How Feud with Michel Therrien Will Affect PK Subban's Impending Contract Talks

Lyle FitzsimmonsFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2013

ST. PAUL, MN - NOVEMBER 1: P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates after scoring a goal against the Minnesota Wild during the game on November 1, 2013 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
Bruce Kluckhohn/Getty Images

The older Montreal Canadiens fans in the room will remember the sequence after 18 years.

Goaltender Patrick Roy is left twisting in the goal crease for a little longer than he likes during a rout by the Detroit Red Wings. Upon finally being rescued by coach Mario Tremblay, Roy steps past his coach, leans toward the team president and tells him, “this is my last game (here).”

He’s suspended the next day, traded within a week and leads his new team—the Colorado Avalanche—to the Stanley Cup about six months later. Tremblay, incidentally, lasted another season behind the bench and has yet to get another such gig in the NHL.

Now, to be fair, nothing of that variety may ever occur with today’s version of Les Habitants.

But while inferences of a rift between this year’s coach, Michel Therrien, and this year’s star player, reigning Norris Trophy winner PK Subban, are just that, you can’t blame faithful wearers of le bleu, blanc et rouge for cringing when they realize where these things can end up.

And after nearly two decades of relative league-wide irrelevance since the Roy trade, you also can’t fault them for wondering what the potential departure of another young star—Subban is a restricted free agent at the end of 2013-14—could mean for the next 20 years.

Though he’s certainly not on the level after three full seasons in Montreal that Roy had reached after 10, it’s no colossal stretch to suggest Subban, at age 24, is among the best players as his position—compared to league-wide colleagues—that the Habs have had in a generation.

He scored 14 goals in his initial NHL tour of duty in 2010-11, averaged nearly a point per game in an abbreviated schedule last season and is clearly in the mix to make the final roster for Team Canada as it heads into the Winter Olympics in Russia in just three months' time.

Nonetheless, Therrien intermittently seems less than impressed, particularly while he’s within range of reporters from the Globe and Mail, the country’s self-proclaimed “national newspaper.”

“He’s able to contribute goals and points offensively,” Therrien said last week. “We have a team concept in our organization, that we follow and that we believe in. It’s our team concept that will get us to the playoffs, and it’s our team concept that will allow to progress as a team.”

The ante was upped further when the conversation centered on Subban’s candidacy for the national team, which yielded remarks many have construed as another Therrien snub.

“It’s not for me to say. I’m in charge of the Montreal Canadiens,” he said. “Whether I see him (as a world-class player) or not, my opinion doesn’t change anything.”

Naturally, a myriad of conclusions can be drawn from such a sequence of cryptic contact.

Perhaps Therrien, a career minor-leaguer before transitioning behind the bench, is just a gruff guy. Perhaps he doesn’t feel the need for a wordy love affair with his star player through the media. Or perhaps he’s employing an old-school method to motivate a new-school underling.

All are feasible, albeit dull, compared to the compelling conspiracy theory of the day, which suggests the Canadiens are intentionally devaluing their biggest asset—through both words and adjusted roles on the ice (less time on the penalty kill, etc.)—to make things easier on themselves come season’s end, when Subban’s latest contract expires.

Bob McKenzie, a veteran hockey writer for TSN in Canada, suggested earlier this year that the saga would end in a trade and is now at least pointing out the coincidence that the tweaks to Subban’s ice time come shortly before the team and the player are scheduled to begin early-stage discussions about a contract extension.

Subban, in McKenzie’s estimation, could seek a deal similar in annual compensation, if not duration, to the eight-year, $56 million pact Drew Doughty signed with the Los Angeles Kings in September 2011.

“It's a real interesting dynamic at a real interesting time,” McKenzie said.

Indeed it is. Perhaps just interesting enough for some ugly flashbacks, too.