Sunday, July 25, 2010

The New Kid On the Block

Pernell Karl Subban must be having a pretty nice summer. Since his draft in the second round in 2007, he's won two junior world championships, put up a stellar rookie season in Hamilton and roared onto the NHL scene with the poise of a veteran during the playoff heat. He was disappointed by the Habs' fall to earth at the hands of the Flyers, and even more disappointed when his Bulldogs, the team he calls his "second family," went down in Game Seven of the AHL semi-finals two days later. Still, young Pernell Karl is set for the summer. He'll blow into camp in September, fit, strong and 21 years old, with a spot in the Canadiens' top-six his to lose. Really, the only way he could not end up in the Habs' top six would be if he burned a Quebec flag in front of Pierre Boivin's office door while urinating on Youppi, just as a tour of disabled kids passes by.

So, PK will be the big new rookie. Unless the world implodes or he has a desperately horrid training camp, he'll be on the Canadiens' defence next season. The question is not whether the kid will slump in his first full NHL season, but what will happen when he does.

I have no worries about PK himself. He's the epitome of confidence and his certainty about the level of his own skill seems unwavering. There are a couple of things that do worry me, though. First is how Jacques Martin and Perry Pearn will react when the rookie struggles. Their handling of Ryan O'Byrne isn't cause for great optimism as a precedent. Last year we saw Marc Andre Bergeron make horrible mistake after horrible mistake and remain in the lineup. O'Byrne got one chance per game and if he screwed up, he sat for the rest of the night. He was scratched in favour of Bergeron more often than not, after everyone was healthy. O'Byrne has taken his benchings and scratchings in stride. He never complains and keeps working for his next chance. Subban is a different kind of personality. I don't know if he's ever had to deal with being relegated to the sidelines because the coaches don't like his on-ice performance. If Martin handles him like he's handled O'Byrne, it may not be as simple a decision and the consequences may be more far-reaching.

I respect the way Subban's handled himself through his meteoric rise in hockey. He's always projected a positive attitude and a humility a lot of guys in his position wouldn't have. It was impressive to see him report to development camp with guys just drafted, and declare there's always something to learn even after you've played twenty minutes a game in the playoffs. So far, however, he's been able to maintain those characteristics because he's always succeeded. It'll be challenging for him if he's faced with what feels like failure. If he rises above it and manages to keep his emotions on an even keel, he'll be fine, but there's a definite risk there.

The second thing I worry about when Subban navigates the treacherous waters of being an NHL rookie is the crowd at the Bell Centre. Fickle is too charitable a term for the way some people treat their own team. The fans want the newer, fresher version of the guy they worshipped last year. They scream for prospects to make the team, then have no patience with them if the kids slump or make big, glaring defensive errors. The guy they demanded to see brought up from Hamilton should be demoted by Christmas if the paying customers had their way. It can be really hard for a young player to be the toast of the town one day and the biggest bum on ice the next. It's harder if the kid lives by himself in a big, tempting city like Montreal.

PK Subban has all the talent he needs to be a very good player in the NHL, and this year he'll get his chance to prove that. We all want him to step in and be for the Habs what a guy like Tyler Myers is to the Sabres or Drew Doughty is to the Kings. He might be that player someday. Chances are, though, he won't get there unless he has a few ups and downs first. A kid like him should be handled carefully to make sure he gets where he's capable of being. I'm not talking babying him like the team has babied Carey Price, but just giving the guy more than one chance. If he gets caught at the blueline on a spinerama that leads to a breakaway, yes, the coaches should correct him, loudly if necessary. Then they should send him right back out for his next shift. Martin needs to remember that no kid with enthusiasm and tons of skill learns much when he's nailed to the bench.

Similarly, the fans need to remember that even if Subban is the goat sometimes, he's still the player they wanted so badly to make the team. Players might say they don't hear the booing, but they do, and it hurts. Fans also need to keep in mind that the kid they're booing today is the free agent of tomorrow who'll remember the loyalty shown to him when it's his turn to show some back.

I can't wait to see PK Subban on the Habs blueline this year. He's going to make some spectacular rushes, he'll be huge fun on the powerplay, he'll give great quote and he'll skate like the wind. I want to see Martin try him in the shootout, and I know he'll use his size to paste a few unsuspecting forwards. I know he'll also make some truly boneheaded plays, he'll probably go through a scoring drought and he may even cost the team a game. It's all part of the ride. We need to suck it up and take the bad with the good, because I think the good is going to be very, very good and we'll be glad we waited for it.


V said...

I am looking forward to PK as well. He was so impressive during the playoffs. His game has shortcomings (like 99% of other players) and your plea for patience is deserved. But what an upside.

On another note, I wonder if the team has really babied Carey Price. I know that is conventional wisdom but you don't usually swallow convention. Too be honest, I am very optimistic but not convinced about Price and I get the sense that management has similar reservations or he would be signed by now.

That aside, when I look at the way he has been treated, I don't see coddeling - preferential treatment yes, but when he first came up, preferential treatment was deserved. He had accomplished so much compared to Halak - any team would have favoured him. And he played so well in his first season - even when he struggled in his second, it was natural to give him a chance to get back to where he was and that meant playing him.

I prefer to see Price's careers so far as 'trial by fire' rather than babying.

Bill said...

Martin will have PK booking dates with O'Byrne's therapist inside of two months.

Anonymous said...

Dear God, some how, some way,please guide this article into Jacques Martin's hands.

Philly-Poo on Habsinsideout said...

O'Byrne's rookie season was 2007-2008... I'd say JM was just sick of seeing rookie mistakes by a guy in his third season... Yes MAB wasn't always the best on the D, but at least he brought an offensive side to the game, which, O'Byrne certainly does not have, yet, at least.;_ylt=Au.zzVIlaSXHoJ_XVEwMWcdivLYF

Anonymous said...

The image I have of Subban is his incredible skating ability and how he stuck like glue to Sid behind the net. I've never seen anyone do that before. This kid is no O'Byrne (I really like Ryan and think he is getting a raw deal from Martin) and I can't believe JM will treat him the same way. If he does he should be fired immediately. I do share your concern though.

Anonymous said...

the man to give proper time to is desharnais. so we have small forwards..but not giving this kid the chance he deserves because we have other small guys is poor thinking...

bring up desharnais and let him play with some quality guys. if you gave him gomez type opportunity, I believe he would out score gomez in total points within one year.

Anonymous said...

PK has performed beyond expectations at all levels to date. He was amazing in the playoffs last year with only a few mistakes costing goals.

His defence was more than adequate given that he was in a high pressure environment against top end offensive talents.

I expect he will have ups and downs and probably make some bad mistakes but by the last half of the season he will be our #2 guy and will never see the A again.

saskhab said...

Martin may have kept Bergeron in the lineup, but he tried to shelter him as much as possible 5 on 5. O'Byrne didn't bring anything if he wasn't confident in his 5 on 5 play, so that's why he would get benched.

In short, PK Subban is not Ryan O'Byrne. It's not even close. And with Markov out to start the year, and no Bergeron, Martin and the Habs need Subban EVERY GAME.

MC said...

Your concerns about how JM handles young guys are valid. When Spezza was a rookie in Ottawa under JM, the fans and media were getting so frustrated with Spezza being a healthy scratch in the 2003 playoffs, it was reported that Muckler finally stepped in to insist on Spezza playing when they were down 3-1 to the Devils , which the Sens then forced to game 7 before losing. I suspect the Spezza situation had a lot to do with JM's firing in Ottawa. To JM's defense, that Ottawa team was good enough to win it all, so wanting to go with veteran players is somewhat understandable. But on the other hand, it does not seem that JM has learned much since wrt handling young stars.

pfhabs said...


-the 3 greatest potential negatives in PK's future are as you outline; Count Chocula, his shadow and some of the idiots masquerading as fans...somehow I think the kid will overcome all 3

-as for Carey he needed to grow-up and all recent accounts from teammates and others involved seem to share the opinion that the boy is getting wiser and more mature

-my fear is the Count's and the shadow's treatment of O'Bryne as it's not very enlightened

Anonymous said...

PK has a strong family and tough as nails dad keeping his head on straight. He respects authority and his elders. He'll take all the accolades with a grain or 3 of salt and remain grounded.

saskhab said...

I've got a question for you... how good do you think O'Byrne is? Quite frankly, at 26, he's not going to be much better than he currently is, so I have no problem "wasting" a potential #6 blueliner if he is having a trying season. I just don't see him as a long term NHLer... the skill set is just not there. BTW, isn't it Pearn who does the D changes?

How Martin dealt with Pacioretty is probably a more applicable scenario. Martin gave MaxPac plenty of chances before determining he wasn't ready last year.

Martin may have had reservations about Spezza, but he didn't with Havlat, Hossa, or Olesz. I guess you have to be Czech/Slovak. :)

V said...

Just looking at the above reference to Spezza and Martin in Ottawa, I was under the impression that Martin's influence was credited with making Spezza a more well-rounded player. Sure, the fans and media did not like it but we all know what Sam Pollock advised regarding their thoughts/feelings - ignore them.

Seemed to read this in a few places (might have been Martin's mother writing the articles).

Granted Martin does seem hard on young players when they make a mistake. Just not sure it's always to the detriment of the player or the team or that is record in this regard is any worse than 80% of other coaches.

pfhabs said...


-just as an example of different coaching styles not sure you heard Team 990 host Tony Marinaro interview Guy Boucher (earlier this winter) and his views of Sergei Kostitsyn the player and the person when SK was demoted to hamilton. although GB admitted SK needed daily mentoring he had nothing but good to say about his on ice and off ice performance

-juxtapose that with the Count's handling of SK..we've wasted a talented young player even if he was high maintenance...most artiste types are high maintenance and it's the coaches duty to get the best out of them...add Latendresse to the list of those on the outs w the Count and potentially O'Bryne and you have a pattern of behaviour as it relates to JM

-just saying sugar gets more in life than vinegar..JM is a sour puss

Anonymous said...

Take your booing concept a bit farther. A player makes a cheap hit, or a sneaky foul. The refs blow an obvious call. Boos rain down. Regardless of the outcome the players and the officials know, at least 21000 people here saw them be...something they aren't proud of.

Now picture Crosby or Lecavalier making a great play, carrying the puck, completing that impossible seeing eye pass that changes a game? Applause? Naw because they are booed as soon as they step on the ice. The reason? Because they are good.

I don't think people leave a tribe to join another when the other tribe throws stones at them every day. Fans in Montreal wondering how come it is so hard to bring in the stars need only to look in the mirror.

pierre said...

To me its simple.... this kid is gold and will be a crucial component to our identity as a hockey team for years to come.

Now with Markov and Subban logging important minutes for us I would expect our transition game to be the best we've seen from our team since the locked-out... and with our group of fast skating forwards being build to take advantage of it..... I foresee here the go a faster and more exciting game coming from our squad as we are about to move in this new Subban enriched era.

Subban's habilities will enhance the offensive perspectives from which our team can score goals and as Martin said about it last fall " you need to have that to be a good scoring team because nowdays every teams in this league are playing good defensive hockey "

From watching Subban play in the post-season last spring I have to conclude that this guy was an outstanding pick by Timmins and that his stats of the last two seasons all seems to support just that.

AHL: 18g, 35a, 53pts, +46
OHL: 14g, 62a, 76 pts, +47

DKerr said...

Dare we say he is a thoroughbred? His style I believe, is more applicable to the comparison.

moeman said...

PK'll be OK!

MC said...


WRT Spezza, there are always two sides to any story. In 2003, the whole Alexandre Daigle fiasco was still a recent memory for Senators management, and there was much criticism that the Sens ruined Daigle by bringing him up to quickly - they were not going to make the same mistake with Spezza. You could definitely argue that Ottawa's careful development of Spezza contributed greatly to his ultimate success. And Spezza was forced to improve his defensive play or Martin would bench him quickly. Spezza also deserves some credit for responding positively to this "tough love" style. And I guess that is my problem with it. Some players respond to it, some (like SK) don't.

It may not sound like it, but I actually like Jacques Martin. I just think he can be really hard on young players. A huge advantage with Subban is the Habs have carefully developed him, so he should have the maturity to handle any adversity he may face.