The Montreal Canadiens have announced that they will name a captain for the 2015-16 season. And that’s all good. No Original Six team should be without a captain. Next on the docket should be the announcement that they’ve given it to the most obvious choice, defenseman P.K. Subban.
And it has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the fact that Subban is taking French instruction from a tutor in Montreal twice a week. It has everything to do with the fact that, aside from Carey Price, who can’t be named captain, he’s the team’s best player. He’s the face of the franchise. He is uniquely equipped to handle the scrutiny that comes with the position and he’s under contract for another seven seasons.
With all due respect to Max Pacioretty, Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec and Brendan Gallagher, there really is no other choice. Equipment manager Pierre Gervais might want to start stitching the ‘C’ on Subban’s No. 76 sweater right now.
To be sure, Subban would be the most extroverted, rambunctious and outspoken captain in franchise history, or at least since Doug Harvey did a one-year stint in 1960-61. When you think of Canadiens captains over the years, you recall the quiet elegance of Jean Beliveau, Serge Savard and Bob Gainey, the fierce determination of small men Henri Richard, Yvon Cournoyer and Saku Koivu or the selflessness of Butch Bouchard, Guy Carbonneau or Mike Keane. P.K. Subban is none of those things, but these are not your father’s Montreal Canadiens, either.
For those who haven’t noticed, the Canadiens have not won a Stanley Cup in roughly a generation. They are a good team with a lot of flaws that are covered up by the best goaltender on the planet at the moment. The Canadiens do not need a captain who will basically steer the ship quietly. At this point in their history, they need someone who will rattle cages and make the people around him accountable. They need a loud, boisterous voice who will stand up for himself and his teammates, someone who appreciates the historical significance of wearing the letter, but will also use display the kind of raw emotion that will trickle down through the roster.
Does Subban do everything in “the Canadien way?” No, but neither did Harvey or Chris Chelios and they were both captains of the Canadiens – Chelios was a co-captain in 1989-90 - and they’re also in the Hall of Fame. And Subban has come a long way from the excitable young buck who was mandated to tone down his post-win celebrations. After five years with the Canadiens, Subban has learned very well how to walk the line between being a star for the Canadiens and being a brash, in-your-face personality on and off the ice.
And, really, is there anyone who is more equipped to deal with everything that comes with being the captain of one of the most high-profile teams in the league? Subban has never shied away from being the center of attention. In fact, he seems to feed off it like the rest of us feed off oxygen. Unless management gets to him, it’s hard to believe Subban would be one to hide in the trainer’s room after a tough loss. And unlike Koivu before him, Subban is actually trying to learn French. French speaking Canadiens fans deserve to have someone who can communicate at least at a rudimentary level with them in their first language, but if that were the only consideration, their only choices would be David Desharnais or Michael Bournival. If Gainey could learn enough French to go and play a season in France after his career ended and later become the team’s GM, so can Subban.
“If you end up playing 10 years in Montreal, you want to know how to speak French,” Subban told reporters at the team’s annual golf tournament. “I’d be pretty embarrassed if I didn’t speak a little bit of French by then.”
Subban said he will not campaign for the job and doesn’t need anyone to, “wave flags or hold up signs.” Whether it’s management or his teammates or both who make the choice, he shouldn’t need a campaign.
Pernell Karl is the best choice.