“It’s going to be great. I can’t wait for the crowd, the noise, the energy in the building. I can’t wait to take that all away from them.”
|Confirmation Etiquette Advice||Thursday, April 12, 2018 8:43 AM
From: |”Pat Paeplow” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Bcc: |”Uncle Jan” <email@example.com>
To Whom It May Interest,
My Stepdaughter, Lesly Patricia Zapata-Melgarejo is confirming her belief in the Catholic faith this Sunday April 15that Our Lady of the Good Voyage located at 51 Seaport Boulevard in South Boston, Massachusetts. I have a strong desire to wear my Montreal Canadiens [PK Subban (#76!)] jersey to her confirmation. Lesly believes this is a demonstration of poor judgement. I am reaching out, humbly, for advice.
Lesly is a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke College. She is currently employed at Boston Children’s Hospital. She was born in Peru. Obviously, Catholicism is burrowed deep in her culture. Unfortunately (fortunately?) Lesly’s immigration to the United States interrupted her progression in her faith. She was forced to circle back to it as an adult. Being an educated lady required she filter her faith through her critical thinking. She chose to get confirmed.
She chose to do it in Boston (wtf?)!
I grew up in Vermont about fifteen minutes from Quebec. I became a passionate Montréal Canadiens fan. As a child, I watched as another kid from my little town went on a wild ride up the ranks of organized hockey and scored two overtime winners for the Habs in the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. John LeClair’s emergence embedded my passion. When I moved to Boston to work at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, I held onto that passion more tightly. Our passions are how we define ourselves. I dug deeper into my Montréal Canadiens faith. I reread the Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier. It confirmed my faith. In Quebec, we are Catholic (lapsed or not) and we are hockey people.
In Quebec, hockey and religion are not two sides of the same coin: They are the same thing.
When Lesly arrived in the United States, she knew very little English. We had very little in common. One small thing was that hockey was kind of like soccer. It was very tenuous, but it was a starting point, an entry point. She put up with my borderline geekiness about hockey. I put up with her total ignorance about all things hockey. Then a kid named PK Subban came out of nowhere. I love him because he’s an artisté out on the ice. She identified deeply with him because he’s a person of color trying to make it.
For Lesly and I, PK Subban has made all the difference.
My biggest concern is that tribal instincts could take over, making a nice gesture devolve into a shouting match. I hope that doesn’t happen. A man named Jan Goessing taught me the concept of service recovery. He demonstrated how service recoveries sometimes lead to even deeper & stronger relationships. I hope I’m not faced with conflict at my daughter’s confirmation. If I am, I will do my best to employ Jan’s training. If all goes well, maybe you guys can come to the Mandarin Oriental on Patriot’s Day. I’ve been trying to get Chris Nilan to come! It’s a great spot for Marathon viewing!
Culture is who we are; culture is who we become!
PK Subban, without a doubt, is a puck-moving defenseman. Those are the only ones for me, the ones who are mad to pass, mad to rush, mad to make plays, desirous of everything all at the same time, the ones who never dump the puck or make a commonplace chip off the glass but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding across the ice.
Saku Koivu’s comeback from cancer was responsible for me coming back to hockey and the Montréal Canadiens. PK’s emergence as one of the game’s great puck-moving defensemen is what relit my passion for the game and the Habs. Subban reminds me of Paul Coffey, my childhood hero. They’re both puck-moving defensemen although their games are totally different. Coffey was poetry in motion, effortless and graceful. PK’s game is loud and confrontational.
I remind myself of PK. Our games have similar traits. The main point of intersection may be the high lob. We’ve both perfected it, at the beer league and NHL levels respectively. I have an imagination that I’ve kept to myself. It’s of a little 5-year old PK wandering into one of my bantam games. Hockey’s not that important to him yet. His parents just bring him to the rink because he’s hyperactive and they need to get him off their backs. Then he sees me spring one of my floating wingers with a high lob. His eyes light up. He tells himself “I wanna do that shit one day!”
PK is a loud fucker. That’s apparent from his playing style in NHL games. That’s apparent from watching how he conducts himself off the ice. That’s apparent from watching him at the Nashville Predators preseason camp at the Centennial Sportsplex at Vanderbilt University. It’s not bad or good – it’s just loud.
Going to Predators camp made sense to me for a variety of reasons. I’ve wanted to write about PK for a while, ever since he burst on the scene with Montréal in 2010. I also had free time during the hours when the team practiced. Those were usually the hours when I participated in open hockey at that same Centennial Sportsplex. Unfortunately, it was cancelled to accommodate the needs of Head Coach Peter Laviolette, PK, and all those other Predators divas.
PK is easy to spot. I just look for the black guy. I don’t look for his number 76. I don’t look for a player with his skating style. I look for the black guy. He’s the only black guy in the entire building. He sticks out. A couple days before camp, at open hockey, we all noticed a black guy decked out in Predators gear from head to toe. It was hard to make out his face because he was wearing a hoodie. We were all fairly certain it was PK. Further investigation revealed it was just the Zamboni driver who apparently gets a healthy discount on team swag. We weren’t embarrassed by our assumptions. We all understood it had been about 50-50 shot. We got the wrong side of the coin.
When it comes to hockey, which is almost as white as the driven snow, PK’s blackness is unquestionably a part of his loudness. But it’s only supplemental. PK’s a loud fucker. He’s loud in all phases.
At the training camp practices, he’s always doing something. He’s never still. If everybody’s taking a knee, watching Laviolette draw up draconian positional breakout responsibilities on the whiteboard, PK’s taking a knee too. But his stick is tracking down an errant puck. It’s dribbling and toe-dragging the puck beside and behind him while his eyes are trained on Laviolette, feigning utter concentration. He doesn’t simply stand in line, waiting for his turn at a drill. He tracks down more of those errant pucks. He fiddles with them in different ways before lofting backhand saucers at unsuspecting teammates. He’ll randomly break out a half-dozen backward crossovers. He bumps unsuspecting teammates accidently on purpose.
Then it’s his turn. He engages in the drill. He never goes through the motions. He treats every repetition like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. He curses his failures like they’re being viewed on Hockey Night in Canada, often breaking something – a water bottle or even his own stick.
He’s a loud fucker. His loudness was an asset to me when he was playing in Montréal and I was a Canadiens fan living in Boston. I was deep behind enemy lines, knocking heads with the worst of the worst on a daily basis – knuckleheaded Bruins fans. They came at me constantly, fade haircut after fade haircut. They would all talk trash about the Habs in that same mind-numbing accent, the one that nearly crosses the line into an all-out speech impediment.
I walked among them.
Back then, the Bruins were a veteran, physically imposing team. The Canadiens were young, fast, and talented – a team on the rise. In those years, despite beating Boston as consistently as a comic book villain, the Bruins remained a threat. Realignment and the new playoff format required getting by them in order to reach our true goal. Consequently, this meant dealing with their fans, a din that roars only louder in the internet age of anonymous keyboard warriors.
Being immersed in the Bruins fan habitat, Gorillas-in-the-Mist-style, I learned what makes those creatures tick. I learned not to accept their words at face value. I learned to process all the information – their non-verbal cues, the different stresses they’re under. By taking all the variables into account, I was usually able to decipher their true message. It’s quite similar to interpreting the ravings of a 4-year old in the throes of a temper tantrum. It’s actually rather fascinating.
Take diving. That’s their drumbeat. All their Montréal smack talk is played over the steady rhythm of whining about our unsportsmanlike diving. Our mistake, as Canadiens fans, one I am guilty of, is getting defensive about these accusations and becoming engaged in debate. It’s pointless because Bruins fans don’t really care about diving. It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard them say, even if you know one of them personally. I’ve studied them for years. I will say it categorically: Bruins fans do not care about diving.
They might even like it.
They have a statue dedicated to diving/embellishment at the entrance of TD Banknorth Garden. It’s a bronzing of that classic photo, Bobby Orr flying through the air, celebrating the cup-winning goal. It’s a great photo, powerful imagery, but we all know what was going on there. It was a goddamned dive. Orr wasn’t sure that puck was going in the net. He felt a stick graze his shin pad and hit the deck. Physics doesn’t explain a guy being launched into orbit like that. Trying to buy a call does.
How’s the knees, Bobby? Ice up, son.
Red-faced Bostonians push, elbow, and trample past that statue of ‘The Dive’ into the House of Marshmont where tickets have gotten steadily overpriced ever since it got cool to watch hockey in Boston when Tim Thomas dragged that entire organization, kicking and screaming, to a Stanley Cup.
Through my decade of intensive research, I developed a compelling hypothesis. I contend these rampant complaints about diving are nothing more than an emotional outburst. This is how these beasts express their frustration that all their players are so cement-footed and undisciplined. It’s their way of yearning for a modern-day Bobby Orr, a truly dynamic puck-moving defenseman they could call their own.
That’s where PK and his loudness factors in.
Most people think B’s fans hated PK during his Montréal years. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, they hated what he did to their chances. They hated the breakaway goals out of the box and the bombs from the blue line lighting the lamp. They hated it when he jacked up Brad Marshmont or David Krejci or whatever else passes for a top-6 forward in Boston. They can’t deal with any of that but, make no mistake, they love PK Subban.
Subban dominated offseason hockey talk in Boston in 2014 when he was a restricted free agent. I overheard it that whole summer. Waiting in line for their Dunkin Donuts swill, they’d be talking back and forth about how Chiarelli should make him an offer. At worst they said, drive up the price and “put Montréal…in cap jail”. At best, steal him from the Habs, teach him how to play “Bruins Hockey”, and pair him with Chara. “You know…he kinda reminds me of Ray Bourque sometimes.”
I heard this. You have to imagine the quotes in that slow monotonous tone, every word containing an ‘R’ being tragically mispronounced. All that chatter stopped when PK resigned with Montréal. They immediately resumed disparaging him for his whining and diving. They began discussions about the need to find a defenseman “like Drew Doughty”. Yes-yes, Drew Doughty was a euphemism, stood for “PK Subban”.
PK was loud in those rivalry games against Boston. He took unapologetic runs at their best players and he rose to the occasion at the biggest moments with timely scoring. In their second-round playoff match-up in 2014, PK was asked about how he felt, heading into a pivotal Game 7 in the TD Banknorth Garden. His response:
“It’s going to be great. I can’t wait for the crowd, the noise, the energy in the building. I can’t wait to take that all away from them.”
He said that. Does it get any louder than that? In the era of canned responses about needing to “get pucks on net and traffic in front”? PK’s coming off the top rope with the mother of all bulletin board quotes. Then the Habs went out and won.
PK’s a loud fucker. He’s loud on the brightest of stages like a Game 7. He’s loud during a mundane ordinary day like Predators preseason practice. I’m a loud fucker too, at least at this Predators practice I am. I’m the lone individual wearing a Montréal Canadiens t-shirt. I’m surrounded in a sea of Predators yellow and blue.
I’m bitter about PK being traded from Montréal to Nashville on several different levels. One of the oddly persistent ones is totally aesthetic. PK used to wear the bleu, blanc et rouge of the Montréal Canadiens – Les Glorieux. The Habs are a wedge issue for hockey fans everywhere. Some fans respect their championship history and how the organization stewarded the NHL through its formative years. Others disparage everything the franchise stands for and its methodology in pursuing all those Stanley Cups. Be that as it may, some things are simply objective. The Canadiens having the most pleasing sweaters in all of hockey and likely sport is one of those items.
There are other decent sweaters out there. All of the Original 6 uniforms carry an aura of history and culture. Edmonton’s orange and blue, the Dallas green, Winnipeg’s new and classic threads, and LA’s silver and black all sizzle the retina.
But the Nashville Predators? Their sweater’s primary color is yellow. Not gold – yellow. I’m not sure of the exact hue but it’s reminiscent of urine coming from a rather dehydrated fellow.
The Nashville Predators are a contender built methodically by a seemingly very competent organization. That’s commendable but it doesn’t discount that disastrous decisions are being made in their marketing department. It’s unacceptable. If they were a 100-year old franchise and were bound to wearing home urines because of tradition that might be an excuse. They’re not. They’re 20-years old. There’s still time to enact counter-measures. At the very least, make urine the trim color.
I’m not even going to bother disparaging the nickname. Predators? That’s like a placeholder name at best. They were all sitting around the conference room back in ’98, kicking around ideas about what to call the team. Someone made the observation that most sports teams are named after vicious animals – lions, tigers, or bears. They made the decision to go in that direction. Johnson and Hanrahan were tasked with conducting research into vicious mammals and reptiles native to the Tennessee valley. The secretary threw Predators into the meeting minutes. Evidently, Johnson and Hanrahan were incompetent. The secretary was a temp worker. The ‘Predators’ placeholder name wandered under-the-radar out of the meeting room and onto the urine jerseys.
Now, when I tune in to watch PK, he’s covered in urine and labelled a predator, which I find highly objectionable as the #MeToo era unfolds in bizarre and unpredictable ways all around us. It’s the only shame in his game.
So I’m trying to match PK’s naturally occurring loudness with my own manufactured loudness, sporting Habs colors amongst the urine-clad partisans. I’m hoping my bleu, blanc et rouge sticks out just as much as PK’s blackness. I’m accidently on purpose trying to get him to notice me. He’ll spot me in my Montréal t-shirt, shake his head, and mutter to himself, “that fool went and lost his damn mind…gonna get himself lynched by some rednecks who think they’re hockey fans.”
But PK still has love for Montréal. Less than a year before he was shipped out of town, he pledged a $10 million donation to the Montréal Children’s Hospital. It was the largest charitable donation by an athlete in Canadian history. Even after he was cast down into Nashville, he kept coming back to the city. He donated not only his money and his fame, but also his time. He shot commercials for the hospital, did the usual meet-and-greets, and even performed a stand-up comedy routine to raise more money. I’m sure part of that is PK just trying to find an acceptable outlet for his loudness, but still, I had faith he wasn’t going to let a fellow lover of Montréal twist in the wind surrounded by rednecks – even if they were his new people.
I thought maybe he would send one of the equipment boys to retrieve me as practice ended. They would bring me to the hallway outside the locker room where PK could pull me aside, briefly, and offer me advice about picking my spots w/r/t wearing Habs gear behind enemy lines and about not getting my ass kicked.
This would be my opportunity. I would have to choose my approach wisely.
I could revert to my typical off-the-top-rope behavior, tell him how I’ve been a huge fan ever since Pat Quinn was giving him grief as a 17-year old in the World Junior Championships. I could tell him about that letter I wrote to the archdioceses of both Montréal and Boston, explaining how watching him helped grease the wheels for getting my stepdaughter to put up with me. That would put him in an emotional corner. I would have him on the ropes. That’s when I tell him I’m the perfect one to write his story. I could tell him I would never publish a single word he wasn’t comfortable with.
Would that work? I’m not sure. That’s a lot of forward-thinking branding to lay on a guy just as he’s leaving practice. He’s physically drained from racing up and down the ice. He’s mentally drained from 90 minutes of deciphering Laviolette’s gibberish. He’s got to shower, do some yoga, get a massage, whatever it is these players do all day long after they leave the ice. He definitely will be forced to log some time watching video about Laviolette’s newest convoluted defensive zone coverage schemes. My best-case scenario is that he sends a text to his agent. He might like me. He might think my ideas are cool. He might even get a little warm and fuzzy from the well-rehearsed story about my step-daughter. It doesn’t really matter. It’s going to come down to how his agent feels about me and that person doesn’t have a clue about me.
Maybe it’s better to slow-play him. When he tells me to watch out for these rednecks, reminds me about the gun culture embedded in their kind, I’ll tell him how these rednecks are nothing. I’ll tell him about living in Boston for the last decade, repping his name amongst that lot. If my PK Subban partisanship didn’t get me lynched in the land of the Soiling of Old Glory, I’ll be fine anywhere.
He’ll think to himself, “Holy shit, this kid’s fucking crazy…but…I like it-I like it-I don’t know why but I like it.”
Then I’ll leave it at that. I’ll plant that seed and keep showing up to his practices in Habs gear and let that hyperactivity of his run its course in his imagination.
But he doesn’t bite on the Habs gear. But I don’t quit. I keep coming back to the practices. He’s definitely a loud fucker. Everything he does is loud. He goes all-out every drill. Even his skating is loud. Some guys are silky-smooth like Coffey. They float on the ice like figure skaters. Anybody whose made it to an NHL training camp has some degree of fluidity to their stride – even Zac Rinaldo. Everybody but PK, that is. PK skates violently. He slams his blades onto the ice. He’s not trying to execute a skating stride. He’s trying to kick a hole in the ice.
Not only does he lose his mind when he executes a practice drill poorly, he loses his mind when he executes it well. If he scores on a 2-1 drill he celebrates like it’s a Game 7. That actually might not be a PK thing. It might be a Preds thing. Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johannsen, and the rest all seem to do it too. It sure feels like PK, though. I wonder if they were doing that before he showed up.
He keeps up with his habit of being distracted by something just to the side of him, usually one of those errant pucks. Watching his antics, I can’t figure out why Laviolette doesn’t lose his mind and light him up in front of everybody in practice. It must be his veteran status but still.
It seems fortuitous that PK discovered his gift early in life. He was lucky he was able to demonstrate high aptitude in a discipline long before anyone felt the need to guide him. Since he was a hockey prodigy, coaches, teachers, and parents just let out the line on him. Let him follow his passion and explore until he hits resistance. Then we’ll get his mind right.
That had to be the thinking, something like that. Because the way he acts, if he would’ve been just another kid on the ice or a student in the classroom – with that attitude – he would’ve gotten himself stuffed with enough Ritalin to kill a decent-sized monkey.
It’s the exact behavior that drives coaches, teachers, bosses, and other authority figures batshit crazy. He’s never 100% focused – on anything.
Montréal might have been the rare point in time and space where PK’s ADHD wasn’t tolerated. That’s when it went from being the nervous energy of a savant with an artistic temperament to an obstacle he was expected to correct. Before that, as a prodigy, his skill and potential scared his mentors into paralysis. Their thoughts were along the lines of “What the hell do I do to AVOID fucking this kid up?” not what they could do to help or accelerate his development.
In Nashville he’s a veteran. He has established himself as one of the finest players in the game. Hockey adheres rigidly to tradition. Tradition dictates that veterans are afforded latitude. In this context, his puck fiddling and whimsy don’t go against the grain. He’s settled into that groove etched by generations of coaches and players. It says that PK can do whatever he damn well pleases because he’s a veteran and he’s paid his dues.
Until, of course, he stops producing on the ice.
For most of his Montréal years, PK was not a veteran. He was a young developing puck-moving defenseman in the league. He was making mistakes at a higher rate than he’d ever made in his entire life. The game was too fast for him. He had never had to process risk and reward at the speed with that degree of accuracy. He was getting stripped. He was causing turnovers. He even resorted to puck-flinging on a few of his darkest days.
Imagine how his puck-fiddling and ADHD went over in practice the day after being on the ice for 3 or 4 goals against and generally playing like an asshole for most of the evening?
He was probably making mistakes off the ice, too. He was dealing with hardcore office politics for the first time. Everybody makes missteps in that realm. I do it every time I begin a new job. I put my best foot forward and make a bunch of good decisions. But I also make at least one horrible decision. In the moment, I have no clue which one is the bad one. I become aware about a year down the road. Usually I can determine the bad decision because that’s the one I’ve spent a disproportionate amount of time and energy trying to undo or neutralize. It’s the fallout from one uninformed and essentially random choice.
PK was negotiating that environment under the glare of being on the Montréal Canadiens. I got to do it anonymously in a hotel. I was older and, let’s face it, wiser. PK was just a kid. I’m laid back and composed at all times. PK’s a loud fucker. I’m not saying that being a loud fucker increases the percentage of bad decisions. It simply inflates the amount of decisions – exponentially.
The only other loud fucker I know that’s possibly anywhere near as loud as PK is Chris, my beer league teammate before I moved out of Boston. Maybe it’s the uncanny ability to make himself the center of attention in every context. It’s a double-edged sword. It certainly is with Chris. It probably is with PK. That level of energy can be overwhelming, oppressive, and grating to other personality-types. Our beer league team only played once a week and Chris could still find a way to become insufferable. I can’t imagine being one of PK’s teammates, having to put up with that every day. Who has to room with that guy on a road trip?
These types of people automatically become the shit magnet of any group they’re in. Chris fields at least 95% of the banter originating from our locker room. Locker rooms are natural breeding grounds for incessant banter. It’s the idleness combined with the anticipation of a contest. There’s nervous energy. It needs to be dispelled. Therefore, banter arises. There’s a guy making himself the focus of every conversation. Path of least resistance dictates that the banter must rain down on him.
Just because Chris is a shit magnet doesn’t mean that he perceives it as a negative. The positivity or the negativity of the shit appears to be inconsequential to him. A guy like Chris is in it for the attention. There’s some big black hole right around where his heart is supposed to be. I don’t know why it’s there – childhood trauma, spoiled upbringing, or something in between. I’m not qualified to diagnose him. But the black hole is there. And no amount of attention can ever fill it. But he just keeps drawing all the attention he can gather into his black hole. It’s the only way he knows how to be.
A shit magnet like Chris can run into trouble if his shit magnet starts attracting toxic shit. He’s indiscriminate about good shit or bad shit but the whiff of toxic shit is unmistakable. He’s fairly refined at avoiding precursors to synthesizing toxic shit. A lifetime of attention-seeking has made his non-verbal communication evaluation nimble. His capacity for judging a crowd is borderline sociopathic.
Still, he’s grating. He’s annoying. He’s incessant. His act gets old quick. He needs to be massaged and coaxed. His energy needs to be redirected at times. If he’s telling one of his old minor league baseball stories, like the one about bluffing Michael Jordan out of $2K on the bus to Toledo, one too many times, if he’s winding up and Brian’s in the corner and his eyes are starting to roll, somebody’s got to step in. Sometimes it’s me. Sometimes it’s Walt or Jerry. One of us says something along the lines of “will you just shut the fuck up. Everybody knows you never bluffed Jordan. Did anybody catch the Oilers game last night?”
And Chris will take his cue. He immediately forgets about Jordan. He picks up on the Oilers, ignoring the interrogatory about last night’s game. His brain is flipping through its creaky rolodex memory, desperately searching for anything cross-referenced with Oilers. Involuntarily, he begins spewing all over the locker room about how once he was named employee of the month, so his boss took him to the Oilers-Bruins game. It wasn’t a national TV broadcast so the area where Pierre McGuire announces from inside the glass was being marketed to the general public as seats. Chris fast-talked his boss into upgrading to those. Now, this guy, of all people, is nearly in the flow of play in an NHL hockey game. He’s cheering on the Bruins by name. He’s razzing the Oilers. His boss is getting nervous. He’s lighting up Connor McDavid, getting personal with the kid. The Bruins love it. Torey Krug is feeding him lines, providing him with dirt on the entire Edmonton roster.
This is all coming from Chris uncorroborated. It’s just as self-serving and twice as long-winded as the bluffing Jordan story. But we’ve only heard this one, like, 3 times so far in the season. So Brian’s pacified. He’s not going to blow his stack and tell Chris to shut the fuck up for once in his life. We told him to shut the fuck up when we got him to change the subject but Brian telling him to shut the fuck up would be completely different. It’s about tonality. That and the risk of Brian’s sentiment being seconded by some other, thus far, silent victim. Ted’s been oddly quiet lately.
As far as I can tell, Chris and PK types need that outlet. If they get shut down or called out, if they can’t keep on with their never-ending task of filling their black hole with attention, they can’t maintain. Not in that group. They’re forced to move onto some other group. If a PK or Chris or one of these types is valued by the group, they have to be accepted. The group has to provide them with their outlet, redirect them on occasion, and just simply endure the grating moments. They’re going to blare no matter what.
There have been mountains of data compiled w/r/t the relationship between PK Subban and the Montréal Canadiens. They are widely available for public consumption. Some are fact. Some are rumor. Some are blends of the two somewhere along the spectrum from truthful to treacherous. I will not bother to paraphrase them here. I will simply state my own observations and beliefs:
I believe PK’s style of play can be best summarized with three words: instinctive, dynamic, improvisational.
I believe PK’s conduct off the ice can be summarized with the exact same words.
I believe these attributes made PK a magnetic figure in Montréal society-at-large. In doing so, tremendous fodder was provided to the machine which is the Montréal Hockey Media-Industrial Complex.
I believe these factors, coupled with events nobody can ever hope to ascertain, allowed a perception to arise in which severing the bond between PK and the city of Montréal was an absolute necessity.
I often wonder about the possibilities that were forever lost because of this chain of events.
PK probably made some bad decisions in Montréal. He was an adult for the first time. He was living on his own, he had a lot of money in his pocket, and he had a profile. Not only was he young and rich, he was contending with this learning curve in the city of Montréal. I was young and living on my own for the first time once. I was not rich. I was the opposite of that. I was not popular. I was the opposite of that. I was not living in Montréal. I visited occasionally. That city still saddled me with a mountain of horror stories. The thought of those being broadcast far and wide makes me shiver in my own sweat.
What I wouldn’t give for the access to do an oral history about the mistakes and the damage done by a young and hyperactive Pernell Karl Subban unleashed upon the city of Montréal. I feel a roman à clef coming on.
That PK might have made mistakes is conjecture. That he embraced the city is an absolute fact, not an opinion. Along with his widely publicized donation to the Montréal Children’s Hospital there were other gestures. He frequented sushi restaurants and other establishments throughout the city. He didn’t eat secluded in a private dining room. He ate with the people in GenPop. He didn’t speak fluent French, but he made it a point to have several pertinent phrases at his disposal in any given moment. He fostered a friendship with Élise Beliveau which grew after the death of her husband, the late-great Jean Beliveau. He was clearly fond of her. At points it bordered on seductive. It seems possible that his agent intervened.
Montréal is a fickle hockey town that chews up the best of players, scares away even the cagiest of veterans. The highs may be soaring but the lows are excruciating. There’s nowhere in Quebec for a Montréal Canadiens hockey player to hide during a losing streak. There’s nowhere for a 4th-liner to hide, let alone a star player. For this reason, Montréal doesn’t attract the top free agents in the game. The NHL has adopted a hard salary cap which puts all the franchises on a more or less equal playing field when it comes to spending money on roster players. This means Montréal can’t use its larger revenues to simply set the market and buy up the best available players. Players normally ending up fielding similar offers from a variety of different teams, forcing them to incorporate secondary factors and intangibles into their decision. They consider quality of life. They consider spending the next phase of their careers in the fishbowl of Montréal’s rabid hockey market versus the cosmopolitan existence in New York, LA, or Chicago, or the anonymity in San Jose, Dallas, or Florida. Unless they’re overpaid, few players are willing to submit to Montréal’s maelstrom.
PK submitted. PK embraced it. PK was meant for Montréal and Montréal was meant for PK. That city has seen PK’s type before. The Montréal Canadiens became hockey’s most iconic franchises, one of sport’s most recognizable brands, because of players like PK Subban. Those Stanley Cups weren’t one by a series of faceless players. They were won by people with personalities and styles all their own who have come to mean just as much to the Canadiens brand as all those shiny trophies. Toe Blake and Doug Harvey were giants in their era. Maurice “Rocket” Richard transcended the game, becoming a source of pride to French-Canadians throughout the country. He was very much their Muhammad Ali. Jean Beliveau was the counter-weight to Richard’s piss and vinegar. Beliveau’s class, quiet stewardship, and sense of community would become the standard by which all future Canadiens leaders would be judged. Guy LaFleur’s style and grace personified the Canadiens in the ‘70s. Patrick Roy’s determination, competitiveness, and defiance carried that mantle from the ‘80s into the ‘90s.
Roy demanded a trade in 1995. He allowed 9 goals in a route at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings. Rookie coach, Mario Tremblay, inexplicably left him in the game. The crowd was booing Roy thunderously and ominously, the way only a Montréal crowd can. When Roy finally made a save, the crowd erupted into a mock standing ovation. Roy responded by raising his arms in mock celebration. It was getting ugly. Tremblay finally pulled him. Roy stormed off the ice, telling team president Ronald Corey he would never play in Montréal again. He was traded to Colorado where he would lead the Avalanche to two Stanley Cups. The Roy trade put a jinx on the club. For the next decade nobody emerged as the team’s leader. Nobody demonstrated the skill, panache, and sense of the moment required to be the face of the Canadiens in the eye of the storm that was Montréal. Nobody had the mix of on-ice impact and off-ice composure that would satiate Montréal’s passion, a leader who could occupy and engage the faithful and rabid masses so that everybody else could go on with the business of being hockey players.
PK’s charismatic personality and flare for the dramatic seemed poised to finally be the one capable of carrying that torch in the 2010’s. He seemed like the perfect fit. It seemed like a match made in heaven.
But it didn’t work out. PK got shipped out of town. Nobody knows why. Nobody except PK and individuals at the highest levels of the Montréal Canadiens organization. None of those people are talking. It makes sense that the organization wouldn’t talk. The Canadiens could probably be a feeder institution for intelligence agencies around the world or any organization, for that matter, with a need for stonewalling and disinformation. But PK isn’t talking. And PK always talks. He’s a loud fucker.
Rumors suggested PK’s attitude got him traded. Rumors suggested Quebec’s language identity politics got him traded. Rumors suggested PK’s blackness got him traded. I concur with all 3. Essentially, the underlying reason Montréal fired PK Subban was because they were not interested in being aligned with him in a partnership.
That’s what it was coming down to. PK was emerging. He was emerging not only as a great NHL hockey player, but as a transcendent figure. It was unsustainable and unrealistic to continue with the conventional employer-employee relationship. If the relationship between the two parties was to continue, it would have to be as partners on equal footing.
PK was becoming a brand. His presence on the Canadiens roster, the most iconic franchise in hockey, was amplifying his stardom. He was co-opting their brand in order to bolster his brand.
PK is unapologetic about promoting himself as a brand. This is yet another way he is different than most NHL players. He states in plain English, unequivocally, that he is a brand. Most players tend to defer or remain mute about their pursuits outside of hockey. They sign endorsements, participate in charitable events, and other outreach programs. However, they are passive about their narratives. They allow these to be crafted by their team’s PR departments or other parties. It’s the path of least resistance.
PK is one of the few NHL players who actively shapes his and is even willing to kick down the third wall and lay bare that the process of the narrative is something which exists and is important to him. In this sense, he has a lot more in common with NBA athletes than his NHL colleagues. The NBA is chock full of athletes who identify themselves more as individual brands than as members of a team. This might be why one of the criticisms that has been volleyed at PK is that he is “too NBA”.
In the NBA, players have the opportunity to earn endorsement money that far outweighs the salaries they draw from their clubs. This isn’t true of just the greatest handful of basketball players in the world. This is the reality for anyone who is a legitimate NBA all-star. In the NHL, team salaries represent the lion’s share of a player’s earnings, even for a generational talent like Sydney Crosby.
Whether it was all by design or he stumbled upon it, PK found himself walking a separate path. It could have been a total accident, a confluence of random events. He’s black. He’s charismatic. He’s loud. He’s just plain comfortable in front of a camera. He wound up in Montréal, possibly the only place in the world where a hockey player carries more juice than an A-list Hollywood celebrity. Maybe all these factors led him to take some baby steps down his own path. That’s why he behaved differently than most of the crowd.
There’s safety in crowds. Nobody will ever call out an entire crowd for doing the wrong thing. That’s how mutinies get incited. Being among the crowd insures you’re not breaking any unwritten rules.
There’s exposure in taking your own path. Most of the time, you’re fine. There’s really not all that many unwritten rules. Not as many as the crowd makes out. But there are a few. When you’re on your path, all alone, you’re always at risk of strolling over the line and breaking one of those unwritten rules. If you find yourself there, and you’re not among the crowd, it’s easy to be vilified.
Oddly enough, as you build exposure, you tend to also build leverage. PK exposed himself. He exposed himself to ridicule and criticism from the Hockey Establishment. He played the game the wrong way. He wasn’t a good teammate. He put his brand before his team. It was all piled on. It was either a house of cards or an unmovable mass of indictment. For the Hockey Powers That Be in Montréal, the ones who create the narratives, it appeared to be the latter.
But PK also built his leverage. People from outside hockey developed an interest in this brash kid who spoke off script and had an eerie tendency to make big plays in the most crucial of moments. Some were athletes in other sports. Some were Hollywood actors. Some were musicians. Other were advertising agencies, perking up at the first hockey player since approximately Wayne Gretzky who seemed willing to make eye contact with them.
This has become part of the landscape in basketball. The best players achieve a stature which essentially makes them members of management. Established NFL quarterbacks enjoy the same influence and endure the same responsibilities. In hockey, this is extremely rare. Wayne Gretzky was certainly a stakeholder when he was a member of the LA Kings. Mario Lemieux had a massive say in the day-to-day operations of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Eric Lindros was very influential within the Flyers organization. In Montréal, Jean Beliveau may have attained something akin to a precursor of this status. Patrick Roy more or less imposed his will on management during his tenure.
Why didn’t Montréal enter into a partnership with PK? There must have been some degree of a knee-jerk resistance to deviating from the status quo. Management is management. Players are the help. That is how it has always been done. That is how it will always be. If there was a break from that tradition, it wasn’t going to be done for PK Subban.
PK is a wedge issue unto himself. Quebecers either loved or hated him. No in between. This played out in the newspapers, on the radio, television, and the internet message boards. It played out in two different languages. Controversy gets attention. Controversy sells. Controversy would always hound PK in Montréal. The Canadiens were always going to have to answer for PK and his controversies.
Answering for him might have eased people’s differences, at least a little bit. Partnering with PK would have been a bold public gesture. Embracing him would have eliminated the perception of a rift, neutralizing the extreme voices on both sides by eliminating their prime fodder. Instead of a tail-chasing argument about whether PK was terrible for the game or the best defenseman in hockey, sensible voices could have dipped their toes into a nuanced exchange of ideas about PK Subban and the Montréal Canadiens.
The Canadiens didn’t want to take that leap. Maybe the Patrick Roy experience turned them off from loud fuckers for all time. Maybe there were grains of truth to PK being a poor leader or bad teammate.
If there were grains of truth to those rumors, he seems to have turned it around in Nashville. The coaching staff and front office offer nothing but praise when asked about PK. They have allowed PK to represent himself as a brand within their organization. In fact, the Predators co-opted PK’s brand like PK was co-opting the Canadiens’ brand.
They barely had a brand. They wear urine sweaters promoting sexual assault in a small market populated by rednecks who know little about life beyond church and football. They needed someone like PK who could help them win on the ice and sell the team off the ice. Every attribute that had been a liability in Montréal is accepted as a welcome benefit in Nashville. Hockey isn’t so second-rate in Nashville anymore. Part of it is the cities growth, fueled by transplants. Part of it is the mediocrity of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. Another part is that, in SEC country, Nashville rolls out Vanderbilt every Saturday to be some school’s tomato can. It all adds up to hockey being king. PK Subban is bigger here than Marcus Mariota or whoever’s getting sacked and attacked for the Titans this week. It’s symbiotic. Nashville is Predators country. PK is riding the crest of the wave.
PK didn’t convert from worst person in the world to boyscout on the bus to Tennessee. Alternatively, a change of scenery may have offered him a reset, an opportunity to evaluate himself personally and professionally. Possibly, some minor adjustments to his approach made all the difference in Nashville. I wonder if a different precipitating event could have allowed for the same maturation to occur in Montréal.
One truth is self-evident. If PK had been a Pure Laine Quebecois, he would still be a Montréal Canadien and he would be their captain. The team would have involuntarily salivated at the potential marketing synergies. They would have found a way to accept his perceived shortcomings. Quebec will accept exponentially less in a Pure Laine Quebecois than a franchise player with an attitude. If there were attributes about him that were unacceptable, personal, professional, or otherwise, they would have gathered every stakeholder in order to develop an action plan to remedy those problems by any means necessary. The Montréal Canadiens would have bent over backwards to establish a partnership with a Quebecois PK Subban.
This sounds like an indictment on the Montréal Canadiens organization. It’s not. There is simply too much inertia maintaining the status quo of the employer-employee relationship between the Montréal Canadiens and their players. PK Subban, however dynamic, was not enough to overcome that inertia. A Quebecois PK Subban could have overcome that inertia. It would have captured the imaginations of owner Geoff Molson and GM Marc Bergevin. The thought of a Quebecois franchise player who elevated his game in high-leverage moments and boasted the charisma of a movie star would have been simply irresistible. They would have forgotten about employee relations. Anybody who tried to remind them would have been kicked out of the conference room.
But PK isn’t Quebecois. That made everybody objective, sober-minded, and business-like. PK’s black.
PK’s blackness played a small role. He might have still gotten fired if he was white. PK being black just fueled the fire and prevented any possibility about an honest conversation w/r/t his benefits and liabilities. It turned the “too NBA” complaint into a dog whistle. That antagonized PK’s supporters. It triggered them into labelling any criticism of PK as latent racism. That, in turn, angered those who honestly felt they had legitimate gripes about PK’s game or his unapologetic insistence on marketing himself as a brand. They perceived problems and didn’t appreciate being called racists for speaking up.
It polarized the debate. People were no longer having an exchange of ideas about hockey strategy, the ideal characteristics in a top defenseman, or the proper demeanor of roster players. They were digging in and taking sides in a shouting match. Then throw in whatever percentage of actual racists were out there fanning the flames. If PK was white, there’s a chance people wouldn’t have been so quick to dig into their assumptions, and so resolute once they got there. If he was white, there would have been a better chance, however small, of having an honest exchange of ideas about what he brought to the Canadiens and what he offered to the city of Montréal.
Damn, PK. You should have been a Pure Laine Quebecois. Couldn’t you at least have been white?