Brian Gionta’s stint as the 28th captain of the Montreal Canadiens will end when
- He is traded from the team, or
- His contract expires, or
- A handful of other less likely scenarios occurs
Gionta’s contract expires at the end of this season and may be extended. If not, he’ll walk into unrestricted free agency at 35 years of age. Who then, will take his place as the 29th captain of the club?
Barring a calamity of some type, I believe Mr. Pernell Karl Subban (PK) will be the next player to wear the “C’ on his Montreal Canadiens jersey. He’s not ready now, most will admit including me, but he will be.
First, the Habs need to resign him to a long term deal. I would expect a 5+-year deal to be worked out before the Olympic break. That’s wishful thinking, stay tuned.
Who Has PK Subban Become, On and Off the Ice?
PK’s play on the ice speaks for itself. Confident, dominant, loud, chippy, flamboyant. That latter characteristic of his game is the reason most would believe he isn’t captain material at all. However, I believe he is a new type of defenseman. One that hasn’t existed in the NHL before. His game is still evolving.
It would be hard to argue that PK isn’t a more mature player this year. Gone are the triple-low-5s with Carey Price following a team win. Michel Therrien did well in eliminating that sideshow. He’s beginning to earn the respect of his game amongst his NHL peers. A Norris trophy will do that for you.
Off the ice Subban is establishing himself as a media and marketing powerhouse. Something fairly new within the historical culture of the Habs. The NHL has caught notice and is embracing this passion of his to self promote. It sells the game.
Equally important is the respect of his fellow teammates who are still learning to know their young star. PK is learning to play the game on the ice and play nice off of it. He has bought into the ‘team’ concept first. Showboating and chirping opposing players is now second priority. His job as a top 2 ‘D’ is now his top priority.
He is a feared shooter in the offensive zone and he is a force to contend with in the defensive end. His performance in this early season shows no sign of a letdown from last year’s award-winning pace. It is a contract year after all.
Yet, with PK I don’t believe it is all about the money. I feel he simply wants to demonstrate what I call the I-told-you-so factor. PK knows PK is a great player. He has been striving since his rookie campaign to make people believe it. He’s winning the battle.
How Does PK Stack Up With Captains of the Past?
A captain of the Montreal Canadiens could never be a 1-man show. Something he was accused by some of being earlier in his young career. Saku Koivu and Le Gros Bill weren’t known for doing it all by themselves. Captains don’t do that.
PK’s growth under Michel Therrien will be interesting to watch over the next several years. His buy-in to the system and the team bodes well for him and his use by the club. While he develops his game in the NHL he will undoubtedly be looking towards his future on the team.
However, PK Subban is not Saku Koivu, and he is not Jean Béliveau. Both Habs legends with 10 years stints as captains. As I mentioned earlier, he is a new type of player for the NHL. One that should continue to be celebrated.
Koivu and Gionta are reserved, lead-by-example players. Mr. Béliveau was a charmer. A true gentleman who just happened to also play hockey. Past greats such as Gainey, Savard, the Richards, were hard-working, passionate players. Yet, so is Subban.
Comparing PK to those past greats at this stage in his career would be unfair. At 24 years of age in the hockey fishbowl that is Montreal, he is proving his doubters wrong.
Extrapolating his rise in the league through the remainder of his career only leads one to think what limits might be breached by the young superstar. Including being the top leader on the team. The Captain.
Best Case Scenario for PK and the Team?
Many will never warm to the idea of PK as the captain of the Habs. Yet, if Gionta renews for another 2-year deal (plus or minus 1 year) then PK will have the opportunity to show his captaincy worth for a couple of years with an ‘A’ on his jersey. Once again, the I-told-you-so factor comes back into play for Mr. Subban. Something that he’s all too familiar with.