For a league that has lacked that so-called “sellable star attraction” for what feels like an eternity, one would think the NHL would be falling all over itself to try to push Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban into the spotlight. Instead of using the talented blueliner’s infectious personality to help further grow the game and expand its worldwide reach, this league seems perfectly satisfied with keeping the status quo and ignoring “the gift” they have been handed.
— Giovanni Arcadi (@GiovanniArcadi) January 18, 2016
While no one player is bigger than the game, the fact the NHL seems almost reluctant to use one of hockey’s few true characters to sell its product is downright mind-boggling. In my mind, the combination of Subban’s on-ice skill-set, flamboyance, ethnicity, comfort with celebrity and age make him the perfect guy to help bring the game to a new generation and yet almost no one seems interested in going down that road. As hard as that might be for many of us to compute, it really is no surprise. After all, this is how the NHL does things.
Subban Can Do It All
Be it because of the “old school” mentality of there being no “I” in team or some other ridiculous long standing tradition, there is absolutely nothing wrong with allowing individual players to let their “hair down” from time to time. Instead of jumping all over the likes of Alex Ovechkin for his “stick-on-fire” goal celebration from a few years back or Edmonton Oilers forward Nail Yakupov for his outstanding “sliding routine” against the Los Angeles Kings all of a handful of games into his rookie campaign or Subban for his apparent “disrespectful” on-ice behaviour, how about everyone take a step back and let these guys do their thing?
[Related Article: Canadiens’ Subban surprises youth group in Toronto]
Guess what, not everyone needs to be Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews or even a kid like Connor McDavid. While some prefer their athletes to be the stoic type, that is not for everyone. Players should be allowed to let their personalities come out. Unfortunately, part of the problem with the NHL is it can come across as being extremely dry and lack excitement. Hard to imagine when we are talking about a sport that is played at a faster pace than any other but that is the reality of the situation. And in today’s world of short attention spans, being boring is not the way to go.
— Centre universitaire de santé McGill (@cusm_muhc) December 28, 2015
While much of that can be attributed to coaching and overall system play, part of it is due to the fact players are expected to act in a certain way. God forbid these guys show some excitement and not simply skate around the rink like a bunch of drones. The thing that makes Subban so appealing is that he not only wants the spotlight but he is a good enough player to warrant it. So again, why would the league not want to use that to their advantage? Today is the NHL All-Star game and not sure about any of you but I have yet to see a single ad or commercial spot with the 26-year old being front and centre. Really?
No. 76 Was the Star of the Show
The guy who has likely never seen a camera he doesn’t like, stands out both on and off the ice and yet he is nowhere to be seen. Not surprisingly, it was the 2013 Norris Trophy winner who stole the show during Saturday’s All-Star Skills Competition with his hilarious Jaromir Jagr tribute during the Breakaway Challenge. As per usual, Subban recognized the moment for what it was and seized the opportunity to give fans something to remember. While it may seem like no big deal, it actually is quite the opposite.
[Related Article: Subban Says Tirade Stemmed From Frustration]
Something as simple as throwing on a wig and an old Jofa helmet during a night for the fans is something very few players in this league would ever even consider…never mind going through with it. Again, as if his on-ice performance wasn’t already enough, we are talking about a man who understands exactly where things stand-off of it. Do yourself a favour and take the time to watch the video at the top of this page and you will see exactly what I mean but if you choose not to…here is an excerpt:
‘There is P.K. the hockey player, P.K. the business man, P.K. the family man, P.K. the philanthropist. Everybody needs to understand that you do have a brand as an athlete. Whether you choose to define it…whether you choose to talk about it or not. Personality, how you conduct yourself on and off the ice, how you treat people and what you do for others. That is what makes up my brand. Being a black hockey player is a very, very, very, very. very small part of that.” – P.K. Subban –
No One Does Charity Like P.K.
That says it all and for the life of me, I cannot understand why the NHL doesn’t recognize the opportunity that is staring them squarely in the face. Subban’s charitable work in Montreal and his hometown of Toronto have become legendary and he genuinely appears to want to help those who are less fortunate. Be it the $10 million donation to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, his ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in the summer of 2014, surprising a bunch of underprivileged kids with the opportunity to skate with their hockey hero or just showing up unannounced to start playing street hockey at various locales, the guy just gets it.
[Related Article: – Subban Thrills Montreal Kids In Street Hockey Game]
He understands the impact he can have on the youth of today and actually wants to give back. In today’s world of multi-million dollar entertainers and athletes, it is rare to find those who will go out of their way to continually donate both their time and money. Subban is one of those individuals and has all the necessary tools to become one of the faces of the game. Not to beat a dead horse here but what am I missing? He is a great young player that loves the spotlight, is charismatic, plays with a ton of energy and understands just how lucky he is to be doing what he does.
How is this not a no-brainer? If the NHL truly wants to have any hope of becoming a bigger player in “non-traditional” hockey markets, they are going to have to suck it up and give players like P.K. Subban the chance to bring new fans to the game. While the league has inexplicably wasted the first five and half years of No. 76’s career, they still have sufficient time to correct the errors of their ways. Now let’s hope Gary Bettman and company are smart enough to follow through and do the right thing for their fans, players and league.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.