MONTREAL — The biggest Montreal story wasn’t on the ice Saturday night. He wasn’t even in the building.
While the Canadiens were putting their popgun offence on display, one P.K Subban was home in Toronto. Oh, you could see him in the commercials. But on the ice? Not a shadow.
Sunday, while his teammates were recovering from a bruising loss to Toronto, Subban was in T.O., taking in the Lakers game from the front row. The Lakers need all the help they can get — but the Canadiens need Subban more.
Does it matter that Subban is still unsigned? Well, for you Tomas Kaberle fans (both of you) it was great: Kaberle wasn’t all that bad. For those who hope the Canadiens will make you forget last season’s 15th-place finish with a playoff push, not so much.
The Canadiens did look tougher Saturday. (And welcome to Montreal, Brandon Prust.) They battled. They didn’t quit when they were down 2-0 — and to be fair, the Leafs built that 2-0 lead with power-play goals following a couple of the cheaper penalties you’ll ever see, especially the unsportsmanlike conduct rap handed to Tomas Plekanec for spraying a little snow on Toronto goalie Ben Scrivens.
What the Canadiens did not look was dangerous. Of course, they weren’t dangerous last year, either, when Subban was in the lineup. But Pernell Karl, bless him, brings another element to the ice — a charge of megaton energy and excitement that was very much lacking against the Leafs.
So what does newly minted GM Marc Bergevin do now? In this short-sprint season, 10 games without Subban could douse any playoff hopes the CH might entertain, when every game is the equivalent of two in a normal season.
Bergevin sensibly does not want to break the bank for a player who (in the organization’s view) has not quite proved himself. For reasons that have never been publicly clear, the club has always been a little down on Subban: It was that way with Pierre Gauthier, Jacques Demers and Randy Cunneyworth, it’s that way now with Bergevin and Michel Therrien, who only a short time ago was Subban’s most ferocious critic in the media.
Now, assuming that Subban signs at some point, the same guy who was ripping him on RDS is his coach, which could be part of the problem here. Technically, Subban isn’t a holdout, because he doesn’t have a contract. In truth, as a restricted free agent without other offers, the effect of his absence is the same as a holdout.
The one thing you know is that agent Donnie Meehan is not going to sell his client short. The amiable Meehan isn’t given to outrageous statements; in public, at least, he’s a quiet bulldog who will hang on until he has everything he can get — much as Donald Fehr did during the CBA negotiations.
You’ll hear all sorts of numbers being thrown around. Doug MacLean keeps telling us that he’s “hearing” that Meehan wants a long-term deal for Subban at $6 million per. Be wary of what you hear: those numbers would have to come from either 1) Bergevin or 2) Meehan — and neither man got where he is by blabbing the details of unsigned contracts.
The link the Canadiens obviously want to make is to Michael Del Zotto of the New York Rangers, who signed a two-year, $2.5-million deal last week. On the surface, Del Zotto and Subban have comparable service and numbers. But Del Zotto is not defenceman No. 1 or 1A for the Rangers. He doesn’t play 25 minutes a game.
And above all, Del Zotto doesn’t begin to match Subban in the sizzle category. Subban might not be the Canadiens’ best player; he might not even be their best all-around defenceman, now that Andrei Markov is back. But he is worth the price of admission all by himself, so the Canadiens have to decide how long they can muddle along with a team that lacks both offence and pizzazz.
If you were looking for a fair number, you might put it somewhere between Del Zotto and Drew Doughty, who signed with the Los Angeles Kings at the beginning of last season. After three years in the league, Doughty was handed an eight-year, $56-million deal. Which explains why Subban is not playing: because the gulf between Del Zotto money and Doughty money is as wide as the Grand Canyon.
What a boycott! It was a sight for sore eyes, seeing Fan Power in action Saturday night, showing the NHL for once and for all that the fans are mad as heck and they aren’t going to take it any more.
There they were, 21,273 empty seats at the Bell Centre, cleverly masquerading as cheering fans. They cheered or jeered every play, watched themselves on the big screen, put down plenty of $10 beers and (no doubt) loaded up in CH gear at the kiosks.
Not to mention the early NHL numbers for NBC, announced Sunday: “the highest overnight rating for regular-season hockey in more than a decade.”
Now that’s the kind of boycott that’s going to get the attention of Gary Bettman and Jeremy Jacobs, eh? Sellouts across Canada. A record crowd in Philadelphia. Bettman and Jacobs have to be shaking in their boots, right?
Right. Of course, you knew this was how it would turn out. All the NHL had to do was to put out a schedule, issue a hypocritical apology, and we’d be back in force.
If you want to know how confident the owners are, read what Jacobs, the toxic owner of the Bruins, had to say before Saturday’s game against the Rangers. Jacobs all but promised another lockout in eight to 10 years time. Why?
Because, given the fan reaction, the owners know they can get away with it.
Feeling sorry for Grapes: If you were paying any attention at all to the lockout, or if you tuned in during the past week as the teams geared up for the short-season spring, you had to be amazed by the sheer level of knowledge on display by so many of those in the media.
You can start with Bob McKenzie, but there are literally hundreds of media types who are thoroughly versed in everything from make-whole provisions and defined benefits to the performance of prospects in Irkutsk. Check out the hockey writers on Twitter if you want to gauge the level of knowledge that is necessary to cover the NHL in the 20th century.
Then tune in Don Cherry.
Poor Grapes. He is so thoroughly ignorant, he has no idea how ignorant he is. He told us more than once than the players had lost $800,000 during the lockout, indicating that he needs to buy about three zeros. He floundered and fumbled and fulminated, but he didn’t come close to imparting even one nugget of information that a thousand journalists and 10 million fans didn’t already know.
So now, in addition to the usual bigoted and blinkered rants about Europeans and U.S. college players, we are listening to a guy whose view of an increasingly complex game is stuck around 1979. At this point, Hockey Night in Canada would be doing Cherry a favour if they simply put him out to pasture before he trashes what little is left of his reputation.
Heroes: Stan Musial, Richard Garneau, Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Marian Hossa, Martin St. Louis, Brian Gionta, Alex Galchenyuk, Josh Gorges, Brandon Prust, Tomas Plekanec, Ray Whitney, Jaromir Jagr, Ben Scrivens &&&& last but not least, signing P.K. Subban.
Zeros: Lance Armstrong, Don Cherry, Pierre Gauthier, Nazem Kadri, Jeffrey Loria, David Samson, Chip Kelly, the Harbaugh brothers, Michael Crabtree, Manti Te’o, Billy Hunter, Jeremy Jacobs, Craig Leipold, Murray Edwards &&&& last but not least, Gary Bettman.
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