Call of the Wilde: P.K. and the coach
The relationship between Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban (left) and his coach Michel Therrien hasn't always been perfect, as Brian Wilde notes. (CP file photos)
by Brian Wilde , CTV Montreal
Published Saturday, April 5, 2014 11:44AM EDT
I can hear it now. In fact, I hear it all the time like an echo in my mind. It sounded so good when he said it. Habs Head Coach Michel Therrien: "All players will be held accountable." The problem is that Therrien forgot a word at the end of that sentence. The word is "equally." The essence of a good coach, and really any leader in the world is equality. Fairness makes a good boss, a good teacher, a good leader, and for certain, a good coach.
When Patrick Roy returned to Montreal last month, more light was shone on that fateful night when he stormed off the ice in a feud with an egotistical new head coach Mario Tremblay who was determined to show all that he was boss. The problem we learned recently is Tremblay was showing Roy who was boss, but he forgot to show Vincent Damphousse too. It was a stark reminder of how things can snowball. That the beginning of the end for Roy in Montreal and the definite end of anything good in hockey in Montreal for a decade was born of a simple gesture: Roy felt Damphouse was given preferential treatment as Vincent was not singled out for being late to practice while Roy was getting an intense discipline act from Tremblay who was so far in over his head that every day was a tsunami of incompetence.
So Roy was already boiling when he entered the net that night on a Saturday in December against the Red Wings, and we all know the rest of this tale. It's the Habs "I see dead people" moment. The memory of Roy turning to Ronald Corey and saying "I have played my last game in Montreal" and Corey's ashen face is as fresh in our minds as a Pacioretty hat trick. Roy is a cautionary tale for anything in this organization that comes after it. Every fan is now sensitive to how the best get treated.
Michel Therrien is very different though than the drowning Tremblay. Therrien has a lot of years of experience at the NHL level, but where PK Subban is concerned that actually puts him not in better standing than Tremblay, but in fact worse. For the bar is higher for your ignorance when you have experience. You should know better. You see, Roy could have forgiven Tremblay for that horrible lack of fairness. Tremblay was new. He had no idea what makes a leader. Therrien doesn't get that free pass. He's done this long enough. He should know what fairness counts for. He should understand accountability, and the need for that last word - equally.
Is there anything wrong with continually benching a player who makes errors? Actually, beyond the fact that there may be no one left on the ice at the end of a game, no there isn't anything wrong with it. However, if Subban gets benched for :37 seconds of play that the coach doesn't like, then everyone gets benched.
Brian Gionta committed one of the worst errors on this team this season that cost a goal. He was finishing a long shift and completely gave up. He didn't skate back. Gionta just watched the play without a stride. This is actually worse than a PK error because Subban's errors are never a moment of giving up, or just too tired to keep trying. Subban's errors are usually trying to do too much. (As an aside, Subban wasn't even at fault solely for either of those two goals in Ottawa that caused the period long benching but that discussion is not germane here.) Point is Gionta never got benched and that's not equality.
Many Habs fans are equally frustrated that Subban is such a bullet point on everything. "Why is everything always about PK? Enough already!" but did you notice that when the waters were calm and Subban had normal ice time and wasn't being called out by his coach what happened? No one talked about Subban more than any other player. He wasn't a focal point. He was just another guy. You see, the problem isn't the fans or the media or people with radar for racism or anyone with an agenda. The only person with a mysterious agenda is the head coach. If he doesn't like all the questions about Subban in his post game interviews, then don't be unfair in the treatment of the player. The Subban questions had stopped. They will stop again with equitable and reasonable treatment of any player. Surely it's not the fans fault for looking for answers to mysteries.
The Habs are extremely fortunate that they have such an incredibly fine man in PK Subban. I don't think a Patrick Roy moment is coming with Subban. Remember Roy boiled over at just one slight, one moment of unfairness in the morning and then a follow up in the evening. That's all it took and a decade was lost. Subban has taken an entire year of this treatment: benched, called out, humiliated, having to answer questions to everyone about what the hell is going on. It has to be draining but he keeps putting on what surely is a false face. No one is this easy going. It's almost as if he keeps on smiling until the day he has a chance to finally say "okay, f*** this!" and he's gone.
I can't tell you what is going on in his head, but if you think that what he is thinking is what he tells the media, that it's all good, then you're not so bright. No one with pride finds any of this 'all good'. Ask any hockey player in the 700 strong NHL union if they find being benched and underused and called out and humiliated, not a problem. You won't find a single player who says any of that behaviour is fine. So enough with PK seems okay with it. Take your head out of the sand. No player is ever okay with it.
The bottom line is not winning one hockey game in Ottawa because by chance the Habs all woke up at the same time after spotting the Sens three. If you think the coach caused that turnaround because Subban wasn't on the ice for a period benched, well, you probably hate this article then and have a difficult time understanding the not that subtle difference between what is cause and effect and what is coincidence.
Last night, against Ottawa is not okay just because the Habs took two points in game 78 of 82 in a season. The bottom line is the continued growth, health, comfort, and happiness of the first, second, or third most important asset on the Canadiens. Two points won against Ottawa isn't going to matter in the long run if Subban decides he's had enough of being benched, and to add to it, the deterioration of his skill set.
You see, the real asset on the Habs is not Michel Therrien. He's a dime a dozen. He's barely worth anything to be honest. Don't overvalue him. I've been doing this 30 years. Coaches come and they go. Some are good. Some are bad. Some like Claude Julien are great. The great ones can make a difference, and even as great as Julien is he got fired with an excellent record in Montreal, New Jersey, and was one overtime goal from probably being fired in Boston. Point is Montreal, and New Jersey replaced Julien, and Boston will too one day. Even a great coach knows he can't do a thing without talent on the ice. The coach is not the asset in the PK vs Michel battle. That's a fallacy. Tremblay wasn't the asset against Roy. Therrien is as replaceable as my socks. In fact, I like Gerard Gallant best even on this staff and it's a shame he can't speak French. If you are backing Therrien in the way he treats Subban, you have no clue who the real asset is - who has the talent to be a part of a Stanley Cup is not the head coach here, but the guy stapled to the end of the bench for two errors he was barely responsible for.
Here's what the future holds... the coach will be fired. It's like death and taxes. It's unavoidable. I will be at a news conference in the not too distant future reporting on the firing of Michel Therrien. We know this to be true. Hell, even Lindy Ruff got fired. Unless you think Michel Therrien is Barry Trotz. What the future holds is not will Therrien be fired. Of course, he will, but where will PK Subban be. If it were me, I'd be forcing this. Subban owes nothing to Michel Therrien, just like Roy went out and got his freedom. Roy was under contract too, so don't make the argument that Subban is an RFA and can't do anything. He can force the issue now or he can force the issue later, but at some point, if he wants, he can force this issue. He could force this issue today if he were boiling inside right now or maybe one more moment next week or next year will break his spirit.
Google "asks for a trade". You'll be on page 200 of a google search before you run out of players. No one saw Roy coming. No one saw it coming about that player who asked for a trade on page 198 of your google search either. No one ever sees it coming.
Subban is a great man who swallows his ego everyday while playing outstanding if inferior hockey to last year as he has his instincts coached out of him. Off the glass PK. You're a running back PK and we want you to be a quarterback. Don't carry it up. Dump it out. Dump it in. Make the easy play PK. Too fancy PK. Just dump it PK.
Subban is a man of great character who bites the bullet over and over because he always puts the team first. Montreal is so blessed to have this amazing human being in their company. A man of enormous talent who humbles himself everyday.
Subban wears the number 76. The way he's treated by this head coach and by extension the Habs management team, he might as well be wearing 42.