Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Contract, Olympics won't distract Subban
By Pierre LeBrun
Watch a game at the Bell Centre with a blindfold on and you'll know who has the puck by the buzz in the crowd. As the sense of anticipation grows, you picture people getting out of their seats, waiting to see what happens next.
By then, you know that defenseman P.K. Subban is on one of those rushes up the ice. It’s one thing to watch on TV, but it’s a different sensory experience to be in the rink itself.
When it's one of the better rushes that electrifies the crowd, the chants of "P.K., P.K., P.K." come cascading down from the rafters of the Bell Centre.
The reigning Norris Trophy winner, who once again leads all NHL defensemen in scoring early this season with 11 points (2-9) in nine games, has tried to tone down some of the antics that aggravated traditional hockey people when he entered the league. But at the end of the day, he only knows how to play the game one way.
P.K. Subban's work with the puck excites Montreal fans, but his style rubs some others the wrong way.
"I still play the same game that I played when I was 16 years old in Belleville [OHL]," Subban told ESPN.com this week. "The difference now is that I'm 24, not 16; I'm into my fourth NHL season, I have some experience under my belt, I've played for multiple coaches now, I'm just a little bit older and that helps you.
"But in terms of how I play my game, I haven't changed much. I've grown as a person, I think I've matured a little bit, and I still have more maturing to do just like most players, especially young players. But I still play the game like I always have."
He's a polarizing figure, to be sure. Bring up his name with hockey people around the league and you get two extremes in opinions. Some absolutely love his explosive game and the way he backs up opposing teams and impacts games, while some old-school folks don't appreciate what they believe is an over-the-top, "flamboyant" demeanor on the ice, as one scout put it to ESPN.com.
His Norris Trophy nod last season created mixed reactions around the league. There are people who believe Ryan Suter should have won, pointing out in particular that Subban didn't kill a lot of penalties last season and didn't have the kind of all-around season that Suter had in Minnesota.
On the other hand, it's hardly new territory that a blueliner with a big offensive season won the Norris; that's often been the case in the past. But there's no question the last thing Subban himself expected was a Norris Trophy so early in his career.
"You know what, I didn't [expect it], I have to be honest with you," 24-year-old Subban said. "Especially last year, the first game of the year comes and I'm sitting on my couch without a contract. The last thing on my mind was that I was going to come back and win the Norris. But when I look at it, and look at my preparation for last season, I believe I prepared better than most players.
"Even though I missed the first two weeks of the season, I was in tip-top shape," Subban continued. "I worked out twice a day, skating every day, throughout the whole lockout. I was in peak condition. When I hit the ice, I’m sure a lot of people thought I would be coming in out of shape because I was sitting at home waiting for my contract and that I wouldn't be sharp; they were wrong, I was sharp and I was ready and I was in good shape."
Subban tied for the NHL lead among defensemen with 38 points (11-27) in 42 games while sporting a plus-12 rating and playing 23:14 a game. He missed the first six games of the season because of a contract dispute with the Habs, one in which the dividing line was Subban wanting a long-term deal and general manager Marc Bergevin standing firm that Subban's second contract would be a short one, just like Carey Price and Max Pacioretty.
Both Price and Pacioretty signed two-year deals out of their entry-level years before getting longer-term security with their third contracts. In the end, Subban also submitted.
The flip side now is that Subban and powerful agent Don Meehan of Newport Sports will have a Norris Trophy under their belt when the two-year deal expires after this season. The Newport firm has negotiated long-term deals for other young blueliners such as Drew Doughty ($7 million per year), Erik Karlsson ($6.5 million) and Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5 million), so you can imagine where the conversation will begin when the two sides get serious in talks.
Winning the Norris Trophy could soon give Subban millions more reasons to smile.
"To be honest with you, I'm just focused on playing hockey and not worrying about anything," Subban said. "I don't know what the plan is from the hockey team's perspective, I haven't heard much. But at the end of the day, it's something I don't really think about too much. I have more than enough trust in Donnie to make sure something is put in place that we’re comfortable with.
"But we've got lots of time for that. At the end of the day, my focus has to be on hockey. If Montreal comes to me with something, then we’ll sit and talk. As of right now, I'm just focused on hockey and I haven't heard much. And this is probably the most I've said about it all year. I'm just going to continue to play."
There’s another debate percolating around Subban, too, involving his potential place on Team Canada.
"Geez, he's an awful good player. I don't know how he’s not on that team," one Western Conference team executive said.
On one hand, how can you not want a player with his dynamic skating ability on the larger international ice? On the flip side, there's concern among some about Subban's high-risk style of play in a tournament where the smallest mistakes can be the difference between winning and losing.
Certainly, Subban fits right in that discussion near the top choices.
"It's a good problem to have if you're Team Canada," Subban said. "They have so many players to pick from. Obviously I want to be on the team, I've won gold medals while playing for my country before [world juniors], all I can do is hope for it. But there's a lot of great players to choose from."
All things being equal, it seems hard to imagine that if Subban is leading all NHL blueliners in scoring, or close to it, come mid-December, that he won't somehow be among the eight D-men in Sochi for Canada.
"At the end of the day, Steve Yzerman has played a long time in the NHL, he's one of the most respected players to play the game, he's had a great career, and he's a very smart and intelligent individual," Subban said. "All I can do is play my game, do the best that I can, and hope that I get the opportunity to represent my country.
"A lot of people will say to me, 'Well, P.K., you won the Norris Trophy, there's no way you can't be on the team.' Well, at the end of the day, I don't make those decisions, I don't look into those things. All I can do is help my team win every night and hopefully I get noticed. I don't pick the team."
And Subban insists it won’t affect his play one iota.
"I don't have many distractions," Subban said. "Would there have been a bigger distraction last year than coming in six games late with our team 5-1 and I'm back from a contract negotiation? I'm sure you can imagine what the distractions would have been in Montreal at that point. But it never bothered me.
"I highly doubt that the selection of Team Canada will bother me, either."
Subban does know for sure that there's nowhere else he'd rather be.
"It's a very special place playing in Montreal," he said. "It doesn't matter how my day went or how I felt coming to the rink. The moment we come out to start the game, it's like you're in a different world. It's unbelievable. It's a feeling you can only experience playing in Montreal. Every time I step on that ice it gives me energy."