In terms of tradition and winning championships, the Montreal Canadiens are the only North-American sports team that can rival the New York Yankees.
When a franchise has been around as long as Montreal, one of the NHL’s original teams, they tend to gravitate toward a certain type of player to represent their brand. A gritty, team-first guy who doesn’t attract attention to himself or the team.
Never call out the coach.
Never call out a teammate.
Be the boy next door who made good.
P.K. Subban is none of those things.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
Subban is brash, cocky, exuberant, stares down opponents, and has a personality.
All of the things hockey culture frowns upon.
Hockey culture in Canada has historically had a tough time figuring out how to deal with American and Russian players, along with Black players.
Subban’s game, or possibly his race, most likely scared the s--t out a lot of old-school hockey fans. In his time in Montreal, phrases used to describe him included, “He doesn’t play the game the right way,” “Too flashy,” and my favorite “That kid has no respect for the game.”
In American sports, we’re used to such language when describing black athletes who’ve upset the status quo. Muhammad Ali getting knocked out by Joe Frazier and Cam Newton’s performance in Carolina’s Super Bowl loss are examples of moments that were celebrated by many who feel that certain black athletes have gotten too uppity.
After all the shame Subban got from hockey purists, he became too popular to hold down. The hockey community saw the writing on the wall. Subban was poised to have the same influence on hockey that Allen Iverson had on basketball.
If white, suburbanite basketball fans cringed when they saw Iverson’s cornrows and tattoos on the court, you can imagine what was said when Subban would celebrate after scoring a goal.
The game of hockey is unpredictable in nature.
Earlier in the season, Subban turned over the puck within the opposing team’s blue line, which caused the other team to convert his miscue into the game-winning goal. Coach Michel Therrien’s post-game presser pretty much blamed Subban for the loss.
“We played hard, played a solid game, (it’s) too bad an individual mistake cost us the game late in the game,” Therrien told reporters. “As a coach I thought he could have had a better decision at the blue-line… and he put himself in a tough position.”
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
Pretty interesting how a coach in a sport that frowns upon individuality would play that card when he saw fit to put them on blast.
Also, team captain Max Pacioretty was on the ice as well.
When that happens, what is a player supposed to think? They would probably think that the coach will stab me in the back in a way that Jaime Lannister would be proud of. At any rate, Subban’s trade was in the works way before we could imagine.
When the news broke of Subban being traded from Montreal to Nashville, it had nothing to do with hockey. What general manager in their right mind would trade a player in his prime who had won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman, for a player who is still elite but heading toward the twilight of their career? A team who wanted to dump a guy who had gotten too uppity for their liking, that’s who.
When an athlete and a team parts ways, smack talk on both sides after the fact comes with the territory. Team General Manager Marc Bergevin told reporters, “Yes P.K.’s different, we’re not going to hide that, but there was never an issue, never a problem.”
But there’s been documented instances where teammates, fellow players, fans, former players and hockey analysts have all taken shots at Subban.
Unlike most pro athletes, Subban did everything possible to ingratiate himself to the Montreal community. He donated $10 million to a local hospital, played in random pickup games with children and he made an attempt to learn French, Quebec’s native language.
That doesn’t sound like a me-first guy.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
Maybe Subban knew after he didn't win the NHL’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy, the award presented to the player who exhibits leadership on and off the ice and has contributed to the community. I did just mention that he donated a lot dough to a hospital, right? Afterwards, he continued to visit the hospital periodically.
After all, the Canadiens’ motives look pretty shady after they just signed a player who has a history of reneging on contracts.
The perceived knocks on Subban may have filtered into the reasons why he didn’t play much in the Sochi Olympics and why he was left off of Canada’s roster for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.
Subban’s trade is a microcosm of why the NHL often lags behind the rest of the world’s sports leagues in popularity. Their salary cap structure, which is meant to keep its teams honest in the spirit of competition, penalizes championship teams like the Chicago Blackhawks who give up key players on an annual basis once they become good.
Also, the NHL not taking the TV deal from ESPN looks bad in hindsight. Most of their games are on the NBC Sports, where the NHL has become an afterthought behind NASCAR and The Barclays Premier League.
Like the rest of the NHL, especially the purists, they will have to be dragged out of the dark ages kicking and screaming.
I’m not sure if they realize this, but more Subban’s are coming.