For PK Subban, last season represented his compelling debut into NHL superstardom. After a contract dispute forced him to miss the first six games of the season he returned to play the best hockey of his career. His work earned him a Norris Trophy, but the hardware was hardly the most impressive aspect of Subban’s 2013 season. It was his dominance, his ability to take over games in the way that only the most elite NHL players can.
Last season was a proving point for Subban. He was not only trying to prove his worth to those around the NHL who criticized his style but his own team as well. Early last season it was clear new coach Michel Therrien did not fully trust Subban. He played the young defenceman against lesser competition while relying on others to swallow the big minutes. However, approaching the midway point of last season that was no longer an option due to Subban’s incredible play, and his performance wasn’t affected as he lined up against the opposition’s best.
But more than any other player last season it seemed that Subban’s performance had an asterisks attached to it. The shortened season was obviously a part of that asterisk, but it didn’t seem to come up in discussions about who was the Stanley Cup Champion or who won the Hart Trophy. Sure many felt John Tavares deserved the Hart more than Alex Ovechkin, but it didn’t feel like the award had any less value to it despite its less than notable presentation.
The major part of the asterisk attached to Subban’s Norris was the fact that the player widely considered the best defenceman in the league was out with injury for the majority of the season. Erik Karlsson had just come off an inspiring 78 point season and was having a solid follow up season before a freak accident cut it short. As a result, Subban’s Norris Trophy was seen as won by default.
Curious, isn’t it, that nobody put a theoretical astericks next to Martin St. Louis’s Art Ross Trophy because Sidney Crosby was injured. This is the kind of mistreatment that has surrounded Subban from the minute his flashy personality connected with NHL ice. It’s the kind of prejudice that saw many in the hockey community leave Subban off their projected Team Canada roster, a team he should not only make but for whom he should play a significant role.
But it’s not just the Norris Trophy. Subban has always seemed to have some sort of astericks attached to him. It’s as if people’s view of his personality and energetic playing style cloud over his talent. If Drew Doughty or Alex Pietrangelo were doing the same thing they would be heroes. Subban is still seen as an unproven villain.
Well what people have to say never seems to affect Subban, who has already started the first draft of his compelling sequel. For him this season is just as important a proving point as the last. He has 2 goals and 8 assists after his first eight games, good enough to place him in a six was tie for sixth in NHL scoring. The closest defenceman to him is two points behind. Yes, it’s early in the season and points aren’t everything to a defender but surely it was goals and assists that made Erik Karlsson the second coming of Bobby Orr.
Subban certainly still has many flaws. With the high tempo, high energy game he plays it creates a sort of live by the sword die by the sword scenario. A perfect example of this came earlier this season when Montreal was playing the Calgary Flames. Subban singlehandedly mounted a comeback for the Canadiens before destroying their chances to complete it with an overzealous crosschecking penalty.
Defence has become a perceived flaw with Subban, but observation and statistics dictate otherwise. A large part of this argument is the fact that he isn’t played significantly on the penalty kill, usually a sign of defensive ability. That is less a testament to Subban’s apparent lack of defensive abilities but more attests to the talents of Josh Gorges, Andrei Markov and Raphael Diaz as penalty killer. Plus, his energetic play is such that he is often the player sitting in the box.
Could Subban be the best defender in the league at the moment? It is impossible to tell. A larger sample size is definitely required before any real comparison with Erik Karlsson and his contemporaries can be made. Subban just hasn’t shown enough of the high level at which he is currently playing to make it clear that this can be consistent. If it can there is a solid case to be made.
What no longer is a solid case is the argument that PK Subban is an overrated powerplay specialist. That is an argument formulated simply from looking at his statistics through biased lenses. Watching Subban on a regular basis reveals just how good he is at all facets of the game. Many a time has he compensated for the old legs which have been known to plague Andrei Markov. There is a reason Markov’s game tightened up towards the end of last year when he was paired with Subban.
Some chalk it up to racism. Others say it is because of the swagger Subban exhibits every time he steps on the ice. Either way, Subban’s performances and talent are belittled due to a hatred of his personality and the way he plays. It’s time to leave past opinions behind and stop dismissing one of the league’s best. Because if not you might just miss one of this generations greatest talents.
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