P.K. Subban’s Olympic Team Challenge

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If P.K. Subban is good at one thing other than hockey, it’s keeping his name in conversations around the NHL. Whether it’s his triple low-five, his flashy style of play, or his Norris Trophy win, Subban has been a popular figure around the league ever since he entered it full-time in 2010.

Subban is off to a strong start in his Norris-defending season, leading all Canadiens players with 20 points. However, it’s not his strong play that is capturing the attention of the hockey world this time around. P.K.’s bid for a spot on the Olympic team roster and Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien’s apparent misuse of the skilled defenseman are what come to mind when the name P.K. Subban has been mentioned lately.

The Sochi Winter Olympics are less than three months away and with the NHL season more than a quarter over, fans and analysts are wasting no time making their projections for each country’s roster.

Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman has tough decisions to make in the coming month regarding who he wants on his final roster. He has a load of skilled centers to choose from on offense, an overload of talented righty defenders, and a not-so-clear decision on who will play between the pipes. Among those righty defenders is P.K. Subban and although it may seem like a no-brainer to have last season’s best NHL defenseman play for Team Canada, the decision isn’t as clear for Canada’s management and coaches.

“You don’t put people on the ice you don’t trust, so you have to be dependable,” said Team Canada coach Mike Babcock, who was in Montreal to accept his honorary doctorate from McGill University. “You’ve got to be a trustworthy player.”

Although Babcock wasn’t directly referring to Subban, the trust level between player and coach has been questionable when you look at Michel Therrien’s use of Subban with the Montreal Canadiens.

P.K. is currently third among defensemen in points behind Erik Karlsson and Dustin Byfuglien and ahead of Duncan Keith and Alex Pietrangelo. Of those four, the latter two are Canadian and are projected to make the Team Canada roster.

Despite Subban’s offensive success, his ice time ranks him 18th among NHL defensemen. His 24:50 average time on ice this season is his career highest and 1:35 more than he had last season. He and Markov lead Canadiens defensemen in ice time but when you compare his ice time to that of previous Norris nominees Ryan Suter (29:33), Erik Karlsson (27:47), and Shea Weber (26:42), P.K. seems to be lacking as someone who is known as an elite defenseman.

Although his ice time has gone up, Therrien is hesitating to use Subban in the final minutes of close games. This was evident in a 2-0 win over the New York Rangers where Markov was paired with Francis Bouillon in the final two minutes and in a game against the Dallas Stars where Markov was paired with Douglas Murray and Subban was on the bench for the final three minutes as the Canadiens held off a 2-1 lead.

Benching Subban in such situations wouldn’t be as puzzling if Therrien wasn’t sending out Subban’s defensive partner with his sixth defender. Though he has refused to comment on any specific player’s ice time, Therrien has been gaining a lot of criticism towards his management of Subban’s playing time.

There has been speculation about his defensive zone play, which could be reason for Therrien benching him in pressure situations but on paper, his flaws don’t overwhelm his offensive production. He does have 20 giveaways, but that’s no more than Markov (26), Karlsson (37), or Byfuglien (38).

Of course when building a team that will compete internationally, you don’t want a defenseman that’s not responsible in his own end and that makes too many mistakes. The big issue of trust seems to not be on Subban’s side when you’re on the outside looking in and only hear what the media is saying about Subban’s ice time. P.K. is also known to take chances himself without waiting for his team but he has adapted well to Montreal’s team concept and has toned down his play since the Marc Bergevin era began in Montreal.

“I want players we can put out (who) we can count on in both ends of the rink,” said Yzerman. “If they’re not responsible, the coaches aren’t going to put them on the ice.”

Yzerman has mentioned that he wants defensemen who can skate well and move the puck up and down the ice, and anyone who has watched Subban play knows that those are the two things he does best. His skill, speed, and offense could help Canada tremendously on the larger ice surface. If he can prove he’s a responsible player in all areas of the ice, he should make a strong case for a spot on Team Canada.

Wayne Gretzky even believes P.K. should be on the final roster saying, “If you take P.K. Subban you’re going to win a gold medal.”

It’s hard to argue with The Great One, but all P.K. can do for now is continue to prove that he still is one of the top defensemen in the league and show the responsible defender he can be.

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