By the Rule of Trophy, P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens was the best defenseman in the NHL last season. Subban won the Norris Trophy, which is awarded to the best defenseman. It’s a simple rule to follow.
Based on the way Subban has been deployed late in recent games this season, coach Michel Therrien doesn’t seem to care about that rule I just invented. Instead of seeing Subban as one of the game’s top defensemen, Therrien appears to view Subban as a liability who should be nowhere near close games in the final minutes.
The Norris Trophy is awarded by a group of people that Never Played The Game, so perhaps the opinion that Subban is the best defenseman isn’t shared by Hockey People like Therrien. Maybe Therrien wishes Subban were better, but the feeling that a player always can be better is baseline thinking by coaches and players alike, but it’s important to not let it warp your view of the player.
For instance, you should never let yourself believe Douglas Murray is a better defenseman than P.K. Subban.
The numbers – those stupid numbers nerds like myself use to help understand how a player is doing – show Subban is playing like one of the best defensemen in the NHL this season. He’s second in scoring among blueliners with 3 goals and 15 points in 16 games. His possession numbers in close situations are through the roof. Even his giveaways are down ever so slightly this season.
If you look at advanced stats, fancy stats, archaic stats, prehistoric stats or statistical stats, Subban is having a very similar season to the one he had last year when a bunch of writers deemed him to be the best defenseman in the league. No matter how you want to parse the numbers or how you wish he could be better in certain areas, Subban is one of the best defensemen in the NHL.
Yet in some recent games, Therrien has been gluing Subban to the bench in crunch time. Therrien hasn’t come out and said the words, but he suddenly doesn’t trust Subban to protect a lead or in tie games and would prefer Murray played those minutes.
On Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues, Subban didn’t get a shift in the final 4:38 of the third period with the game tied 2-2. Once a point was secured, Subban was granted a pair of shifts in overtime.
Did Subban do anything to deserve the short leash against the Blues? On Chris Stewart’s tying goal in the third period, he was locked onto his man and definitely not at fault. Was Subban hurt? He was rocked into the boards by Ryan Reaves (drawing a penalty) with six minutes remaining, but he was right there on the ensuing power play and took the ice again in overtime.
On Oct. 30, the Canadiens beat the Stars 2-1. Subban received just one shift over the final 5:18 of the game.
Two days earlier, Subban had just one shift over the final 4:17 of regulation in a 2-0 Canadiens win against the Rangers. The Habs scored both of their goals over the final 3:26, so clearly Subban held his own during the first 55 minutes of a 0-0 game. Subban’s possession numbers from this contest were pretty fantastic.
In a 4-1 victory against the Ducks on Oct. 25, Subban received just one shift over the final five minutes of a game that wasn’t really even in doubt at that point. You could throw Luke Schenn out there with a three-goal lead and even he couldn’t botch that in five minutes.
So how and why did Therrien lose faith in Subban’s ability? When did Therrien decide that Subban was a liability in close games?
Perhaps Subban is being punished for a poor game against the Oilers on Oct. 22, or at the very least, his subpar game did something to shatter Therrien’s view of Subban.
The Habs jumped to a 2-0 lead but lost 4-3 at home to one of the league’s worst teams. Ales Hemsky scored to make it 2-1 as Subban looked like he was caught in between attacking Hemsky and staying with a cutting Mark Arcobello. On Ladislav Smid’s tying goal, Subban was late getting out to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, whose shot turned into Smid’s rebound goal. It’s hard to say Subban should’ve been that high in the zone to take Nugent-Hopkins, but maybe Therrien has a different opinion.
Ryan Jones made it 4-2 midway through the third period, and Subban was just jumping onto the ice after a neutral-zone turnover by the Canadiens. Could Subban have taken a different path to the net in order to contain Jones? Could he have been more physical with Jones? Maybe, but that would be some serious picking of the nits.
Montreal would lose 4-3, and it’s fair to say Subban didn’t have a great game. Even if you want to say Subban was flat-out terrible on this night, guess what – even the best defenseman in the NHL can have a bad game now and then. The strange thing is this game seems to have been the catalyst for Therrien losing faith in Subban.
One game prior, Subban was on the ice for Seth Jones’ game-winner for the Predators with 1:27 remaining. But it was Travis Moen, not Subban, who turned the puck over along the wall and was beaten like a drum on the play.
So what gives? Why is Subban not playing the game’s most important minutes?
Therrien was given a chance to clear the air Wednesday and was asked about Subban’s late-game ice time: “I won’t comment on the ice time of any player.”
Well, don’t complain when people speculate about why Subban is being used in this manner.
Let us now speculate why Subban is being used in this manner.
There are some people around the league and in the media who have seen Therrien’s usage of Subban in recent games and believe it is connected to upcoming contract negotiations with Subban. If you’ll recall, general manager Marc Bergevin in his infinite wisdom gave Subban a bridge contract (aka You Are My Hostage And Will Take What We Give You Contract) two years ago and now Subban will cost more than the team would like after winning the Norris last year.
So instead of deploying Subban like the elite defenseman that he is, Therrien is now deploying Subban like a defenseman he doesn’t trust. And if your coach doesn’t trust you, how can the team pay you $7 million per season? “Your client wants to be paid like Drew Doughty and Kris Letang, but come on. We can’t put him on the ice late in close games, so here’s an offer that pays him $5.5 million instead.”
That’s a pretty elaborate conspiracy theory. Therrien would be gambling his job and valuable points in close games every time he treats Subban like a seventh defenseman. It’s not as though the team and Subban’s agent are planning to begin negotiations on his next contract any time soon.
Oh wait! Contract negotiations could begin next week! What a coincidence it seems.
In reality, it’s simply Therrien inexplicably not trusting Subban. It’s Therrien treating Subban like a 19-year-old rookie after he makes a mistake as opposed to treating him like a 24-year-old Norris winner who is capable of excelling in high-leverage situations.
I may have Never Played The Game (above the level of intramural roller hockey at Rutgers) and I may not be a Hockey Person (literally the dumbest term in hockey) but I have eyes and they are smart and pretty eyes and they tell me Subban is easily one of the five best defensemen in the league. The motivation for Therrien to use Subban like he has doesn’t matter. It’s a mistake, plain and simple, and will hurt the Canadiens over the long term if it continues.
And if Subban ever decides he doesn’t want to sign a long-term contract with a team that doesn’t believe in his obvious abilities, there are 29 other teams that would be happy to sign him when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016 or swing a deal for him this summer. Heck, Subban is probably good enough at this point where a … GASP … offer sheet will come his way this summer if the Habs try to low-ball him again.
Here are some stray thoughts about hockey.
* Claude Giroux has zero goals in 14 games. That translates into zero goals in 308 minutes, 34 seconds of ice time. Just how futile is that? Last season, Zenon Konopka had zero goals in 37 games and 312:08 of ice time. John Scott had zero goals in 34 games and 185:06 of ice time. In essence, Giroux’s 2013-14 season has him scoring at Konopka-ian and Scott-ian levels. Maybe it’s time Giroux started dropping the gloves and contributing with fights that fire up the boys.
* If the season ended today, the Los Angeles Kings would not be a playoff team. Based on their points percentage, which is .600, they are the ninth-best team in the ridiculously loaded Western Conference. Plopping the Kings in the Metro would make them the second-best team in the ridiculously terrible division. The Kings should make up the ground, as they’ve only played five games vs. Eastern teams this season while the the teams they are chasing in the West have played between seven and 11 games vs. the East.
* It’s really great that Manny Malhotra is back and scored that OT winner for the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. His return to the lineup in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final for the Canucks remains one of the few instances where I got chills while in the building. You can stick the Blackhawks’ national anthems in your pipe and set the pipe on fire and throw the pipe in the garbage. The reaction when Malhotra took the ice before the game and later for his first shift was great.
THREE LETTERS: Intent to blow, Rangers, hockey road trip
What is your take on what happened in the Sharks-Sabres game? It looks like the Sharks got screwed. Is there anything the NHL can do to rectify this?
Plain and simple, the Sharks got screwed. “Intent to blow” shouldn’t apply here, unless Mike Leggo has some sort of motor skill problem that causes a two-second delay in deciding he wants to blow the whistle and blowing the actual whistle. But the NHL can always point to “intent to blow” to cover mistakes, which is what happened here.
The weird thing is it’s a situation on the ice where the mistake is understandable. Neither the Sharks broadcast nor the Sabres broadcast showed a replay directly after the stoppage. Leggo had no angle to see the puck cross the goal line and it wasn’t his fault. It happens sometimes. And Tyler Myers made his best play in three years, smoothly kicking the puck out of the net in such a discreet way that it’s downright commendable.
The real mistake lies in the situation room in Toronto. The NHL gets to see all the overhead shots in every arena, so it doesn’t so much matter that replays during the broadcast showed nothing. Despite all that, there’s a chance that even if Toronto had called San Jose and got Mike Leggo on the phone, he would’ve played the “intent to blow” card and the goal wouldn’t have counted anyway.
The NFL allows fumble recoveries even after a whistle has blown if replay shows it’s clear the other team recovered the ball. The NHL needs a similar rule for situations like this. “Intent to blow” shouldn’t be a thing at this point.
Have the Rangers figured it out or are they still a bad team in your eyes?
I’m answering this before seeing them play the Penguins on Wednesday night, but I think they’re going to be fine. I thought they were the second-best team in the Metro before the season and I still feel that way now.
As of the time my fingers are tickling this keyboard, they are 6-8-0. Since a three-game stretch where they lost to the Sharks, Ducks and Blues by a combined 20-5 margin, they are 5-4-0. They really haven’t played a bad game since losing to the Blues on Oct. 12. Their problem has been offense, as Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin have all missed extended time. But with Callahan and Hagelin back and Derek Stepan getting up to speed, the Rangers averaged nearly 40 shots per game in the three games leading up to the Penguins contest.
The Rangers are also 5-3-0 against the East and 1-5-0 against the West. Once the Rangers start getting a steady diet of Eastern Conference foes, they’ll be in a playoff position.
I really love you on Twitter and the Bag Skates are awesome. Me and my friends want to take a week-long road trip and see as many hockey games as possible. Do you have any suggestions for where to go and what to see? We want to take a week’s vacation and drive to as many destinations as we can. Where would you go if you were us?
Dylan, San Francisco
Boy do I love this question. I like having power over people’s vacations. I’m going to assume you don’t want to start the road trip in Northern California, as that’s a long way to go to see a second team outside the Sharks. Here’s how I’d map it out if I were you and had no travel or financial restrictions.
You want to fly to Toronto. The Leafs host the Bruins on Thursday, April 3. You’re going West to East, so fly out early Wednesday, take in the city that night and the next day and hit the game. Oh, you’re going to want to rent a car when you land.
The next morning, you’re going to take the six-hour drive to Montreal. You’re going to party your brains out Friday night, then you’re going to see the Red Wings play the Canadiens on Saturday night. It’s going to be awesome.
Now that you’ve gotten your partying in Montreal and Toronto out of your system, it’s time to commit to the road trip.
You’re going to get in your car Saturday night and drive all the way the through to Chicago for the Blackhawks’ game against the Blues on Sunday. It’s about a 13-hour drive, so no drinking Saturday and make sure you drive in shifts. If you leave Montreal at 11 p.m., you should be able to roll into Chicago around 1 or 2 p.m. You will sleep in your car for four hours and go to the United Center. You will be so delirious you won’t need to drink beer.
There are only three games Monday, so check yourself into a Chicago hotel post game and get some sleep. You’ve earned it.
Your next game on the trip is a Bruins-Wild game in Minneapolis on Wednesday. It’s a seven-hour drive, but it’ll feel like a massage after that Montreal-Chicago leg.
Your trip will end as you cross back into Canada for a Thursday night game in Winnipeg between the Jets and Bruins. Yeah, you’re seeing a lot of Bruins hockey on this trip, but you’re trying to see games in great buildings. That’s a good five games in seven-plus days with a little rest in the middle of it. You can always cut it short after the fourth game. You fly home from Winnipeg or Minneapolis exhausted.
(E-mail me questions for next week’s Bag Skate by e-mailing me questions to the e-mail address dave111177 at gmail dot com with questions)