MONTREAL, QC — The Montreal Canadiens have distanced themselves from a PR-nightmare that was the Pierre Gauthier administration. However, there are rumblings around the league that the Canadiens are holding back P.K. Subban to help them in contract talks at the end of this season.
Bob McKenzie has said that he has heard that people are thinking this. He also tweeted that he personally disagrees with the thoughts.
We hear a lot that Subban is a defensive liability because of the thinking that he is offensive minded and a person can’t be defensively sound if he takes as many chances as Subban does. I looked back in internet history to see how this started, and frankly, I came up with nothing.
Let’s go back to Subban’s start in the NHL. He was recalled for the playoffs in the 2009-2010 season after the Canadiens blueline was hit hard with injuries. The team ended up making it to the third round of the playoffs that year and Subban didn’t look out of place there after dominating the American Hockey League.
In 2010-2011, he made his NHL regular season debut that was full of ups and downs. He was a healthy scratch for a three-game stretch in December after a torrid start and if Jacques Martin makes you a healthy scratch, it is probably because he thinks your defensive awareness is not the greatest. Remember, this is also when the league was taking jabs at Subban’s attitude notably with Mike Richards calling him too cocky for a rookie.
That same season, Subban actually was third on the team in shorthanded time on ice, surprising when you consider that he hardly sees the ice 4 vs 5 right now. He played 185:03 at 4 vs 5 behind only Hal Gill and Brent Sopel. And his Corsi defensive rating (from Hockey Analysis.com) was a team-best 12.9* (which means that he was 12.9 percent less likely to allow a short handed shot attempt on net when he was on the ice as opposed to his teammates). Not too bad for a rookie.
*Among players with at least 100 minutes shorthanded
The next year, 2011-12, Subban was behind only Josh Gorges in shorthanded time on ice at 199:18). And, once again he was the top defenceman at 22.3. Only Lars Eller was better on the team at preventing shots on the net among players with 100 minutes shorthanded. Again, this doesn’t look like someone who should be sitting on the bench when shorthanded.
However, last year, he played only 57:39 while shorthanded last year – Michel Therrien‘s first – and was behind Gorges, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and Davis Drewiske among defencemen. When he was on the ice, he had a rating of 17.3 which was second on the team, and top defencemen among players with 50 minutes or more while shorthanded. So even in limited time in the Michel Therrien era, Subban was the best shorthanded defenceman.
It begs to question as to why. Why was Subban called upon so much under Martin and Randy Cunneyworth and why did it stop under Therrien despite his success in that role? The whispers from McKenzie may have some weight. Because despite winning the Norris trophy last year, a lot of people look at Subban as an offence-first defenceman. The fact that there is even a question for his spot on Canada’s Olympic team beg the question as to why and how the whispers exist despite both advanced and basic statistics pointing in Subban’s favour.
Subban’s treatment from Therrien has been put under more scrutiny lately. If the team continues to struggle, you can imagine that will only increase. There is no real evidence to suggest that the Canadiens are trying to de-value Subban, but there is no significant hockey reason to explain why Subban’s minutes at even strength and shorthanded are as low as they are.