PK Subban, a legitimate candidate for superstardom, is experiencing some interesting obstacles on his way to taking his seat in select company.
In just a short time in the NHL he has become an all-star and won a Norris Trophy. He was also ordered by his coach to stop ‘low fiving’ with teammate Carey Price to celebrate each victory despite it being a favorite player interaction of Montreal fans. His trash talking on the ice was criticized for standing up to veteran players on other teams. They also accused him of not being a team player-ironically, he is now on the short list for the captaincy.
With a new eight year deal that will pay him 9 million dollars per year PK Subban seems to have arrived.
This is not the first time charismatic players and contract negotiations have grabbed headlines.
Bobby Orr signed what was the most lucrative rookie contract of the time and was one of the very first to hire a players agent to negotiate his deal.
In the 1960’s and 70's the NHL was experiencing its first real evolutionary change, much like the changes taking place today.
There was a distinct dissimilarity in those days between the buzz cut “old men of the NHL” and the young Turks with full hair and sideburns who were just coming up from the junior ranks with a distinctly different attitude.
These young talented players set the stage for the contract negotiations we have now taken for granted, but were unheard of just a 20 years ago.
With unrestricted free agency and the success of non-NHL teams like the Miami Heat more change could still be in the air. You may recall that LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade made history getting together off the grid to win championships on the grid.
Brooklyn followed the same model and more change could be on the horizon, but not just in basketball circles. Hockey stars who want to win the Stanley Cup badly enough may follow the same path.
Years ago Bobby Orr, Derek Sanderson, and Gary Unger among others were at the forefront of the change, sporting longer hair styles and sideburns and a different outlook in contract negotiations.
Sanderson's contract was superior to every hockey superstars in the NHL - the best in the world at the time. It should be noted that Derek never won the Conn Smythe, Art Ross, or any other hardware, but he did have charisma, charm and style.
With their hair styles, brashness, talent and confidence more young fans and young women began to appear in droves at arenas across the country to see the new NHL.
Eventually, Derek Sanderson and Namath became partners in a popular bar in New York.
This was of course consistent with the 60’s revolution which saw a passionate rebellion against assimilation and more emphasis on individuality. The 60’s also saw the Vietnam War, the Beatles, and Motown change the way young people viewed the world and led to visible changes in the 1970's.
The question is if the 60's and 70's changed hockey then what will the 21st century do to it?
On the other side was men like Ned Harkness, who at the time ran the NHL. As the coach of the Detroit Redwings Harkness wanted the talented young Unger off the team after he insubordinately refused to cut his hair shorter.
Unger was a budding all-star, but Harkness traded him to The St. Louis Blues for veteran center Red Berenson. The Berenson for Unger trade was the major move that put the St. Louis Blues on the map and helped build their youth hockey program to what it is today.
The Wings became known as a team of old men and even the legendary Gordie Howe retired from it. Subsequently the Wings became a bottom dweller until Mike Illich purchased it from longtime owner Bruce Norris.
Orr, Unger and company attracted a huge number of new fans and contributed to the construction of a huge number of indoor ice facilities in new hockey cities in the 70’s. Those facilities ultimately paved the way for USA Hockey and the tremendous success many American hockey players such as Patrick Kane now enjoy.
Almost every 50 years North America seems to experience a massive cultural change. Generation gaps aren’t talked about much nowadays but they are still there none the less.
If you are a fan of the AMC series’ Madmen’ based on a fictitious ad agency in the 60’s try to imagine Don Draper and company complete with hat and overcoat attending a Rangers game in Madison Square Gardens.
In the 60’s Gordie Howe and Rocket Richard were the top draws in the NHL. During that timeframe you might have seen film clips of the slower grittier six team NHL. Bobby Hull emerged as a big draw with his blond locks and blazing slap shot and skating ability and captured the imagination of youth players who waited in line for hours to get his autograph.
Then came the 70’s with Orr, Sanderson, Sittler, Perreault, Lafleur and Dionne to name a few created an exciting new brand of hockey and their contribution caused the NHL to be reborn.
Today the game is bigger and faster and the players are better skaters, however the flair that the Orr generation gave birth to has started to become boring and predicable up and down affairs.
Remember when almost ten NHL stars scored 100 points or more in the same season?
How about when the top offensive defenders like Potvin, Coffey and Bourque scored 30 goals in a season? Or when Gretzky, Yzerman, and Bossy provided their own sense of flair to the league while breaking goal and point scoring records.
Many became spoiled with Gretzky and Lemieux’s' on ice genius and incomparable skill. Now many teams have top scorers that have averaged less than a point per game.
Some NHL games today are so boring and lack excitement. A shootout at the end may of regulation or 4 on 4 may not be enough to create more raving fans.
Many of today’s stars seem to lack creativity and the ability to lift people out of their seats. Today more emphasis is placed on making the high percentage pass and following a defensive discipline.
All of the game’s history has relevance and helps point to the future.
If the NHL is to grow its market share and attract a cross section of the population like many other major league teams the NHL will need more personality in the game as it moves forward.
Those individuals that fill seats will only emerge if the reigns and restrictions are removed at the development level.
Hull, Orr, Perreault, Lafleur, and Gretzky all began youth hockey playing ‘shiny’ and practicing moves, dekes, passes and shots without supervision allowing them to develop the skills to create and as a result execute.
End to end rushes still bring fans out of their seats, but they are frowned upon by many AAA coaches and are literally being coached out of the game. It is true that children are our future. So todays youth players will be tomorrow's NHL players.
Subban's spectacular play helped him get a big contract with Montreal.
Youth players are taking note and so are their parents. At least we hope they are!