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  • Mike Brophy

    Mike Brophy

    About Mike Brophy

    Mike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992.

Hockey

Mike Brophy - Tuesday Dec. 3, 2013 11:52

Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban not a risk for Team Canada

High flying Montreal Canadiens defenceman faces uphill battle to convince management

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P.K. Subban's offensive style could hurt his chances for Team Canada's Olympic selection. (Claus Andersen/Getty)

Only in Canada would anyone be having a conversation about whether or not the reigning Norris Trophy winner and second-leading scorer among defenceman should play for the Olympic hockey team.

You would think a player with P.K. Subban’s proven offensive ability would be an automatic – a no-brainer – to be included on the Olympic team. But he is not.

Subban remains on the bubble to play for a team that will likely carry eight defencemen.

Why is that?

Well, for starters there is plenty of legitimate competition for a spot on the blue line. Supremely talented players such as Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Shae Weber, Alex Pietrangelo and Marc-Eduard Vlasic are thought to be locks to make the team.

Although, Weber’s participation may be in jeopardy after he took a shot to the face Nov. 28.

If the Canadian management group is looking for experience and leadership, then Dan Boyle and Brent Seabrook will also be included. That’s seven defencemen and leaves Subban in a group that likely includes Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf and Marc Staal for the eighth spot.

Subban takes too many chances

Given the fact Doughty will be the quarterback on the power play and will likely be joined by either Weber or possibly Boyle when Team Canada has the man advantage, the question becomes: Does Canada need another offence-minded defenceman?

Subban is also considered a high-risk, high-reward performer, although people are not giving him enough credit for the work he has done on the defensive side of his game.

That plays well over an 82-game NHL season, but there is a feeling the conservative Canadian brain trust is concerned his potentially reckless play in the defensive zone in a short tournament could have disastrous consequences.

Canada generally goes to the Olympics with a roster full of ‘safe’ players — guys not known for making dangerous boo-boos.

“You know, I don’t believe he makes the kind of low-risk plays now that maybe he did when he first came into the NHL,” said one NHL pro scout.

“His game has grown and it is awfully hard to imagine not wanting his offence with his big shot from the point.”

He's a 'difference-maker'

Said another team’s pro scout: "He plays to make a difference. Sure he’s flamboyant, but he’s also a difference-maker. He’d be on my Team Canada.”

Then there are the doubters. A pro scout from a third team offered, “One thing for sure, he can’t be taking off with the puck and doing his own thing. He can’t be dancing up the ice and leaving guys uncovered.”

Subban’s engaging personality, which, in a conservative setting, can be seen as potentially disruptive. 

He's a favorite with the media because he speaks his mind rather than in clichés, but that, along with all his other charms, don’t necessarily play well in the otherwise conservative world of hockey.

If you strictly look at the numbers, it’s hard to imagine anybody involved with Team Canada having any discussion about Subban other than, “What jersey number should we give him?”

Last season, his third in the NHL, Subban tied with Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang for the league lead in defenceman scoring with 11 goals and 38 points. His 11 goals were second to Washington’s Mike Green who scored 12.

This season through 25 games Subban had three goals and 21 points. He was also a +7 over that same span.

Represented Canada well

Subban has a very solid reputation when it comes to international play, having helped Team Canada win back-to-back gold medals at the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Championship. He played sparingly in 2008, but the next year he made the tournament all-star team after scoring three goals and nine points. He was +12 in the event.

When approached for an interview regarding his chances of making the Olympic team, Subban at first seemed delighted to speak, but a few days later said he would wait until the team is announced before talking. Perhaps he doesn't want to be perceived as campaigning through the media for a spot on the team.

Maybe it’s a sign of Canada’s depth on the blue-line that Subban is not considered a lock to be on the team. That, in a weird way, is a good thing for the team, but not so good for Subban.

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