It’s good to see with each passing day that the Montreal Canadiens are being exposed for the dog whistle tactics used to get rid of star defenseman P.K. Subban.
The Canadiens’ loss has been the Nashville Predators’ gain.
And they’ve used that to end up in the Stanley Cup Final.
As I’ve said in previous Shadow League columns, the constant critiques of Subban, a former Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman, comes from three places: racial, generation, cultural.
The Canadiens dumping of such an elite player was in lockstep of what hockey culture, particularly Canadians, want from the players they’ve put up on a pedestal.
This is the reason why players such as Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews are revered, and why former players such as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux are living legends in the sport. They don’t say much, they are perceived as team players, these are they guys whom they want to have a beer with and let their daughters date. More importantly, they represent everything that is right about hockey in Canada.
To some in hockey culture, Subban will never be perceived that way. In that realm, you can beat women, abuse drugs/alcohol and get the benefit of a doubt when sexual assault/rape allegations are reported.
But there’s one thing you can never do -- be seen as an outsider.
Subban is often seen as brash, as a bad teammate because he is an unapologetic individual and reminiscent to what is seen in the NBA. As you may have noticed, hockey fans love to take shots at the NBA. As someone who is an observer of both sports, I believe the smack talk has racial undertones. The talk of what NBA players make, along with questioning their hustle and their pain thresholds has a lot of dog whistle rhetoric to it.
Remember how Allen Iverson was treated by fans and media because of the culture shock he brought to the NBA? That’s what Subban has brought to hockey. And some fans hate him for it. But along the way, Subban has developed a cult following of people from all races and backgrounds similar to Iverson and Marshawn Lynch.
During the playoffs, NBC Sports hockey analyst Mike Milbury called Subban a “clown” for dancing during the pregame warmups. Remember, this is the same Milbury who went into the stands to fight a fan during a game as player.
He hit someone with a shoe.
And he didn’t say anything when his NBC Sports colleague Jeremy Roenick often danced after scoring goals and after big victories.
Here’s a running list of things that has happened since Subban was traded to the Predators:
Subban was a part of the blue line that completely embarrassed the Chicago Blackhawks, a Stanley Cup contender, in a four game sweep.
The Predators are playing in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Canadiens lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Their coach Michel Therrien, who often publically threw Sabban under the bus, was fired.
In case you missed it or ignored it, here’s some of the things he had to deal with in his time in Montreal:
Being constantly questioned by Canadiens coaching and team legends.
Canadiens fans showing up to game in blackface while wearing his jersey.
A Canadian Olympic team fan showed up in Russia wearing blackface.
Constant dog whistle comments from fans/media.
He was mysteriously left off Canada’s World Cup team.
Racism from Boston sports fans (Stop me if you’ve heard that one before).
Black men in spaces historically occupied by white men are often up for debate. Mainly because white-dominated media don’t know what to make of him.
I’m not sure what hockey purists want from Subban. He didn’t complain when he barely played in the Sochi, Russia Olympics games. He was often seen taking pictures with his teammates.
It shows that no matter how much Subban conformed, or how much money he donated to a Montreal children’s hospital, he was never going to be one of the old time hockey boys. Take that however you like but the Canadiens’ passive aggressive behavior made their feelings for Subban known.
There’s very few circumstances that a player in his prime is traded for another player in Shea Weber, who is still an elite blueliner, but an aging one for on the ice reasons. Even Montreal fans saw through that.
After the Predators won the Western Conference Final, Subban told the press that he had “moved on.” I get why he would say that. However, a little bit of him has to be enjoying this.
Seeing the tears fall from his face during his first game back in Montreal showed that the trade was indeed personal. And who would blame him for feeling that way? Or maybe the tears were his way of providing closure.
Subban’s clap back has been fun to see. And it seems like his teammates have used something similar to propel them on their current playoff run.
If you’ve watched the Predators during the playoffs, they skate like they don’t give shit, but in a good way. They have something that most teams would kill for -- top two defenseman pairings that are fast and physical. In playoff hockey, that’s something that can change the trajectory of any team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
And it’s not a surprise that Subban, a player who was discarded in dramatic fashion, and a team that feels disrespected by hockey purists in the Predators, would use those feelings as motivation.
This season has been great for those who want to see diversity in the NHL.
Between Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who won the NHL All-Star Game MVP award this season and Subban, along with Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley being a key figure in a possible back-to-back Stanley Cup championship run, 2017 has been a banner year for brothers on the ice thus far.
Seeing all of those young and gifted black hockey players ought to remind folks, especially the people who’ve used coded language to mask their hatred for Subban, of an exchange in the 1995 film, “Canadian Bacon” when actor Kevin O’Connor’s character “Roy Boy” had an exchange with Bill Nunn’s character “Kabral” when he asked, “How come you never see any black guys playing hockey?”
Kabral aptly replied. “Now do you think it's easy to just gradually take over every professional sport? Let me tell you something, man. Brothers have started figuring out this ice thing. Hope you enjoyed it!”
It seems like the NHL and their fans are enjoying Kabral’s prophetic statement.
Ultimately, P.K. Subban turns out not to be person and player the Canadiens said he was: a bad teammate who only thought of himself and a player who took chances in his defensive zone. He also made himself a willing ambassador for the city of Nashville that has a growing fanbase.
Hoisting the Stanley Cup after he was tossed aside less than a year later would be one of the greatest clapbacks in sports history.
Let's hope the Canadiens and the hockey purists get what they deserve.