There's much left to say about Saturday's game that hasn't been said. The most common derisive comment made about these meetings of late is that the Maple Leafs' relative success against Montreal of late comes as a result of the outsized importance Toronto places on these meetings. It goes without saying that they forget that it is said without any awareness of the pre-lockout NHL when the Canadiens depended heavily on wins against Toronto to boost their morale. The long and the short of it last night is that this time the Leafs certainly did not play as if a win against Montreal could help erase previous sins.
The big talking point, as is often the case with Montreal, centres around their rookie sensation P.K. Subban. What a shocker. First off, a word on the criticism that's levelled towards Subban. Hockey, and the NHL specifically, is a sport that does not embrace change or any deviation from accepted standards. Brett Hull, Jeremy Roenick, and Kris Versteeg, to use a recent example, are all players that have caught flak for being outspoken and giving the media more than the usual cliches. What do they have in common? They're all white. Ever since Darren Pang's unfortunate slip of the tongue P.K. Subban's defenders have been more vociferous in denouncing any criticisms of him as racially charged. The irony lies that in doing so they are assuming a monochromatic NHL fanbase. It would be naive to suggest that there is no racism in hockey circles. Kevin Weekes had a banana thrown at him during a game and of course fans have used blackface to 'support' Subban before. Maybe Montreal fans are projecting thier racism? The point of those two links is that just as those three clowns are a miniscule percentage of the Montrela fanbase the criticism of Subban is overwhelmingly borne from hockey-related grievances. The funny thing is how sensitive Monreal fans are to anything negative said about Subban.
This thread about Joffrey Lupul's comments feature quite the pretzel routine from a couple of fans and complete non-sequitirs that serve only to distract. Zoolander's worn his visor during other fights so how dare he be upset that Subban didn't wait for him to take his helmet off. How does that logic follow? You can watch the video after the jump but Subban's going backwards and then stops and goes at Lupul when he's clearly taking his helmet off. Subban himself said he didn't understand what was going on. Against Zack Bogosian he pretended he wasn't going to fight before throwing the first punch. He dove at a Leafs' knees in order to get under a hit in the last Leafs game. He slew foot Brandon Dubinsky. These are things that go against the unwritten code of hockey in which rule number 1 is 'conform'. Actually, that last one is against the written rules too. The comment about Marchand and Richards' hypocrisy misses the forest for the trees. It doesn't matter that Marchand's never fought (maybe he just doesn't do things that require him to answer the bell) or if Richards showed his elders respect in his rookie year (on Philly you can bet he was quiet) because the overarching point is that he's not conforming in his words or some of his actions. Habs fans would do well to remember that NHLers are the most boring athletes in the world and as a result it doesn't take much to draw attention to oneself.
Have the media and fans focused in heavily on Subban? Absolutely. The kid was a beast in the AHL, jumped right into the playoffs last year, he's great with the media, plays for one of the largest fanbases in the league, and is having a good rookie season. Personally, I like the kid as a person and think, unfortunately for us, that he's going to have a pretty good career. And he'll be dogged by the media as long as he allows his personality to shine through. It has less to do with him being black than with him commiting the unacceptable crime of rising above the mundanity of the NHL. If Montreal fans want to get advice on how to deal with their special flower being constantly cut down by the media/fan weed whacker for every little deviation from the accepted norms of the league they can ask New York Rangers fans what it's like having Sean Avery.
One final note on Subban, the increased media scrutiny does mean that there will be times that the media makes a mountain out of a molehill. The entire 'Celebration-gate' (yes, I know that the hotel was called the Watergate but this is popular usage now) fiasco was ridiculous. The kid scored an overtime winner and didn't even have that much of a celebration. Meanwhile, Taylor Hall skates halfway down the ice doing four or five fist pumps and no one bats an eye. Why? Because in every other aspect Taylor Hall is vanilla and boring and sounds as smart as he looks (not very).
Anyway, I wrote about this because I'm interested to hear what everyone thinks about the motivations behind criticism of Subban by the media, fans, and other NHLers. I'd love to hear more examples of players rising above the mire and being struck down. Ultimately, I'm also just sick and tired of being called a racist because I hate a Montreal Canadien. Newsflash: I hate every fucking Canadien.
Joffrey Zoolander versus P.K. Subban
Game In Six