P.K. Subban

Though he didn’t win his second Norris Trophy last week as the NHL’s best defenseman, the Nashville Predators’ P.K. Subban still made news and history. EA Sports announced that Subban would be the cover athlete for the newest version of their video game. NHL 19 will make its debut September 14 for both Playstation and Xbox One. Though they don’t mention it anywhere in the advance publicity that they sent out regarding the game, it’s also highly likely that Subban is the first Black player who has ever been a cover athlete for any EA hockey video game. Last season it was Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid.

Subban also made news another way last week in an interview when he said he “hoped I remain a Predator.” That was an acknowledgement that Subban has heard some of the rumors regarding the possibility of the Predators trading one of their top four defensmen for another scoring forward and center, and an acknowledgement that he’s certainly the most marketable and visible of that group. Subban had another excellent season last year, with 59 points on 43 assists and 16 goals. That marks his fifth straight season with at least 40 points and his fourth in five years with at least 50.

Add to that he’s among the team’s most popular players, one who makes lots of philanthropic and charity appearances and is their flashiest and most charismatic on the ice. Subban also tends to draw most of the ire from opposing fans and teams, some of it racially based, but more of it due to his being among the most bombastic and dynamic in a sport that puts far less emphasis on individuality than basketball or even football and baseball.

NBC commentator Mike Milbury is one of those who’ve publicly criticized Subban for many things from his warm-up routine, which includes both celebratory dancing and loud music, to his on-ice celebrations after he scores goals. Subban’s also been in the news most lately for a rumored romance with Olympian (and former Tiger Woods girl friend) Lindsay Vonn. The two have been photographed together at a variety of events, but Subban hasn’t spoken much about whether they indeed having a relationship.

But more importantly in regards to the Predators, Subban has been a key figure ever since GM David Poile made the controversial decision to trade then captain and reigning star Shea Weber for Subban two seasons ago. Since coming to Montreal, Weber has been erratic and injured, and the Canadians haven’t made the playoffs either season. 

By contrast, in Subban’s first season with Nashville the Predators reached the Stanley Cup Final. Everyone was extremely disappointed at how poorly the Predators played against the Winnipeg Jets in the second round, but Subban did everything he could to prevent the disaster. He logged more ice time than any other defensman, playing on both the power play and penalty killing units, and scored at least two goals in key situations to either put the Predators ahead or get them back into games. 

Hockey has relatively few Black players, and even fewer actual stars. Subban is clearly the top Black figure in the league, but he has always avoided doing much talk on racial issues. For one he’s said quite often that as a Canadian he’s no expert on American racial issues. Secondly, while admitting there have been some situations and issues over his time with both Montreal and Nashville, he says that there’s been very few times he’s ever faced any kind of direct racist language or treatment.

Whether that’s true or not only Subban knows for sure, but this much is absolutely true. He’s one of the cornerstones of the Predators, and any trade that they make involving him had better at minimum be a blockbuster or the howls of protest will be even louder than they were when Poile traded Seth Jones, whom everyone knew was a budding star, for Ryan Johansen. That’s worked out because the Predators needed a center and they had a surplus of top defensmen. Still, it’s not something that a team wants or needs to get in the habit of doing, trading top stars, and in Subban’s case also enormously popular figures.