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Why Subban Gets Little Love

SubbanControversy

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.

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A Habs Regular Season’s review

BadvsGoodHabs

The 2016-2017 season was one of redemption for the Montreal Canadiens, after the monumental collapse of the previous year. In general, the team has responded well, very well indeed, as they finished atop the Atlantic Division. It took a coaching change and a few trades, both in the off-season and in-season, but Marc Bergevin has brought his team back to where we are accustomed to seeing it since he took over as General Manager. Like in any season though, there have been positive and not so positive stories, players performing as expected, over expectations and under-performing as well. While waiting for the first round of the playoffs to get going, here is a list of the later two, based on what people were permitted to expect from them.

Positive

Max Pacioretty

After last season’s debacle, many were questioning Pacioretty’s leadership and abilities as the team’s captain. Some were legitimately concerned, others were only hot because they felt like the Canadiens’ organisation had chosen him over their beloved P.K. Subban. Things got worse after a very slow start of the season when he only managed five goals in his first 24 games, which got his pundits calling for a trade. But then he caught fire and was the Canadiens’ most dangerous scorer once paired up with Radulov, a true play-maker. We later learned that the Captain played the month of November with a broken foot. He finished the season with 35 goals.

Andrei Markov

Markov truly is an ageless wonder. The 38 year-old defenseman finished the season with 36 points and a very impressive plus-18 rating, third best on the team in that category. We really noticed his value when he was injured and the Canadiens didn’t show the same poise defensively and there is no doubt that he will be back for at least one more season. As a UFA however, he might only be signed after the expansion draft due to the number of players the team can protect.

Alexander Radulov

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Radulov and Pacioretty both had a good season.

Only Pacioretty (67) had more points than Radulov (54) on the Canadiens this season, which kept quiet those who were expecting him to be an overpaid flop. With his play, his hustle and his irresistable smile and love for the game, Radulov has proven to every doubter that he is no Semin and that he has matured. No one works harder in practice than him and he has taken a role of leader in the dressing room. He is a UFA and many wonder if the Canadiens will be able to resign him but rest assured folks that like Markov, Radulov wants to be in Montreal and the Canadiens want him back. A deal will be done but like for other UFAs, it might only be announced after the expansion draft.

Shea Weber

So much has been said about Weber in the off season and yet, the one nicknamed Man Mountain by coach Mike Babcock at the World Cup of Hockey has taken Montreal by storm. He is what he was painted to be, which is one of the league’s top shutdown defensemen, while providing a solid offensive support. Weber finished the season with 17 goals and was second behind Byron with a +20 differential. Fourth on the team in hits with 140, he was first on the Habs in blocked shots with 157. Weber was on the ice for only two goals at five-on-five in his last 15 games, and hasn’t allowed a goal in those situations in his last seven games, while playing against the top opposition night in, night out.

Paul Byron

All we can say is: thank you Calgary! What more can we say about this 5-foot 9-inches speedster aside from the fact that prior to this season, Byron had scored a total of 28 goals in 200 regular season’s games. In 81 games this season, he finished with 22 goals, good for second in that category behind Pacioretty. As a matter of fact, Byron has scored 33 goals since being picked off waivers by the Canadiens. Further, he has two more years remaining to his contract with a cap hit of $1.17 million per season.

Jordie Benn

What have we learned from Benn since he was acquired by the Canadiens? He is not Jamie and that he is certainly not in the NHL because of his brother. While some may have noticed him for his beard when he first skated with the team, he has been a steady force on the Habs’ blueline and people recognise him for that. He has been so good that the Canadiens will now have to make a decision about protecting Benn or Beaulieu for the expansion draft. The 29 year-old rearguard has two years remaining with a cap hit of $1.1 million.

Artturi Lehkonen

Earlier this month, I was writing about the Habs having a jewel in the rough in Lehkonen. He has added four more goals since then, to finish the season tied with Radulov for third on the team with 18 goals. Even better is the fact that he seems to be getting better and stronger as the season progresses, which is good news for the playoffs.

Phillip Danault

No but really, what a trade with Chicago! If you forgot, the Canadiens traded pending UFAs Dale Weise and Thomas Fleishmann for Danault and a second round pick in 2018. As few would have predicted that Galchenyuk would regress this season, Danault stepped in and filled the role of number one centre (by default we must admit) between Pacioretty and Radulov and he did a pretty good job. Danault, who is only 24, scored 13 of his 17 career goals this season and produced 40 of his 50 career points with the Canadiens. There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that he is not a number one centre but he is none the less a good surprise, a versatile player who can help out where and when needed.

 

Disappointing

Brendan Gallagher

Very tough season for the diminutive Gallagher, but it was mostly due to injuries. For a second consecutive season, he suffered a broken hand, which affected his play. The good news however is that he seems to have regained his mojo in the last couple of weeks, which augurs well for the Habs for the playoffs.

Alex Galchenyuk

The young centre had a pretty good start to the season, until he suffered a lower-body injury which kept him out of the line-up for several games. But since coming back from that injury, Galchenyuk hasn’t been the shadow of himself. He constantly makes bad decisions with the puck and turns it over at the most inopportune time, resulting in both Michel Therrien and Claude Julien cutting his ice time. Placed on a line with Lehkonen and Shaw, we were hoping that he would help carry this line but it is rather his linemates getting it done in spite of him. Something has happened with him and let’s hope that he figures it out soon, as they need his offensive contribution.

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Plekanec had the worst season of his career.

Tomas Plekanec

Since signing his contract extension back in October of last year, Plekanec has only scored 19 goals in over 150 games, which is well below what we can expect from him, particularly that he occupies $6 million of the team’s cap space. He finished this season with a career low 28 points. Many feel like he will be left unprotected by the Canadiens for the expansion draft but the odds of him being selected are minimal, particularly that one of Benn or Beaulieu could also be exposed. He has one year left to his contract.

Nathan Beaulieu

Pencilled in as the perfect candidate to play alongside Weber, Beaulieu could not seize the golden opportunity presented to him on a silver platter. He has been terribly inconsistent, losing his spot to Emelin who fared rather well, at least in the first half of the season. Bad decision making and what seems like a lack of caring could finally get the Canadiens to give up on him, either at the expansion draft or through trade this summer.

Alexei Emelin

When called upon to play with Weber on the first pairing, Emelin had a great first half of the season. But for some unknown reasons, he was just horrible  in the second half, even by being a healthy scratch for a few games but coach Julien. By far the team’s most physical defenseman, Emelin needs to get back to basic and keep things simple by playing his position and let his linemate play his own game.

 

Personal beef

Carey Price

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Price had a horrible stretch from October to February.

Few will agree but I was terribly disappointed to see Price let his team down for what seems to be a vendetta against his former coach Michel Therrien. Maybe he was injured, who knows, but I find rather suspicious that Price found his game immediately after Julien took over. Some will say that it’s the system, but it’s not. Price won his multiple awards under Therrien and it seems like he didn’t appreciate being pulled in that one game, better remembered as “the look”. Price did however have a decent season after but his struggles were well documented on this very blog.

 

The other players not on this list did not surprise nor disappoint. Here’s hoping that everyone steps up and has great playoffs, particularly those who have sort of let the team down during the regular season. Go Habs Go!

Price Negotiations Begin or Be-Gone?

PriceContract

Well that didn’t take long. Merely hours after the Montreal Canadiens’ elimination in six games in the hands of the New York Rangers, fans were flooding the airwaves and Twitter looking for scapegoats for their team not moving to the second round. Astonishingly enough, most seemed to underrate the Rangers, a team who finished only one point shy of the Canadiens’ 103 points, while playing in the Metropolitan division, the toughest division in the entire NHL. 

Many jumped on the media bandwagon by blaming media’s favourite culprit, team captain Max Pacioretty, because he went goalless in the six games against New York. What they are refusing to see is that Pacioretty finished the series with 28 shots, tied with NHL lead last night with Brent Burns, who is also without a goal. Fact is that Pacioretty worked hard, had quality scoring chances but was beat by a hot goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, who was in Vezina shape this entire series.

But Pacioretty wasn’t the only one to have the finger pointed at him, at least not by a group of so-called fans. Carey Price, in spite of a 1.86 goals against average and a saves percentage of .933, became a target for fans desperate to point fingers instead of simply giving credit where credit is due.

It is clear that fans are disappointed that their team isn’t moving on to the next round and that’s understandable. But when you read media personalities like Tony Marinaro (amongst others) pointing the finger in the wrong direction, can we blame the fans? Aren’t those media personalities supposed to know their hockey a bit more than some of the fans? Or is it at all possible that they know that feeding into fans’ desperate beliefs will bring them hits and so-called notoriety? Think about it folks!

Price’s future

Carey Price will be entering the final year of a contract paying him on average $6.5 million and the consensus is that he will be due for a substantial raise, whether it’s in Montreal or elsewhere. Since his last contract was a long term deal, the Canadiens can start negotiating with their star goaltender as early as July 1st for an extension and many seem to believe that they must reach a deal as early as possible.

Personally, I think that while Marc Bergevin will have discussions with Price and his agent, there is no rush on either side to reach an official agreement. On one side, Price has everything to gain by seeing what the market will bear for guys like Ben Bishop this summer and what the Canadiens do to improve the team for the long term. On the other side, Price is under contract and prospect Charlie Lindgren is performing extremely well in the AHL, as well as when he was called upon at the end of this season. They will want to see more of him prior to making a decision on goaltending for years to come.

Charlie Lindgren (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

One this is almost 100% sure though is the fact that Price will not be traded, as suggested by some fans. Bergevin wants to win and his chances of winning are much better with Price than with anyone else in net. Price won’t be asking for a trade either.

The only way I could see trading Price a slim possibility is if some General Manager comes with a trade offer that Bergevin couldn’t refuse, and we can all agree that this is very unlikely. Let’s say, for the sake of talking, that Garth Snow calls and offers John Tavares and something else for Price? With the likes of Bishop, Ryan Miller, Scott Darling and Mike Condon as pending UFAs, Bergevin might (and I insist on might) consider such a deal.

But if you are a betting person, you should put your money on Carey Price being the starting goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens next season. Go Habs Go!