There are a few signature moments to choose from – the anti-celebration after potting a double-overtime winner, the jump-out-of-the-penalty-box breakaway deke, any number of crazy dangles through the neutral zone.
The highlight package even includes some defensive gems and a bone-rattling hit or two.
Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban may be a divisive figure in hockey circles, but no one can plausibly argue he didn’t carry the mail in the playoffs.
That’s not to say he was perfect – he wasn’t – but Subban was clearly the best defenceman in the Habs’ lineup over the course of the postseason, and one of the top two or three in the league.
Now his general manager is going to have to get off his wallet.
Marc Bergevin will have all manner of subjects to consider this off-season, but it starts with sorting out a new contract for the 25-year-old defenceman.
It’s going to be expensive, perhaps even crazily so – why wouldn’t agent Don Meehan start the discussions at Evgeni Malkin-type money: eight years and $76-million?
Much ink will be spilled over the next few weeks about whether the sides will reach a long-term deal, settle on a one- or two-year pact, or even go the arbitration route, but if Bergevin still has doubts about what Subban can bring, he’s a surpassingly severe judge.
That said, the Subban decision, which is the most important, is also in some sense the easiest: If you’re the Habs, try contemplating life without him.
Bergevin’s other files are more intricate.
Did Lars Eller, a pending restricted free agent, show enough in the regular and postseason to suggest he is ready to supplant Tomas Plekanec as the team’s go-to two-way centre? Judging from the playoffs, he is, but it’s a smallish sample.
Plekanec, on the other hand, would surely fetch a princely return, assuming he’s willing to waive his limited no-trade clause – he’s a hotter property than, say, Rene Bourque.
Moving the 31-year-old Czech, who had miserable stretches in the Boston and New York series, would also vacate the second-line centre spot for Alex Galchenyuk, the 20-year-old whose return from injury finally got the Czech centre off his marks.
Galchenyuk – who with fellow youngster Brendan Gallagher (19 goals in the regular season, fifth in team scoring in the playoffs) will be due a new contract in spring, 2015 – is a natural centre. The organization keeps repeating that it sees him in that role, and at some point he’ll have to be thrust into it.
The youngster suffered a pair of injuries this past season (a broken hand and knee sprain) so perhaps the temptation is to be conservative; if coach Michel Therrien is to prove his mettle as a good mentor to young players – as he claims to be – his handling of Galchenyuk, one of the top prospects in the league, will be the acid test.
Speaking of the coach, Bergevin basically confirmed after the second round his bench boss will be granted an extension beyond 2014-15, and while he broadly coached well in the playoffs, that doesn’t give him a pass on the regular season.
The Habs regressed badly in terms of puck-possession numbers relative to 2013, and it’s a strong predictor of success: The three remaining teams in the playoffs, New York, Chicago and L.A., were all elite in that department – and were inconsistent on the power play, an area highly dependent on coaching adjustments.
The Rangers were able to counter the Habs’ neutral-zone trap with their speed and bottle Montreal up with their fore-check; Therrien could find no tactical fixes.
Much depends, then, on the lessons Bergevin draws from these playoffs.
Last season, after being bossed around physically by the Ottawa Senators, the assessment was clearly that the Habs needed to get bigger. Bergevin acquired tough guy George Parros (who played only 22 games, and none in the playoffs) and massive, plodding defenceman Douglas Murray (three playoff games in the Boston series, two of them losses; he was on the ice for the Bruins’ overtime winner in game four). Then the team drafted the huge but perhaps limited Michael McCarron in the first round – the 19-year-old put up a disappointing showing at the Memorial Cup.
So what’s the main takeaway from the 2014 postseason?
To these eyes, it’s that the Habs need to become more mobile on the back end – Therrien was unusually bold in these playoffs; perhaps he might have considered giving youngsters like Nathan Beaulieu (21) and Jarred Tinordi (22) more seasoning in the regular season.
Veterans Andrei Markov – who slowed visibly as the playoffs wore on – Francis Bouillon, Mike Weaver and Murray are all slated to become free agents. Only Markov and Weaver can expect contract offers.
Alexei Emelin missed the last two games of the New York series with an injury; he is locked up for four more years at $4-million per season. If he doesn’t improve, that’s going to seem expensive.
More offensive punch on the forward lines would be good as well. There are prospects in the pipeline, such as Artturi Lehkonen, Jacob de la Rose, Martin Reway, Charles Hudon and Sven Andrighetto, although only de la Rose is believed to be NHL ready. The Habs are a speedy team, but not as fleet as the New York Rangers or Tampa Bay Lightning, who aren’t going away any time soon.
The emergence of 21-year-old Michaël Bournival plus the mid-season addition of pending RFA Dale Weise, one of the faster skaters in the NHL, and the playoff success both enjoyed should hold some clues as to the way forward.
Skeptics will point out the Habs benefited from a weak conference and an upset of the Boston Bruins – a team they always seem to beat – to get to the final four.
But the 26-and-under core of this team – goalie Carey Price, winger Max Pacioretty, Subban, Eller, Galchenyuk, Gallagher – is a strong one, provided it is well supported.
That’s Bergevin’s task: picking and choosing which veterans will help the core improve.
Montreal has oodles of salary cap room, and the younger players have the bitterness of falling just short of a Stanley Cup final to fuel them.
Winger Daniel Brière, a 36-year-old veteran who is signed through next season, said the key is for them to feel first-hand the desire and emotional level that are required to win.
“The overall desperation throughout the series, I think, the Rangers were a little above us in that department. And that’s something you have to learn, and as you move up the rounds it takes more and more and more to keep moving,” he said.
Added defenceman Josh Gorges, another player who is signed long-term, “I say this every year, and it’s becoming too much, but sometimes you’ve got to learn to lose, and how bad this feels, to know how hard you’ve got to push to win.”
It’s interesting, although perhaps not all that surprising, that the players who were on hand to face the media in the Habs’ room immediately after the Game 6 ouster at Madison Square Garden were Subban, Pacioretty, goalie Dustin Tokarski and a few moments later Gorges (Brière and captain Brian Gionta, a pending unrestricted free agent, wandered in a few minutes after that).
Though Tokarski isn’t Price, he has solidified his place in the organization; the other players’ status is self-evident.
The only one among them without a contract is Subban – Tokarski signed a two-year extension before the playoffs.
The Toronto-born Subban leads the league in power-play points in the postseason, and leads all NHL defencemen in playoff scoring – although New York’s Ryan McDonagh and L.A.’s Drew Doughty can and likely will catch him – and is fourth in ice time among blueliners having played more than 10 games.
By the end of the playoffs, he was even being used on the penalty kill – a position in which Therrien somewhat inexplicably refused to use him in the regular season (even now, it took an injury to Emelin).
Another stat as to the 25-year-old Subban’s value: He topped 28 minutes just three times in the regular season, but did it six times in 17 playoff games.
Yes, he also had 28 giveaways – although that stat needs to be taken with a grain of salt – but it’s still fewer than Doughty, McDonagh and Chicago’s Duncan Keith.
Besides, when you have the puck all the time, you’re going to turn it over more often.
The advanced stats also bear it out: Subban is one of the top-20 possession drivers in the league relative to his teammates, and arguably has superior underlying stats in the playoffs to Doughty, his Olympic teammate.
All this after a regular season in which he scored 53 points in 82 games, sixth-best among defencemen.
Subban was paid $3.75-million this year, so he’s already a rich young man.
He is also about to get much, much richer.Report Typo/Error