with the CBC’s Wendy Mesley. She doesn’t know a lot about hockey either. She was very impressed that P.K. had given 10 million dollars to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. P.K. talked about not having time for those that didn’t care for him unless they got personal and that statistics don’t lie. He also talked about the sacrifices his family made so he could play hockey.
The 10 Million Dollar Gift

Sick children can be a very touchy subject. Anyone who volunteers their time to help those in need deserves credit for their efforts including P.K. who has spent hours with kids with health problems. What is disingenuous on P.K.’s part is not correcting reporters when they say he has given 10 million dollars to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. He hasn’t. He has pledged to raise the 10 million over the next several years. So far 1 million has been raised. Now that he has been traded to Nashville and will be spending 9 months of the year there, raising 10 million is going to be very difficult.
Hockey players giving back to the local community is not a rarity in the NHL. Pretty well all NHL hockey teams do it. Part of being a Vancouver Canuck hockey player is about doing some charitable work. Every player on the team participates. One of the things the team is involved in is something called Canuck’s Place. It is a hospice building where families can live with their sons or daughters who are facing a life threatening illnesses. A few years ago the Canuck’s Sedin twins donated 1.5 million dollars to the BC Children’s Hospital without any fanfare.


Nobody including me is going to say that P.K. Subban is not a really good hockey player. I just don’t think he is as good as he seems to think he is or what a lot of Montreal fans think he is. A lot of Montreal fans seem to think he is one of the two or 3 best defencemen in the NHL. To prove their point they will often mention that he won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman a few years ago.
P.K. won the Norris Trophy in 2012-2013. He had 38 points in the regular season. 38 points was by far the least amount of points a Norris winner has had since 1982-83, 1983-84 when stay at home defenceman Rod Langway won back to back Norris Trophies. Other than Langway you would have to go all the way back to the 1967-68 season to find a defenceman (Bobby Orr) who had won the Norris Trophy with less points than P.K.
In fairness the 2012-2013 season had a lock-out and each team only played 48 games. Montreal was ousted by Ottawa in 5 games in the 1st round of the playoffs that year.
Last season P.K. had 6 goals and 45 assists. 85 players had more points than he did. Over 40 NHL defencemen had more goals than he did. His goal production had dropped by 9 goals from the previous year. He led his team in penalty minutes with 75 minutes. He had 177 shots on net and scored at a rate of 3.6%. He had zero game winning goals. He had more ice time, including power plays, than any other Canadien player.
Trouble In The Locker Room?

Hockey isn’t like basketball where winning teams often have one or two guys that pretty well run the show. Hockey doesn’t have spares that often don’t play like basketball does. Everyone on a hockey team plays and they all have roles. Hockey doesn’t have the number of time-outs that basketball does. You can’t just stop the game when things aren’t going your way in hockey.

I may be wrong but I think some of P.K.’s teammates thought he was bringing the basketball kind of culture to hockey. Like he thought he was the straw that mixed the drink. It looks like his life outside of hockey was at times overshadowing his actually playing the game. P.K. was never on a Stanley Cup team nor did that look possible in the team’s near future. He was a star on a very mediocre team that missed the playoffs.

A few years ago P.K. set up his own website and the whole site is like a shrine to him. Yes he has an outgoing personality, a great smile, and looks good in expensive clothes. Quite honestly, I don’t see much about him that is unique.
His parents spent a lot of time driving PK and his bothers to hockey rinks when PK was a kid. Every hockey parent, including me, has stood around for hours in hockey rinks waiting for practices to be over and spent time driving all over the local map so their kid could get to his game on time. It was a little more extreme for Carey Price’s parents who often had to drive hundreds of miles to get him to a game.
Signing autographs and spending a bit of time playing road hockey with some young kids? There’s nothing unique about that. Having a favourite sushi restaurant where PK ate quite often? Most bachelors have a favourite restaurant. PK loves his family and respects his parents? Most NHL hockey players feel the same way. Being cooperative with reporters? Most hockey players are.
So just what went on in the dressing room with PK and his teammates? One can only speculate but some things seem fairly obvious. The other players probably felt that he was a distraction at times. P.K. is a pretty exuberant person. This personality trait doesn’t play well when a team is losing. Some may have felt that they were just passengers on the P.K. train when the press ignored them and spent most of their time interviewing him. Some may have resented the idea that the team captain was getting less attention than P.K.
The players had some input into who the captain of the team was going to be and most didn’t pick PK. After his pledge of 10 million, his teammates didn’t vote for PK as the player who gave back the most to the Montreal community. Perhaps the most telling thing about P.K.’s relationship with his teammates was after he was traded. Not one player tweeted that they were upset. Edmonton traded away Taylor Hall the same day P.K. got traded and future superstar Connor McDavid openly expressed his disappointment.
Why Did P.K. Get Traded?
There were times in the past year when both the Montreal coach and the GM were really pissed at P.K. They wanted him to play a less riskier game and got upset when it looked like P.K. was putting on what may have seemed to be a one man show. The puck wasn’t going in the net for P.K. as much as it had in the past and maybe he tried to do too much to compensate for that.
When the season came to the end Montreal had some decisions to make. Getting rid of the coach and maybe the GM too may have been one of those decisions. What would the cost be and who could replace them? Both the coach Therrien and the GM Bergeron wanted a grittier team and that is why they picked up Andrew Shaw from Chicago.

Coach Therrien with P.K.
I think both the coach and GM weren’t sure what to do with P.K. Was he going to come around to their style of hockey? What could they do about some of the players not being that happy with P.K.? My guess is that that they planned to have meeting with the players and coaches at the beginning of training camp this summer and try to bury the hatchet on whatever went on last year.

There was only a window of a few days where P.K. could have been traded. It is hard to say whether he was being shopped around. GMs don’t let the public know about those kind of things. Nashville offered up their star defenceman, Shea Weber, in a straight swap for Subban. Bergeron was quite aware that all hell would break lose if he traded P.K. My guess is that Bergeron pulled the trigger on the deal for a few reasons. One was that they might never get P.K. to come around to their style of hockey and the other reason might have been that they didn’t want to see a lot more drama over the next several years between P.K and the other players.
There are up sides and down sides for both players.

Shea Weber
Weber is 3 years older than Subban but at 30 years of age he is still relatively young. Weber also has had the luxury of playing alongside another outstanding defenceman in Roman Josi. Last year Weber had 20 goals verses P.K.’s 6. He has a harder more accurate shot. Both players get about the same amount of ice time. P.K. was a +4 last year and Weber was a -7. Weber is 4 inches taller and 25 lbs. heavier than PK and punishes opposing forwards. P.K. is a faster skater.
How Is The Trade Going To Work Out?
Who knows? There will probably be a lot less drama in Montreal unless Weber’s game totally disappears. It might be tough for him to deal with the sports media in Montreal compared to small hockey market Nashville. P.K. is going to have to adjust his game a bit. Nashville has 3 other really good defencemen even with Weber gone including Josi, Ekholm, and Ellis so he probably won’t have to try and carry the team from the back end. P.K. might not even be the #1 guy on defence in Nashville. Weber will be for sure in Montreal.
Nashville is the country music capital of the US. My guess is P.K. is more of a hip hop kind of guy. He might find that his time away from the rink will be a lot different than his days in Montreal. 28% of the people who live in Nashville are black verses less than 10% in Montreal. P.K. may discover new business ventures in Nashville in things completely different from what he was involved in the past.
Hockey trades happen all the time. Every once in a while some big name gets moved, It has happened to Gretsky, Messier, Lafleur, Roy and others. Most people don’t remember that Bobby Orr ended up in Chicago.

Guy Lefleur-New York Rangers.
The term “Superstar” is sometimes overused. Close to 90 NHL players had more points than P.K. Subban had last year, Superstars win Stanley cups or score 50 goals like Ovechkiin. Right now Subban is about the 12th best all round defenceman in the NHL.
Likability, appearance, and personality may sell on E-talk and other gossip TV programs but sports are all about results and winning. P.K. may one day be a superstar in hockey but he simply isn’t there yet.
Racism And Idolizing Pro Athletes
There are a number of black people in Montreal who were particularly pissed off that P.K. got traded. I read it on Facebook. One guy mentioned something about it being difficult for P.K. being the only black guy in the dressing room. He wasn’t. Devant Smith-Pelley is also black and played 46 games for the Canadiens this past year.
We aren’t living in the 50s or 60s anymore. Race hasn’t been a consideration in choosing a player for decades now in every pro sport. Jarome Iginla has been a star in the NHL for 20 years. It may be interesting that his father was born in Nigeria but that fact never changed what people thought of him.
Idolizing pro athletes is pretty normal thing for kids to do. My feeling is that once one becomes an adult idolizing anyone isn’t a healthy thing to do. Pro athletes are simply other human beings with some good qualities and some faults. Just like the rest of us. Personally I don’t like the idea of people thinking that other people are more worthy than themselves. Liking a professional athlete should be sufficient enough.
When I was a kid I thought Bobby Hull was the next best thing since slice bread. I grew out of it. Years later I was disappointed when I learned that Hull was accused by two of his wives of assaulting them.
As sports fans we make an investment. Sometimes we are disappointed and if we are lucky our chosen team wins it all at some point. We have no control over how events are going to unfold. It may sound odd but as a life-long hockey fan, some of my best memories are back when the Canucks had the ugliest uniforms in the league and losing games was a habit. When they did win it became a big deal for a day or so.
Lastly, there are plenty of things to worry about on this planet and lots of injustices. How some guy making 9 million dollars a year for years to come is going to manage in a new city is not one of those things that is going to keep me up at night.