On P.K. Subban and Goal Celebrations

After scoring the game winning goal in the Buffalo Sabres’ overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, Jason Pominville dropped to one knee and executed a textbook fist pump while gliding into a throng of his teammates. There’s no readily available video of the veteran forward’s celebration, and there’s no stories about it this morning. If you subscribe to the doctrine of people like Mike Richards or Don Cherry then you probably should have found Jason Pominville’s mini celebration to be disrespectful in some way… or would you?

What we’re getting at here is this foolish notion that an NHL player must conduct himself in a way that adheres to some unwritten code of respect. Pominville’s quick fist pump on Tuesday will go unnoticed, presumably because he’s got 6+ years of NHL service and thus earned this respect that so many speak of.

It was Flyers captain Mike Richards’ comments in November that turned the watchful eye of hockey dinosaur types on P.K. Subban.

“He’s come in the league and hasn’t earned respect… You have to earn respect in this League. It takes a lot.”

Subban has come under fire once again, from some, after his flashy celebration following his first career overtime winner over the Calgary Flames on Monday night. It was a big goal, a game winner, but has still managed to draw a mixed reaction from the hockey world. Vicki Hall of Flames Insider sung the familiar chorus of the traditionalist:

“The rookie hogged it again Monday night with an attention-grabbing goal celebration that flies in the face of the philosophy of acting like you’ve been there before.”

Subban’s own coach, Jacques Martin, even made a mention of a learning process that the rookie defencemen is still riding the curve of.

So why are we examining this? To be completely honest, I’d much rather refrain from taking the time to call out the stiffs that are hellbent on removing all forms of fun from the NHL. But something’s got me irked over what is quickly beginning to look more and more like a double standard for P.K. Subban and other young players. Not since the arrival of Sidney Crosby have we seen so much bickering over the concept of respect for the game and its players. While he had no problem with Monday’s goal celebration, Buffalo’s Craig Rivet did go out of his way to comment on the way that Subban acts.

Never mind that Boston’s Zdeno Chara completed a hat-trick by going up on the Carolina Hurricanes by a score of 7-0 and then proceeded to pay homage to Peter Bondra with a celebration at centre ice – but let’s pick on Subban because guys like Chara and Pominville have obviously already earned respect.

The idea that Subban should have apologized, or that there’s no place in the game for his antics is as foolish as it is dated. He’s an exciting player that will one day be a big part of “selling” the game, more so than Mike Richards or Craig Rivet could ever be. If Subban’s sliding fist pumping deserved any scrutiny, then why wasn’t the same criticism launched at Taylor Hall when he engaged in an almost identical fist pumping game winning goal celebration back in November?

The bottom line is this: players who bring excitement and energy to the game like P.K. Subban, Taylor Hall, Patrick Kane, and Alex Ovechkin will do much more good for the game than bad over the course of their careers. If we allow them to be stifled and rob them of personality then we’re just stalling the growth of this game.

Embrace the celebration like Carey Price and P.K. Subban embrace each other.