Still more questions than answers in P.K. Subban trade

In the 2nd part of Sportsnet’s exclusive interview with Subban, Engels tackles whether some of the perception of P.K.’s character is actually reality, and whether he’s concerned at all with the current racial climate in the U.S.

How could P.K. Subban be so misunderstood?

It’s a question many are struggling with. After six seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, after countless interviews, there’s still no answer.

Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin’s reasons for why he thinks he made the Canadiens better by making this trade leaned heavily on the intangibles of leadership and character.

For Subban to have been dealt away — albeit for a superstar in Nashville’s Shea Weber — Bergevin must have thought there was a better formula for winning in Montreal.

Subban made it clear during his sitdown with Sportsnet Tuesday that he could handle the idea that Bergevin believes Weber’s the better player of the two. But he couldn’t stomach the possibility that the GM didn’t recognize what type of character he possessed.

“I’m not perfect,” Subban said before the cameras got rolling for the interview, which took place in Montreal. “But I don’t abuse alcohol or drugs, I don’t party, and no one could say I didn’t try my hardest or that I didn’t show up to play.”

Yes, he built a life outside of hockey. Sure, he was devoted to building his brand. But he insists nothing got in the way of his devotion to helping the Canadiens capture their 25th Stanley Cup.

Subban’s 278 points in 434 games with the Canadiens highlighted his ability, but his 11 goals and 27 assists in 55 playoff games with the franchise confirmed what kind of influence he could have on the process of capturing hockey’s most coveted prize.

To say the Toronto native played passionately in Montreal would be an understatement. Fans here don’t jump out of their seats on a nightly basis for a player who gives anything less than all of himself.

Off the ice, Subban embraced what it meant to be a Canadien more than any other player in recent memory. It wasn’t just about his massive commitment to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, which serves as the best evidence he understood his responsibility to give back; it was about how he visited the hospital unannounced and cultivated relationships with patients for years before he pledged to raise the $10 million that would ensure his presence would always be there; it was about how he conducted himself with anyone who had the courage to walk up to him and introduce themselves.

He didn’t shake hands with everyone because he had to, or pose for pictures because he felt obliged. He says he did it because it made people happy, and that made him feel good.

“I just want to be a good person,” Subban said.

“I have a lot of respect for P.K.,” Canadiens owner Geoff Molson told Sportsnet Wednesday afternoon. “But I also have a lot of respect for Marc [Bergevin] for having the courage to do something he knows is unpopular. It was directly related to trying to improve the hockey club for this season.

“Obviously we’re going to all live with our decision and hope for the best.”

The analytics don’t support the idea that Weber, who turns 31 on Aug. 14, can have the same influence on the game as 27-year-old Subban can.

A source told Sportsnet that Matt Pfeffer, who was hired as an analytics consultant at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, made an impassioned and elaborate presentation to management to dissuade them from following through on this trade.

Ignoring Pfeffer’s advice only served to reinforce the notion that Bergevin was following different criteria in his evaluation of both players, said the source, who also suggested Pfeffer’s vehemence on the matter might have ultimately cost him the job (he was told on Wednesday that his contract won’t be renewed). The Canadiens would not comment on why they aren’t renewing his contract, but they did say that they are looking into other analytics solutions.

If Bergevin or Molson had an issue with the way Subban conducted himself on and off the ice, Subban says they never explicitly raised their concerns with him.

Molson may not have made it his personal mandate to take Subban under his wing, but he insists the two had an open and honest relationship.

“I’ve always been there for him,” said Molson. “I talked to him once in a while. Even as recent as a couple of weeks ago, we talked about sitting down together and having a chat about the past season and what could be done moving forward.”

Molson would not, however, clarify this comment Bergevin made over the weekend:

“For me, I like football. I like to watch it. But I’m not an expert and I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes,” Bergevin told NHL.com. “If they trade a player on a team I like, there must be a reason why they did it and I don’t know the reason why. If I know, then I could have an opinion. Otherwise, I’m guessing.”

Subban, and many others, have been left guessing as to why Bergevin felt it was imperative to turn the page.

It may be a while until we get the answer.

Clarification: Former Canadiens analyst Matt Pfeffer issued a statement via Sportsnet Wednesday to clarify the author’s report that he “made an impassioned and elaborate presentation,” to management regarding the trade that sent P.K. Subban to Nashville in exchange for Shea Weber. A meeting between Canadiens management and the analyst did not take place. Pfeffer submitted a report comparing both players for review.