The free agency period continues and Montreal Canadiens general manager (GM) Kent Hughes is still busy taking and making calls for a few free agents to add to the Laval Rocket’s roster in the American Hockey League (AHL).
Hughes is also working hard to accommodate Jeff Petry’s trade request. If he somehow can find a fit for a trade, one that satisfies the Canadiens’ needs, then he will have to find a way to add a veteran right-handed defenceman to the Habs’ opening day lineup. This has led to some speculation that PK Subban would be a good choice to fill the top-four role vacated by Petry’s departure.
However, would the addition of PK Subban to the Canadiens’ blue line be anything more than a PR move, or can he actually provide something that is needed in the short term?
Canadiens Public Relations Dream
There are certainly pros and cons to the return of Subban. In what is expected to be a “lost season” for the Canadiens, adding someone to the lineup that is still immensely popular among the Habs fan base would help ticket sales and distract those fans from a poor record.
At the time of this article, Subban is still the spokesperson for the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation. His efforts to help sick kids have been applauded by all and a return to the city that he supports would go a long way to help in that effort.
His flamboyant personality can also be of use by the team in events around the city but also post-game. Even in a loss, Subban’s joie de vivre is evident. That enthusiasm could go a long way in marketing campaigns over the course of the season.
Canadiens Need Right-Handed Defence
There is also the fact that the Canadiens are shallow in NHL-capable right-handed defenders. Currently, there is Jeff Petry, David Savard, Chris Wideman, and Justin Barron. If Petry is traded, it leaves a major hole on the right side of the blue line. Barron is the most talented of the remaining trio, yet only has seven games of NHL experience. While the refrain “let the kids play” will be heard quite a bit over the course of the season, there is a need to insulate those young players so as not to overwhelm them as they develop.
As for Subban’s play, it is obvious to anyone who has watched him over the last few seasons that he has declined. He is no longer a top pairing defender that can drive the play. What he has become, however, is a capable complementary player who can help on the power play (PP) but he still has defensive lapses that can lead to goals.
If placed in a more limited role that doesn’t overtax him with ice-time, somewhere in the range of 20 minutes per night on average including PP time, he can still be effective. He had that role with the New Jersey Devils last season and it seemed to benefit him. In a nearly full season of 77 games, he was able to produce respectable possession metrics at five-on-five, as he finished with a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 50.51 and an expected goals percentage (xG%) of 52.34.
Canadiens Must Beware
Subban just completed the eight-year mega-deal he signed as a Canadien. His next contract will be much more affordable, being 33 years old, and coming off a 22-point season that saw him score no points on the PP. As a result, that will likely leave him in the $1.5 to $2 million range on a very short-term deal; which is what Hughes would want during this transitional time in a rebuild. The Habs wouldn’t be the only ones who could have an interest, though, as the Devils have been noted as willing to circle back later in the free agency period and sign him if he is still available at their price.
The area of concern will be in the dressing room, as Subban’s personality is known to clash with several NHL players. One notable one is with the current Canadiens’ assistant captain, Brendan Gallagher. After a Nashville Predators versus Canadiens game in 2018, the two battled intensely all night. As covered post game by NHL.com, there was an exchange of quotes with Subban stating that “I didn’t see a smile from him tonight. To be honest with you I just saw the blood dripping down his face after he tried to hit me and fell down.” A response from Gallagher said “I don’t know why you are talking about him to me. It’s what he wants, he loves talking about himself. I know he’ll give you a lot of material, I am not going to help him.”
This is where caution comes into play. If the plan is to bring Subban into the room again, would he be a distraction? Especially now, as Hughes and head coach Martin St. Louis are trying to build a positive culture and winning atmosphere.
There is no doubt that St. Louis is capable of helping him express himself offensively on the ice. But the question is if he can reign in Subban’s flamboyant nature in the room, or smooth over any bad blood that remains between him and anyone on the roster. It is obvious that he could be a fit for a Canadiens lineup without Petry, and would be a public relations coup. But behind the scenes, it could be disastrous and create division in the room during a season that, while expected to be one that leads to another Draft Lottery pick, is considered to be a critical rebuilding year for the younger players’ skill and compete level.