On teaching P.K. Subban, and Michel Therrien's bizarre coaching decisions

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Michel Therrien's stubborn clinging to his 'team concept' mantra is clouding his coaching and hindering the Canadiens' ability to win games.

The other day, Bruce Arthur of the National Post called P.K. Subban a "polarizing genius of a player" in his column on how Team Canada was chosen. It would be hard to find a more perfect description of him. The "polarizing" part is true and unfortunate, and that's a post for another day, but the genius part is just true.

That P.K. Subban is one of the best defensemen in the league is something we've written about at length here at on Eyes on the Prize. That he is one of the most prolific offensively is something anyone with a stats sheet, or eyes, or both, can see. With no disrespect to Carey Price, Subban is the Montreal Canadiens' best player, and probably the best we Habs fans have had and will have a chance to see for a long time. When you're at the Bell Centre, and P.K. Subban has the puck, you can feel the entire arena buzz. This isn't an exaggeration, anyone who's been there will tell you. Twenty-one thousand people hold their collective breath whenever he winds up to take a shot. Seeing a game at the Bell Centre is a bucket list item, and seeing P.K. Subban at the Bell Centre even more so.

Because every second that P.K. Subban has the puck, something magical could happen. Sometimes, not as often as you hear, but sometimes, that something magical happens for the other team, but most of the time, you get treated to Subban skating circles around the opposing team or casually making every single one of his teammates better. 'Game-breaking', sports fans call it.

That is, if Michel Therrien will let him.

Last night in Philadelphia, with the Habs down 3-1 to the Flyers, Polarizing Genius P.K. Subban did something stupid in the heat of the moment of a post-whistle scrum and was rewarded with a two-minute roughing penalty for his efforts. This has apparently never happened before, in the entire history of hockey. The Flyers started the third period with a power play, and once Subban was sprung from the penalty box, Michel Therrien benched him for a good chunk of the period. To recap, down 3-1 to an Eastern Conference Good (i.e. beatable) team, the coach of the Montreal Canadiens benched his highest-scoring player and best defenseman (his best player, really) for half the period.

His reasoning?

"Team concept is very important. That we will never, never, never change." (Per Dave Stubbs and others on Twitter)

That might be one of the worst things I have ever heard.

Preaching a team concept would mean giving your team the best chance to win every night. It would mean icing its best roster, and allowing its best players to be the best players. It would mean benching true defensive liabilities like Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray, even though neither of them sucker-punched Sean Couturier at the end of the second period. It would mean allowing a guy who can generate offense, and one of the only players on this team that can effectively lead his teammates out of their own zone, to do those very things. It would mean that whatever wars of attrition Michel Therrien thinks he needs to have with a guy who does human things ten per cent of the time and superhuman things ninety per cent of the time are less important than a chance to win.

It would mean an end to the idea that one of the best players in the league needs parenting, or messages.

Michel Therrien may be polarizing, but he is not a genius. He failed with the Habs once, when their roster was questionable, and then he went on to fail with the Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins roster (who literally won the Stanley Cup four months after he was fired), and now he is back, failing with a better Habs team than before, and with one of the best players in the league.

Therrien is not teaching Subban anything. He is teaching other teams that the Montreal Canadiens' best defenseman and top scorer will be misused and mismanaged, and that the two points are there for the taking.

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