The tug-of-war between perception and reality is one of things that make sports so fascinating.
P.K. Subban stands as one of the most interesting examples in the NHL. Subban’s described as a “flashy” player, and it’s unlikely that he really minds the descriptor. The Nashville Predators star relishes the spotlight, and to delight of non-sticks-in-the-mud, Subban tends to have a plan to entertain when the lights are so bright.
Still, such a demeanor can make people believe that there’s no steak to go with the sizzle.
In Subban’s case, sometimes that means that his defensive strengths go underrated, as the Tennessean’s Adam Vingan reported during All-Star weekend.
“I take pride in the defensive part of the game. … That’s what ultimately won me a job in the NHL,” Subban said. “It wasn’t my offense. I take pride in that, and I just hope that continues. I think people would sound pretty foolish if they continued to try to say that I can’t play defensively.”
Really, though, it’s that combination of strengths that makes Subban worthy of Norris consideration.
After all, as much as he’s turning heads as a shutdown guy, it’s no coincidence that people also can’t help but notice that he’s the Predators’ points leader with 40 points (matching his total from 2016-17, his debut with Nashville), and that he already has 13 goals, two shy of his career-high. And we’re barely in February.
Subban’s defensive brilliance isn’t merely anecdotal; you can see Peter Laviolette’s trust build in the star in a variety of ways.
After spending at least 50 percent of his zone starts in the offensive zone during the end of his Canadiens days, he’s seeing more and more of a defensive burden, beginning a career-high of 59 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone this season (via Hockey Reference).
One wonders how much of the Subban-related misconceptions come down to mistakes by the Montreal Canadiens. Simply put, some might find it difficult to shake memories of the way Michel Therrien used Subban at times; during the 2013-14 season, Subban averaged just 20 seconds of shorthanded time per game.
Perhaps some of his work in Nashville gets lost in the shuffle a bit simply because he’s part of a great defensive corps? Subban’s now killing almost three minutes of power-play time per night, yet he’s a little behind Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm, who also log similar overall ice time to P.K.
A wide-open race
Subban’s 13 goals and 40 points in 50 games should impress, but when it comes to the Norris voting, he’ll be in tough. With Erik Karlsson downgrading from Superman to Batman this season, others might have a chance, and Subban has John Klingberg to contend with when it comes to voters who eyeball scoring.
As you can see from this fairly recent comparison, Klingberg can probably relate to Subban in feeling stung by assumptions about merely being a scoring threat:
There’s no shame in falling just short of a Norris Trophy, especially since Subban already has one on his resume from the 2012-13 season. The real shame, then, would be to ignore just how fantastic Subban has become as an all-around talent.