Once again, Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban received the back of the hand from Hockey Canada. Subban, Montreal’s leading scorer this season, wasn’t among the initial 16 players named to Canada’s roster for the World Cup of Hockey tournament in September.
Defensemen Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Marc Edouard-Vlasic of the San Jose Sharks were selected to the team.
Subban? Crickets. It’s a sound he’s heard before.
Subban, a former Norris Trophy-winner as the National Hockey League’s best defenseman, was named to Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but only after much hand-wringing by Hockey Canada’s brain trust and an outcry from hockey fans.
Team Canada’s Head Coach Mike Babcock made clear back then that he didn’t trust Subban’s game. He responded to Subban’s placement on the team by playing him for just 11 minutes – in one game – on Canada’s march to Olympic Gold. Babcock is Canada’s coach for the World Cup.
So what does a Norris Trophy-winning, NHL All-Star, Gold Medal-owning brotha have to do to get some hockey love from his country?
Team Canada General Manager Doug Armstrong gave The Toronto Star some insight into the mind of Babcock, the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs
“What I know Mike likes, working two Olympics, he likes predictability…He likes to know that he can play a player in every situation. What we have here at the World Cup, and in the Olympics, is you’re not going to be able to hide anyone. There’s no real good matchup when you’re playing the Russians, there’s no real good matchup when you’re playing any team at this level. So we want players out there who can play in any situation, against anyone, 5-on-5.”
Subban seemed to offer a pre-buttal to Armstrong/Babcock when he told Canada’s Sportsnet ahead of the Team Canada roster announcement that “I play close to 30 minutes a game, I kill penalties, play on the power play; I play in all situations against the league’s best players…I think those are the kind of players Team Canada is looking for, but there’s plenty of competition there.”
There’s no doubt that the Montreal Canadiens are enduring the hockey season from hell. All-world goaltender Carey Price has been injured for much of the 2015-16 season, but that didn’t stop Hockey Canada from naming him to the World Cup roster.
Off-ice issues regarding forward Alex Galchenyuk and recently-traded forward Devante Smith-Pelly raised questions about discipline on the team.
Through it all, Subban has been a mainstay on the team. As a defenseman, he leads the Canadiens in scoring with 5 goals and 43 assists. He’s second on the team in plus/minus – an indicator of defensive responsibility – with a plus-7.
He’s sixth among NHL defensemen in scoring. He’s fourth among all NHL players in time on ice averaging 26:14 minutes per game, just behind Doughty.
Subban averages 19:16 minutes of ice time per game when the Canadiens play at even strength, 5-on-5 hockey; 2:19 minutes when the Habs are shorthanded because of penalties; 4:38 minutes when Montreal has the power play man advantage.
So the numbers make the case for Subban playing for Team Canada. But there are other intangibles that Subban brings the game that some of his defensive brethren don’t. Subban is electric on the ice and an electrifying personality off it. He’s become a charitable force in Montreal, his adopted city.
He isn’t the cookie-cutter, stoic, player who says “we’re taking this one game at a time” when a microphone is stuck in front of him. He’s a refreshingly candid presence who draws attention on and off the ice.
He and his family – brother Malcolm is a goaltender for the American Hockey League Providence Bruins and youngest brother Jordan is a defenseman for the AHL Utica Comets – have been ambassadors for the game, helping to draw kids of color to hockey.
So with seven Team Canada roster slots still up for grabs, picking P.K. for the World Cup of Hockey wouldn’t be a PC or an affirmative action move by Hockey Canada. It would be the right move.