P.K. Subban and the battle he cannot win

Chris LaFrance-USA TODAY Sports

PK Subban is penalized a lot. He does not take as many penalties as he is called for though. Subban is egregiously flagged for more phantom calls than one can count, making him the highest profile player to not benefit from star status like noted stars (and cheapshot artists) Dustin Brown and Shane Doan. Subban wants to change. In fact, he has talked about his desire to stop taking bad penalties recently. But he cannot do it alone.

Matt Cooke, noted dirty player, gets the benefit of doubt from the referees. PK Subban, noted Norris Trophy winner does not. Is this due to Subban's reputation from early in his career as a diver? Or can it be traced back to his refusal to bow down to Mike Richards when he was a rookie? Whatever the problem, it needs to stop.

Subban gets called for plays that would have him called for diving. See his penalty on Taylor Hall last night. Subban also gets called for diving in the most ridiculous circumstances, like when Brad Marchand speared him in the groin earlier this year. Subban is not only given no room for error, he is held to a ridiculous standard by the league that is impossible for anyone to meet. He is never given the benefit of doubt, even when Matt Cooke has earned that privilege.

The frustrating thing with Subban and penalties is that he actually wants to change. He knows that he needs to take less penalties and is trying not to take as many, but when players grab your jersey, step on your stick, and dive, it is hard to decrease the amount of penalties one takes. Even if Subban plays a perfectly clean game, he will get called for phantom calls and people will say he needs to change that, but at some point the problem becomes bigger than him.

A couple Saturdays ago when the Habs played the Colorado Avalanche, Mike Johnson made a comment that Ryan O'Reilly did not get called for hooking because O'Reilly does not take penalties. This statement is paradoxical because one cannot take a penalty if they are not called for one and if reputation influences calls, a player will rarely be called if they have a good reputation. But how does one get a good reputation? That seems like an impossible question to answer, because referees usually call players differently. Subban should fall under "star player calls", yet he rarely gets the benefit of doubt and more often than not, gets tagged for penalties that most players would not be called for. Rookies tend to be called tougher than veterans. Sometimes a player is called simply for their height (see Jarred Tinordi in the pre-season). The lack of consistency is maddening and could end up setting a dangerous precedence because there is no precedence and games can get out of hand rather quickly.

One solution is to play to the referees calls. This works in theory, but if the referees have no consistency in their own calls or use a different rulebook for one player than another, this theory does not work at all. If the playing field is not level, there is no way that players can adjust their play to meet the standards of the referees calls. One of the prime examples is the new diving fines. The way it sounds is that following Tomas Plekanec's head snap, teams around the league demanded that more severe punishments for diving are handed out. It was not a terrible fake on a knee injury that led to this demand, it was a head snap. The NHL has seen a million head snaps, yet the one from Plekanec was so heinousthat it changed the rulebook. The Habs have been called for diving at least twice this year. One was a fully warranted call to Max Pacioretty (if you deny this, get your eyes checked) and one was the aforementioned spear to the groin of Subban by Marchand.

The problem with this in relation to Subban is, he is getting flagged for plays that are not even penalties. Some people say that he should simply not put himself in that position, but that means that he expectation for referees is so low that we expect them to be incapable of being able to do their job. Referees are paid to be able to identify what is a legal hockey play and what is an illegal hockey play. The player should be able to do their job as they please, as long as they follow the rule. The rules that are tiered based on the player and that make it next to impossible to for a player's reputation to change. Some teams even get more penalized than other teams. It seems like Eastern Conference teams are called tighter than Western Conference teams, even when they play each other.

Subban wants to take less penalties. He has tried to have a positive relationship with referees. Even if he did not, the referees have a responsibility to call the game as unbiased as possible. They are failing that on many levels right now.

(It should be noted that the referees have been questionable in a lot of games, but it seems like Subban in particular has a hard time getting any calls to go his way, both for and against. At some point, it is not only his fault.)

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