clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Criticism of P.K. Subban is based on money, team tactics, not his play

New, comments

For some players, it doesn't really matter what you do, you're always going to get criticized, and P.K. Subban fits that category. Add in a shiny new $9M contract, and it gets even worse.

Chris LaFrance-USA TODAY Sports

One thing is clear when it comes to P.K. Subban, he hasn't started the season off "hot". There are some times during games where he appears to be too worried about making mistakes, which ironically leads to him making mistakes, and in some respects, the offense isn't at where it should be.

Subban's famous end-to-end rushes are almost non-existent, he rarely ever skates with the puck in the defensive zone, instead looking for a long-bomb breakout pass or, if that's not available, a chip up the boards and out. Both those avenues to clear the zone end up in icings fairly often.

These are things that the entire team is doing, but Subban is Subban, and he shouldn't be. There's all sorts of criticism flying at Subban so far, but very little talk about what he's doing wrong, or why he's doing what he's doing. I have a theory, though I don't expect anyone to take it as face value, I'm just speculating.

Subban is an assistant captain for the first time in his career, and over the previous two years, was a focal point for criticism of head coach Michel Therrien. The relationship between them has been speculated to be tense countless times, even though Subban has stressed that it isn't whenever he gets a chance. Even if you accept that the relationship wasn't tense, it's undeniable that Therrien rides Subban hard. In a Norris winning season, he was benched multiple times, and you could see the coaching staff yelling at him on the bench frequently over the last couple seasons.

To be a leader, Subban has to be Mr. Buy-In. He can no longer free-wheel and do his own thing, he has to absolutely stick to the system, 100%. The problem is that Therrien's system is built for the pre-2004-05 lockout grind-it-out era, with low risk, low reward plays in every zone. Chip it off the glass and out defensively, chip it in and chase offensively. This isn't how Subban plays, and as he has said multiple times, he's an instinctual player, not thinker like Markov. If Subban has to play in a way where he's second guessing his instincts, playing at his high tempo, he'll get burned.

Subban's performance has still been elite

With all that said, the focus on Subban has been all wrong, 14 games into the season, he has still been one of the league's best defensemen. His nine points in 14 games puts him on the exact same 53 point pace he was on last season, and while that may seem like an underwhelming number, keep in mind that he's doing that while the powerplay has been a complete bust.

Subban is tied for sixth in the NHL in points among defensemen, and places seventh in points per 60 minutes played at even strength among regulars.

His possession numbers so far are almost exact mirrors to Drew Doughty, yet he continues to be maligned by the fanbase. Even on this site, which I think I would be safe in saying is very pro-Subban in comparison to other Habs sites, over the first 10 games of the season that we tracked, Subban was given a favourable rating of just 64.39%, 11th on the Canadiens, below Manny Malhotra.

So what's the criticism?

The main thing that I've seen crop up time and again is that Subban isn't playing like a $9M player. Has Subban given the best that he can give? He says no, and I tend to agree with him, but what he has put forth has still been the performance of a top ten defenseman in the NHL.

The other criticism that's been rolling around is that Subban is on for too many goals against, but this is a dangerous stat to rely on in small samples, because it's prone to extreme fluctuations. Subban has indeed been on for a lot of goals against, but not because he's been making mistakes, or because he's been standing around watching scoring chances pile up, he's just had a run of bad luck goaltending behind him.

The Canadiens goalies behind Subban have given him a very poor 88.03% save percentage at even strength so far this year, the third lowest in the entire league among defensemen to play 200 or more minutes. If you believe that's because Subban has been particularly bad, keep in mind that the same people who have been ripping Subban's defensive mistakes have been all over Tom Gilbert.

Gilbert has been solid early with Montreal, but he hasn't been amazing due to playing extremely tough minutes. Yet while he's on the ice, Habs goalies have an astounding 98.31% save percentage at even strength. Gilbert was due for some good luck after years of having a low on-ice save percentage, but that it's going to last, and neither is Subban's poor number.

Individual players can likely influence their goaltender's save percentages a little bit, perhaps even by one full percentage point over a given season, but they can't account for that kind of difference. That's random variance.

Subban CAN be better, make no mistake about that, but for now, he's reigned in, and what he's been able to do while reigned in simply shows that he can succeed at an elite level in spite of anything.