Jack Todd: Habs and Subban simply failed to communicate
It was an earth-shattering week in the small, rather hysterical world of the Montreal Canadiens.
GM Marc Bergevin traded away the club’s most loved and most hated player — which happen to be the same guy, one Pernell Karl Subban. He also added considerable grit in the person of Andrew Shaw, a huge talent in Alexander Radulov and one of the game’s great defencemen in Shea Weber — but all that was almost lost in the grief and fury attached to the trade of the much-adored Subban.
At week’s end, the Canadiens were almost certainly a better club than they were at the end of the season, even without the addition of a healthy Carey Price. But the fixation was still on the departure of Subban, the defenceman whose outsized personality made him a lightning rod for pretty much everything.
The odour of mendacity still clings to the seventh floor of the Bell Centre, where Bergevin claimed he had not been shopping Subban’s considerable talent around the league. Sure, you just whip up a deal for two of the league’s premier defencemen in 48 hours because someone happens to call. If you believe that, have I got a swamp for you.
The whole episode reminded me of one of my favourite country song titles: “Get Your Tongue Outa My Mouth Cause I’m Kissin’ You Goodbye.” Good luck, P.K., and we hope you like country music.
Of course no one is saying so for attribution, but Subban is gone because the club had issues with his character, which is subtly different than character issues. Somehow, Subban had made himself unpopular in the room and in the executive offices through what would appear to be an excess of personality.
Subban was too ebullient. He was too happy after losses. He may have stayed out too late at night. He may have joked that Drew Doughty was going to win the Norris because he had a better supporting cast.
That Subban’s behaviour never included the sort of very real character issues you get with the Raising Kane Brothers (Patrick and Evander) didn’t matter. He was cocky and brash and a little too involved in his own world, so he had to go.
Whatever Subban was like in the room or in the clubs after hours, when the puck dropped, no player on this team battled harder. Subban gave this team all he had every night, so if he wanted to bounce around the room and crow after a loss, he has earned the right. If some of his teammates worked half as hard, there would not have been so many losses to mourn in the proper fashion.
Not that Subban is blameless. As usual, the truth isn’t black-and-white, no pun intended. I wrote before the end of the season that he had morphed into Planet P.K., an entity in its own orbit and one that was quite separate from Planet Habs. Before the end of the season, I said, the Canadiens needed to sit down with their young superstar and find a way to coexist — that or trade him.
I don’t know if the meeting ever materialized. All I know is that the trade did and we’re all a little poorer for it. Losing Subban diminishes the whole community. He was everywhere, he meant everything to thousands of kids, he lit up the place. He was fun, a fact the fun police can’t seem to stand.
A couple of days after the trade, TSN was talking to Tampa defenceman Victor Hedman about his own huge contract. Hedman hemmed and hawed through the worst interview in the history of bad interviews. “Well, y’know, it’s good to get it done, y’know, I’m, y’know, happy to get it done, y’know, and now it’s done, y’know, it’s good that it’s done, y’know . . . ”
All we could do was to cover our ears and yearn for a P.K. interview. But Subban is gone, in part because, when it comes to dealing with brash young black stars, the NHL is at least a quarter-century behind Major League Baseball, the NFL and (especially) the NBA.
There are profound cultural differences between players like Subban and the overwhelmingly white, conservative old-boy network that governs hockey. Bergevin and head coach Michel Therrien get all the blame, but really, they’re no different from Mike Babcock and the people who run Team Canada or dozens of other league execs and coaches.
It isn’t fair or accurate to call it racism — but the treatment of P.K. Subban is the product of a cultural divide that leads to a profound failure to communicate. Now (fearless prediction alert) Subban is going to win at least two more Norris Trophies with a better coaching system in Nashville while Therrien gets to deal with Alexander Radulov, who could score 40 goals or be gone by Christmas.
The ultra-conservative Therrien coaching Radulov — a mercurial, creative talent from a very different cultural background. What could possibly go wrong?
A genie for Genie: There it was again in Genie Bouchard’s third-round match at Wimbledon: the pouting, the little hissy fits, the slumped shoulders, balls whacked to the ball-kids as though her play was somehow their fault, the gazing at the sky as though the tennis gods were against her — all of it telling Dominika Cibulkova that the match was hers.
If I were Bouchard’s coach, I would have her watch the video of that match 100 times. Not for strategy, tactics or shot-making, but to compare her demeanour with Cibulkova’s. Cibulkova was constantly up, full of energy, ready to battle. Let Genie stomp and pout and smash her racket onto the court: Cibulkova after a bad shot took time to say a few words to herself and bounce back into the play.
Perhaps if Bouchard can learn to act tougher on the outside, she can become tougher on the inside. Because if not, she really is destined to become the next Anna Kournikova.
The Last Word: Their 5-2 loss to France Sunday was a brutal ending to a gallant Euro campaign for little Iceland. But from the Icelandic perspective, well — there will always be an England.