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Montreal Canadiens P.K. Subban (L) jostles with Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards during the third period of NHL hockey action in Montreal, November 16, 2010. Picture taken November 16, 2010. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)
Montreal Canadiens P.K. Subban (L) jostles with Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards during the third period of NHL hockey action in Montreal, November 16, 2010. Picture taken November 16, 2010. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)

The Usual Suspects

Trouble follows Subban Add to ...

If the CFL wants some extra publicity this week for the Grey Cup, perhaps it can sign up P.K. Subban or unearth e-mails from a CFL exec calling Cleo Lemon a little faker. Seems to be working in the NHL.

It's hard to keep the Montreal Canadiens' ebullient rookie defenceman out of the news - even when he has nothing to do with it. After Subban scrummed with a Toronto Maple Leafs forward during a game Saturday, Hockey Night In Canada analyst Glenn Healy said Subban was having "none of this monkey business." Subban is black, so Healy's inadvertent words spoken in the hurly-burly of the game were, at best, unfortunate.

"The comment clearly referred only to the action taking place on the ice - nothing else was implied and no offence was intended," Hockey Night executive producer Trevor Pilling told Usual Suspects in an e-mail. But the incident illustrates the new sensitivities of modern broadcast etiquette in Canada's multiracial culture.

Subban is a cocky, motor-mouthed personality - which is to say everyone in hockey's cloistered culture wants to shut him up. None more so than Hockey Night's Don Cherry, who couldn't even remember Subban's full name the first time he trained his eagle eye on the rookie on Coach's Corner. Once again Saturday, The Suit railed on about Subban's impertinence, speaking approvingly of the explicit physical threats levelled against Subban by Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards last week.

Cherry's treatment of the "uppity" rookie prompted one reader to ask us if there wasn't a racial tinge to the criticism. Judging by Cherry's track record, the answer would be no. He's an equal-opportunity threatener, having said that players of all races should have their arms broken (Sidney Crosby) or their craniums cracked (Tomas Sandstrom) for offending The Code. Vindictive yes. Intolerant, yes. But, perhaps because he's been looking at his wardrobe for so long, Cherry seems colour-blind.

Suddenly Subban

It will be interesting to see how Subban's challenge to the establishment plays out. He certainly breaks the mould of Jarome Iginla, the league's most notable player of colour. Iginla is an old-school, by-the-book character who has studiously avoided the politics of his position. Subban is a refreshing character who's unafraid to say he'll kick your ass. The last Canadian black sports superstar who verbalized a similar sentiment - sprinter Donovan Bailey, in the wake of defeating Michael Johnson in their 1997 150-metre match race - is still being asked to apologize for his exuberant boast.

How's That?

Healy's gaffe-in-haste was reminiscent of the incident when Howard Cosell - enthralled by a run from Alvin Garrett of the Washington Redskins - blurted out, "Look at that little monkey go," on Monday Night Football in September of 1983. When the forces of political correctness descended on Cosell, he was forced to use his bona fides as a defender of Muhammad Ali to prove he wasn't a racist. Nonetheless, the incident dogged Cosell till his death and is still cited in some of his biographies.

Taking The Fifth

In civilized society, Richards' menacing screed would fall under "uttering threats" in the Criminal Code. In the NHL, it's just a playful aside. Perhaps Richards' vendetta escaped the attention of league vice-president Colin Campbell, who was otherwise engaged telling the media that he is still the best judge of his own impartiality.

TSN host James Duthie tried manfully to elicit an apology or recognition from Campbell that his insults about Marc Savard or his interference in his son Gregory's NHL career were off-sides. Duthie had a better chance of Campbell admitting to the Lindbergh kidnapping.

While he bragged of recusing himself from NHL decisions about his son, Campbell blithely ascribed his meddling e-mails to former referee in chief Stephen Walkom about calls against his son as simply the product of a caring parent. The former player, coach and now executive refused to see the obvious contradiction. And why not, when the commissioner and half the media gush about what a swell, impartial fellow you are?

Expect a neutral disciplinary arbitrator to be an issue when a Don Fehr-led National Hockey League Players' Association locks horns with the league in the next collective agreement negotiations. While a third party deciding suspensions seems fanciful, remember that the commissioner/president was once arbitrator on salary disputes, too.

Not So Fast

Unemployed NHL veteran Bull Guerin made an appearance on the Versus show NHL Overtime the other night. The host, Bill Patrick, repeatedly introduced the 40-year-old as "recently retired Bill Guerin." Leading Guerin to correct the record. "I'm not recently retired. Let's just say I'm between jobs right now.''

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