Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.
He did, after all, win the Norris Memorial Trophy last year.
With the Norris going to the defenseman demonstrating the “greatest all-round ability in the position," at least according to some site by the name of NHL.com—and what would they know about hockey—logic would dictate Subban is a lock to make the team.
Yet, here we are.
About a month before the team is to be officially announced (January 7) and TSN’s Bob McKenzie, via SportingNews.com, has reported that, “he doesn’t know if the powers that be would [put Subban on the roster].”
McKenzie is arguably the most well-respected reporter in the world of North American hockey. So whatever he says you can probably take to the bank as being true. So what gives?
Admittedly, from time to time Subban makes bad plays.
This was evident against the New Jersey Devils this past week when he coughed up the puck deep in his own zone with one minute left to play, leading to a go-ahead goal by Patrik Elias.
By the grace of the hockey gods, the Habs ended up tying that game a mere 30 seconds later when David Desharnais tipped home a Brian Gionta shot from the point. And, of course, judging by his jumping-up-and-down reaction on the ice, no one was more relieved than Subban.
Even taking the two heads-up defensive plays Subban made the previous game that saved two sure-fire goals, what’s conveniently lost on all of his detractors is the “on the ice” part of the last sentence.
After he screwed the pooch and led to what was by all accounts a late game-winning goal, head coach Michel Therrien did not bench Subban. He put him back on the ice immediately afterward.
Taking into account the recent friction between the two (or, more accurately, the friction between Therrien and the media when the former was limiting Subban’s ice time), it would have been easy to let Subban watch the rest of the game from the bench as the seconds painfully ticked by and the Devils ultimately won.
No one would have second-guessed Therrien because the team’s fate had by all accounts already been sealed.
Few teams score a game-tying goal with less than a minute left with the goalie pulled. Fewer still are able to do so after just being scored upon and having to regroup on the fly.
There was Subban, though, right in the thick of it with less than a minute left to go, as happy as a kid on Christmas morning when the puck went in. How can one possibly explain that other than with the simple fact that Therrien acknowledges that Subban, flaws and all, helps his team to win games?
No, Subban is not perfect, but show me a defenseman that is and doesn’t make mistakes and I’ll show you a goalie that doesn’t give up last-minute goals in crucial gold-medal Olympic hockey games.
Roberto Luongo did just that against the United States in Vancouver. While Subban has never committed such a huge faux pas and the former is still in the mix to start in Sochi, one has to wonder where Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman’s head is at.
For the record, that isn’t to suggest Luongo shouldn’t be named to the roster, only that Subban should be.
Granted, Luongo’s competition in net, Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price excluded, isn’t as stiff as Subban’s on the back end, but the argument still holds.
Which defenseman would you leave off Team Canada?
Subban is a right-handed shot and is going up against the admittedly impressive likes of Drew Doughty, Shea Weber, Alex Pietrangelo and Brent Seabrook. Yet only Subban has won a Norris of those five names above.
I would say people are overthinking this.
However, Hockey Canada clearly hasn’t been thinking about it enough and is relying purely on negative comments about Subban and his larger-than-life persona in the media instead of actual stats to make its decision.
I’m not just talking about his 24 points, which are second to only Duncan Keith among Canadian defensemen. I’m talking about advanced stats as well, all of which say the same thing—Subban is one of the best defenseman in the game, regardless of nationality.
Speaking of international competition, he has two World Junior Championships to his name (and two gold medals). And, having played for the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls, Subban has about 200 more games on an Olympic-sized ice surface under his belt.
Talk about flashes of Nagano in 1998 when Wayne Gretzky, the best player in the game, was left on the bench in a shootout loss to the Czech Republic. Subban may not be Gretzky, but he is definitely an elite player at risk of being inexplicably snubbed.
Canada’s gold-medal hopes may not hinge on whoever forms the defense, but it should be pretty easy to choose Subban when everything (for example stats) and everyone (for example his head coach, who arguably doesn’t even like the guy) is saying he should be on the team.
Even McKenzie, again the most well-respected reporter in the world of North American hockey, would “put P.K. on the team.” It’s that simple.