P.K. Subban makes his case for captaincy of the Canadiens

P.K. Subban makes his case for captaincy of the Canadiens

NEW YORK — The first rule of the captaincy is like the first rule of Fight Club. You do not talk about it.

If you want to be an NHL captain, you can say so, because it’s such an honor. But you stop there. You say it’s up to management and the coaches. You say lots of your teammates are deserving. You say you don’t need a letter to lead. You fit the profile.

The more you talk about your qualifications, the less some might think you’re qualified.

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But P.K. Subban speaks up and puts himself out front. It can make him controversial. It can make him great. He wants to captain the Montreal Canadiens, and though he says all the right things that other candidates say, he isn’t afraid to make his case, either.

And he has a compelling case.

“Obviously if I was given the captaincy, it would be something I would want,” said Subban during Media Day at NHL headquarters on Tuesday. “But at the same time, it would have to be something you deserve. People want a lot of things. But it’s, ‘Do you deserve it?’

“My definition of a captain could be different than everybody else’s. Everybody has their own opinion on what a captain is.”


Does Subban deserve it?

What’s his definition of a captain? Does it match GM Marc Bergevin’s? Coach Michel Therrien’s?

P.K. Subban signs souvenirs at the team's training facility after the Habs were eliminated from the 2014 playoffs. (AP)
P.K. Subban signs souvenirs at the team's training facility after the Habs were eliminated from the 2014 playoffs. (AP)

Leadership will be a main theme with the Canadiens this season. Captain Brian Gionta is gone from the team that made the Eastern Conference final. So is Josh Gorges. So are some other veterans. The challenge, Gionta said, will be “making sure there’s no lag between that leadership group” and whatever new one forms in its place.

Gionta said the Canadiens would have to rely on guys like Carey Price, Tomas Plekanec and Travis Moen until the young guys were ready. He mentioned Brendan Gallagher, the 22-year-old sparkplug. “He’s going to be ready in a few years, but he’s not there yet as far as leadership in the room,” Gionta said. He did not mention anyone else.


On any team, the captain must have the respect of his teammates. But in Montreal, more than in any other market, he must also carry the weight of history and the burden of media scrutiny.

“You have to be able to deal with that on a daily basis and still be focused on your game,” Gionta said. “It can be a distraction in that city, and you have to have the right personality to do it.”

Plekanec would be a safe choice. Andrei Markov would be a safe choice, though you wonder whether he would be willing to handle the media duties. Going without a captain, at least to start, would be a safe choice, too, giving the team’s management time to assess the new dynamic and the younger players to develop.

Max Pacioretty would be an interesting choice, considering what Guy Lafleur said about him and Thomas Vanek during the playoffs last season.


Subban would be a bold choice.

Twice, Bergevin has balked at giving Subban a huge contract, before relenting this summer amid arbitration. Often, Therrien has been stingy with his praise. Therrien benched Subban as late as April 4 last season, sitting him for the balance of a period after he was arguably responsible for two goals by the Ottawa Senators.

At 25, Subban still has a lot to learn on and off the ice – what to say and when to say it, what to do and when to do it. He has never worn a letter on his sweater in Montreal. He has never been part of the leadership group.

But already Subban is a winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman. He is the catalyst of the Canadiens – one of their two cornerstones, along with Price. He led the Habs in playoff scoring last season.


And now that he has signed an eight-year, $72 million deal, he will be a central part of their identity for a long time. He is the present. He is the future.

He already speaks like a captain.

“I ask for two things: Show up to play 110 percent every night, and be committed to the game plan,” Subban said. “That’s all you ask. That’s on the ice. Off the ice, be a good teammate.”

Asked directly if he felt he deserved the captaincy, Subban sidestepped the word. “I don’t know how you feel about ‘deserve,” he said. “There might be a lot of guys that are deserving of leadership roles.”

He sounded matter-of-fact and not like he was campaigning, answering questions honestly instead of being bland and politically correct. But he made it clear he fit his own definition of captain.

Subban played a key role when Montreal bounced rival Boston from the playoffs last spring. (Getty)
Subban played a key role when Montreal bounced rival Boston from the playoffs last spring. (Getty)

The Montreal media doesn’t deter him. He embraces the spotlight. When negativity swirls around him, whether he’s at fault or not, that can be positive in a sense. A lightning rod provides safety in a storm. If he attracts attention, others avoid it.


“I’ve been dealing with that for four years,” Subban said. “For me, I think I’ve had a lot of success doing that. I won a Norris Trophy, an Olympic gold medal, had four pretty solid seasons. I don’t have to … There’s nothing that’s going to make my life anymore difficult or put more stress on me than what’s already happening in front of me.”

Subban measures a captain the same way he measures himself.

“The most important thing to me looking towards my captain, I would expect him to deliver when our team’s in a spot and when we need someone to step up,” Subban said.

“I think the most important thing about me and what I bring to the table is understanding that in the big games and the big moments, I know my teammates look towards me to step up. I know that.”


Hard to argue. In the playoffs, Therrien doesn’t bench Subban. He rides him. Subban plays big minutes, plays in critical situations and often comes through.

Go back to the second round of the playoffs against the rival Boston Bruins. He scored big goals – including the double-overtime winner in Game 1 – and made big plays. He agitated Boston fans and the Bruins themselves. He dealt with everything from garbage raining from the stands, to racist comments spewed at him on Twitter, to Shawn Thornton squirting him with a water bottle. He was a main reason, if not the main reason, the Habs beat the Bruins in seven games.

“I think he was terrific in that series,” said Bruins star Patrice Bergeron.

That’s what Subban aspires to be.


“I don’t want to be the guy to score the goal in a 5-0 win,” Subban said. “I want to be the guy to score in the 4-3 win or 2-1 win or 3-2 [win]. I don’t care about the 6-0 or 7-0 or the point-night games. That’s not my style. Call me when the lights are on and it’s game time. …

“Kobe Bryant. Michael Jordan. Tiger Woods. They’re all cleaners. They clean it up. When things get messy, they clean it up. Game 7, clean it up. Overtime, clean it up. That’s it. You want to be that type of guy, you’ve got to step up in those moments. …

“I’ve always been that guy that wants to drive it.”

For all the mythology of captaincy, for all the attributes attached to it, the truth is, there are all kinds of captains – young, old, quiet, vocal, boring, bold. Some get the job because they have grown into it. Some get it so they will grow into it. The ‘C,’ arguably, could help Subban take the next step in his evolution. We’ll see if Bergevin and Therrien agree.

“I’m the type of guy that believes more responsibility given to the right player can make he or her become something greater than what they are,” Subban said. “I know the added responsibility. I’m going to embrace it. That’s just the way my whole career has gone. That’s how I’ve developed, by being given more responsibility.”