No P.K. Subban as Habs captain? Instead, it’s Max Pacioretty. The players voted him in, so who are we to argue?
We’ve waited with bated breath throughout September for the Montreal Canadiens to announce their 29th captain. And in the days leading up to the inevitable reveal, sheesh, did P.K. Subban ever build momentum.
Subban was already a man of the people – affable, funny, charismatic, more approachable than most athletes and a damn good hockey player. He checked off many a box on the layman’s list of captain criteria. And then, boom, he makes the biggest philanthropic commitment by any Canadian athlete ever, $10 million, to the Montreal Children’s Hospital two days ago. If there ever was a captainly move, that was it. And I’m comfortable admitting I strongly supported the idea of Subban captaining the Habs. Dynamic, fiery player who can carry a team on his back, with a prominent voice and strong community presence? Yes, please. He was my No. 1 vote.
But that doesn’t mean we should hiss and hurl tomatoes at Max Pacioretty, who was unveiled as Montreal’s captain Friday. Subban may be the people’s choice as captain, but he wasn’t the players’ choice, and who are we to dispute that?
The official team tweet explained the players voted Pacioretty to the ‘C.’ He doesn’t have the makings of a rah-rah leader, sure. He’s fairly soft spoken and wouldn’t top anyone’s list of most outwardly intense NHLers. But he’s dedicated to his craft and a hard worker. He won the 2011-12 Bill Masterton Trophy for battling all the way back from a concussion and fractured vertebra after Boston’s Zdeno Chara rode him into a stanchion the season prior in a collision still debated today. It wasn’t an easy road back. I spoke with Pacioretty the day before he won the award, and he talked about feeling the air bubbles pop in his neck the first time he took a hit in practice after returning from the injury. It was scary, he said, but he fought through it. He’s since remained one of the game’s premier goal scorers. In the three seasons since he won the Masterton, only Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and Joe Pavelski have scored more goals than Pacioretty.
So ‘Patches,’ the third U.S.-born Habs captain after Chris Chelios and Brian Gionta, shapes up as a lead-by-example type. Above all else, the captain should be the guy best equipped to rally his teammates. And while the external evidence suggests to many of us Subban is the right guy to do that, the players have told us otherwise with their decision. If he’s the guy they vote to power, he’s the guy they want to follow.
And while Pacioretty isn’t the most animated NHLer you’ll meet, he’s a thoughtful one and he’s not begrudgingly accepting a role thrust upon him. He wants it. A year ago, at a video game demo for EA Sports’ NHL 15, he played as the Montreal Canadiens while Morgan Rielly controlled the Toronto Maple Leafs. The game automatically gave Pacioretty the ‘C,’ and he was amped about it when I pointed it out.
“Somebody at EA Sports deserves a raise,” Pacioretty said, smiling ear to ear.
Yes, Pacioretty isn’t the Habs captain we all want. It’s disappointing to see P.K. Subban only earn alternate status alongside Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher. But Pacioretty isn’t a bad choice. He wants the job, and his teammates want it for him.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin