Of all the people to criticize P.K. Subban's style of play, you would think that the last person on earth to do so would be Alex Kovalev. You would think that a player who was often criticized unfairly would sympathize with another player who is often subjected to the same, especially since both players are connected often by fans for bringing fans out of their seats with electrifying play.
But no, Kovalev isn't a fan of P.K., apparently. Kovalev was asked about his thoughts on the captaincy, as a former captain of the Canadiens himself (said the interviewer, even though Kovalev was never really the captain, he was given the C by Carbonneau while Koivu was injured, but he was never the captain of the team and won't be listed as one in any official capacity).
Kovalev started out his response rather thoughtfully, pointing out that everyone should feel the weight of the captaincy because if you look to someone else to lead all the time, nothing will work. He went on to say that Max Pacioretty has proven himself to be a leader, and is the perfect guy according to Kovalev.
Lehoux then asks about Andrei Markov, to which Kovalev responds:
"He could be a good candidate, but he doesn't care about the captaincy. He could be the captain or not, I don't know about now because I haven't talked to him, but he's not a guy who says many words. Not that I have anything against him, he just doesn't care about the captaincy."
Finally Lehoux asked Kovalev about whether Subban, with his new contract, would be a good choice for captain:
"First of all I don't understand how these days they get these contracts. I know it's a different lifestyle, different times, but you know if you go back to the 70's they weren't making the big contracts either, and they probably felt the same way about us when we came into the league and started making big money. Now it's the same thing for us.
I'm not saying he isn't a good hockey player, but he's not the guy. He's a risky defenseman, and he's a wide open defenseman. What I'm saying is that he can give up five goals and score five goals, and the score's still going to be zero-zero. So if for example he saves five goals and scores five goals, that's a different style of hockey. So I always compare him with Brian Leetch, because he wants to play the same kind of style, and be more offensive. He's not making the right decisions. He's making the risky plays, he's not making the right decisions sometimes. He just plays like we used to play on the street.
Maybe because he won best defenseman of the year (Norris Trophy) that's how they get paid these days. You know, you win best player of the year and you get a big contract right away. But for his game, I don't know why he got so much money."
I think it's interesting to note that while Alex Kovalev seems to be extremely bitter about Subban's salary, Kovalev's contract coming out of the 2004-05 lockout would be equivalent to an $8M per year cap hit in today's salary cap world, so players "these days" aren't really making that much more than back then, considering Kovalev's stock wasn't anywhere close to what Subban's is.
It's common for retired athletes to be jealous of what current ones are making though, so that isn't too surprising. What is surprising though, is both Kovalev's lack of self awareness, and his criticism of not only Subban, but a Hall of Fame defenseman who might be one of the 10 best defenders the game has ever seen in Brian Leetch.
Kovalev repeating the same tropes many lazy writers employ that have been repeatedly proven false is pretty surprising, since he was also singled out, often wrongly, for similar problems. And if there's one thing we know about Kovalev, it's that he doesn't believe he has any faults.
In fact, it takes literally 10 seconds to dispel any notion that Subban is more risky than the average NHL defenseman, or NHL player for that matter. Of players to play at least 3000 even strength minutes over the last three seasons, Subban ranks 16th in goal differential, with his team receiving 55.1% of all goals scored while he's on the ice.
Even more impressive is that relative to his team, he had the 6th highest differential in the league. Simply put, when it comes to scoring goals, Subban is incredible. When it comes to preventing goals, he's just as incredible.
Kovalev seems to have a grave misunderstanding of the distribution of goals in hockey. Subban is on the ice for about four goals against for every five goals for, and that just happens to be one of the best differentials in the entire NHL. And just for hilarity's sake, Kovalev's goal differential that we can see in the analytics era was even, meaning that for every five goals he was on for, five were scored against him. Oops.