Daily Hab-it: The danger of the sophomore slump
Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban speaks to reporters at the team's annual golf tournament Wednesday.
By Arpon Basu
Published Friday, September 16, 2011 3:37AM EDT
With the health of Andrei Markov remaining a big question mark as the Canadiens get set to begin training camp, the degree of importance of P.K. Subban also hangs in the balance.
If Markov is able to come back from his knee injury relatively quickly and play at a level approaching his usual self, it would remove a lot of pressure from the shoulders of Subban – pressure he handled remarkably well last season when thrust into a role of extreme prominence.
The situation got me thinking of a conversation I had with Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers last season.
Myers coasted through his rookie year without hitting a single speed bump along the way – something that cannot be said of Subban – but he began his second season in a horrendous slump.
By the time Myers' sophomore year was only 12 games old he was already a minus-13, making mistakes he largely avoided during his Calder Trophy campaign a year prior.
"More than anything it was me, I was in my own head," Myers said in February, once the slump was behind him. "I won't lie, I was feeling pressure from last year. I thought I had to do more than I did coming into the season, and it took me a little while to figure out that less is more."
The process of figuring that out came after several conversations with coach Lindy Ruff, who tried to ease Myers through his struggles by explaining he no longer had the element of surprise working in his favour.
"In your second year I think everybody has a pretty good read on you as a defenseman," Ruff said. "Teams played him differently, and there were times where he tried too hard to make too much happen. He made some poor decisions that led to some goals against and cost us some games, which are growing pains. Now he's eliminated a lot of those mistakes and still been able to provide some offence while playing a sounder game defensively."
Myers' difficulties being largely mental, I wondered if Subban had spent any time over the offseason thinking about how he might avoid suffering through the same sophomore phenomenon as Myers did.
So I asked him.
He wasn't too impressed.
"Do you think I'm the type of guy that has thought about that?" Subban replied when I asked the question at Wednesday's golf tournament. "To be honest, I try to get better every day. And ever since I've been in front of the microphones with you guys that's been my attitude and my answer the whole time, and that will continue to be my answer. I try to get better every day and not worry about what's happened in the past, it's about what you do today. That's the thing about this business is it keeps you honest. You can't sit back and relax, you've got to continue to move forward."
It's true, that has consistently been Subban's answer whenever he's been asked about his success. In fact, that was his answer when he was famously benched last season as well.
But I was curious as to how common Myers' second-year struggles were for defencemen in general.
I looked back at the top two scoring rookie defencemen in the league since the lockout (top three in the case of a tie for second) to see how they performed in their second year. While Subban finished third in scoring among rookie defencemen last season, I figured this would be a good gauge to work with.
The 12 players I looked at were Dion Phaneuf, Andrej Meszaros, Keith Ballard, Matt Carle, Ian White, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Tobias Enstrom, Tom Gilbert, Drew Doughty, Matt Hunwick, Myers and Michael Del Zotto.
On average, this group's second season saw them play three fewer games, score 1.9 fewer goals, dish out four fewer assists, notch 5.9 fewer points and finish with a plus-minus rating that was 4.4 points lower than their rookie seasons.
The only ones to actually improve their scoring numbers in their second season were Doughty (plus 32 points), Gilbert (plus 12) and Phaneuf (plus 1). Players like Carle (minus 27) and Del Zotto (minus 26) had steep falls, while Ballard (12) , Vlasic (12), Hunwick (13) and Myers (11) had double digit drops in scoring.
I also took a five year sample prior to the lockout from 1997-98 to 2001-02, and those 12 rookies fared comparatively better in their second seasons with an average of 1.1 more points and a drop of 3.1 in plus-minus. The average age of this group was one year higher than the post-lockout group – 21.8 to 20.8 years – surely a result of the salary cap forcing teams to rush defence prospects to the pros.
So recent history would suggest that Subban could be prone to a dip in production this season, though that is obviously a trend he has the power to reverse.
Should Markov's injury situation prove to be serious, the Canadiens fortunes may very well rest on Subban's ability to do just that.