Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban: Problem Child or Star Burning Bright?

Kamal PanesarCorrespondent IFebruary 14, 2011

MONTREAL, CANADA - FEBRUARY 12:  P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens and Joffrey Lupul #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs fight during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on February 12, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Is P.K. Subban a problem child?

With players like Matt Cooke, Colby Armstrong and Sean Avery, among others, running their mouths and throwing in the occasional dirty play, you would think not.

Yet for whatever reason, Subban has been a lightning rod for criticism from his fellow NHLPA members, on several occasions this season.

So the question is why?

Is his self-assuredness as a rookie bothersome to the opposition who feel that as a first-year player, he should be more humble? Perhaps it is his world-class ability to chirp after whistles or maybe it's his perceived hubris that rubs them the wrong way.

Whatever the problem, there is no question P.K. Subban is, in a lot of ways, the talk of the league this year.

After the Habs shut out the Leafs 3-0 on Saturday night and Subban got into a scrap with Joffrey Lupul, the latter suggested in his postgame comments that it was a dirty play by Subban to attack him while he was trying to take his helmet off.

Looking at the replay, I can see what Lupul is saying, but I can also see how Subban wasn't trying to be "dirty" but rather, amped by adrenaline, he just wanted to get his hands on the Leafs' player.

Should he have waited for Lupul to take his helmet off?

Probably, but I think that is something he will learn in time.  Another thing he will learn in time is to be less reactionary. He is, after all, only 21 years old and is getting the lion's share of attention from the opposition as the Habs de facto No.1 defenseman.

And while, in a few years, you won't be seeing as many reactionary plays, slashes, trips, chirps and the like, right now as a young player, I think it's only normal that Subban gets drawn into post-whistle activity.

Some have gone down the road of race, saying that the backlash against Subban is due to the colour of his skin and that the league has never had an African-Canadian star that is the magnitude of Subban, and as such, he is being targeted for racial reasons.

I say that's nonsense.

Subban clearly possesses all-world skills on the ice and a larger-than-life personality off of it. And for anyone whose star burns as bright as his does, I think it's normal that they attract equal amounts of positive and negative attention.

Look at Sidney Crosby or Wayne Gretzky when they broke into the league. These were elite-level players who took a ton of shots and criticism in their first year or so in the league.

I remember when Crosby broke into the NHL, I could not believe the amount of vitriol that was being spewed in his direction. And, while Crosby still has a reputation as being a bit of a whiner, he too has cut back on a lot of the complaining and whining that had a lot of players and fans talking poorly about the young superstar.

Now I am not suggesting that Subban is in the same skill category as either Crosby or Gretzky but simply pointing out that when a player and/or personality is so big, it invariably rubs others the wrong way.

Gretzky, when he was 13 or 14 years old and absolutely obliterating all of the Peewee hockey ranks, was hated by his own teammates and had parents on his team that wanted him kicked off.

How's that for a star burning a little to bright for the comfort of others around it?

For some demented reason, it's just a truism of human nature that as much as we love to canonize people, we also love to tear them down. Almost equally actually.

So as for Subban, I think that what he has to work on is being less reactionary.

If he is going to be a star No. 1 defender in the league, he is going to have to get used to the extra body checks, the extra slashes, the extra cross checks and the extra yapping that is directed his way. He will have to learn, like all top-level defenseman in the league do, that this kind of extra attention comes with the territory and that he can't respond with a slash, cross check or slewfoot of his own.

I have no doubt that in a few years these extracurricular discussions about Subban will be a thing of the past, and all that will be left to talk about will be his tremendous skill.

The Sunday Shinny - Episode 9

We have a new and extremely lively episode of the Sunday Shinny this past weekend in which there was a lot of discussion about Subban, including a bunch of callers. Here are some of the topics we discussed:

-Talking with callers about the challenging issue of racial commentary regarding PK Subban.
-Times up for Andrei Kostitsyn?
-Too little too late for Scott Gomez?
-And more...

Click play below to listen in (listing time 39:49):

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