As soon as the Penguins won the Stanley Cup Sunday night on the back of a garbage fluke of a goal from Patric Hornqvist, I knew it was only a matter of time before the made-in-Quebec P.K. hating roared back into action.
Sadly, I was right.
Social media was an ugly place to be Monday for people like me who are P.K. Subban fans and think that Marc Bergevin made a huge mistake shipping the Norris Trophy-winning defenceman to Nashville last year in return for Shea Weber.
On Sunday night, I tweeted to say the hating was about to begin and it elicited this response:
Right back at you in reverse. People like you turned us against Subban.
Then someone else responded to my original tweet about the hating, tweeting that the hating was “Music to my ears!”
Yet another Subban hater popped up to opine that “I trash Subban on here so much just to counter the fake (Habs) fans who sh*t on Weber and the rest of the organization.”
There was also no shortage of Subban bashing on Facebook.
Like Mike Herman, who posted this on top of a photo of Sidney Crosby with the Stanley Cup: “Thank Mr. Subban for this one. In that never-ending quest to be the centre of attention he poked and agitated a bear named Sid who dominated sending Smashville home in tears. His act will wear thin soon enough there (too).”
That, of course, was a reference to the trash talking between Subban and Crosby, who’d been in close quarters on the ice for much of the series. P.K. claimed Sid had told Subban he had bad breath and Subban responded that he’d taken his Listerine as usual that day. The anti-Subban narrative suggests he “poked the bear” and that Crosby suddenly came to life. Of course the problem is it’s not true. Crosby had a great playoff run from start to finish and ended up with 27 points in 24 games. He didn’t win the Conn Smythe just because he picked up in the last three games of the Final!
On TSN 690 Monday afternoon, host and former Habs player Chris Nilan and columnist and former Habs player Sergio Momesso were knocking Subban for making so much noise off-ice. And I don’t even need to watch L’Antichambre on RDS and Dave Morissette’s show on TVA Sports this week to know they’ll be kicking Subban in the head — for the very good reason that they’ve been consistently doing that ever since P.K. first donned a Habs sweater in 2010.
So why are the haters so full of hatred? Excellent question. For some reason, the folks who thought Bergevin was smart to trade Subban for Weber are incredibly intolerant of any discussion on the matter and it drove them crazy that thousands of Montrealers continued to be Subban fans even though he was playing in Tennessee. The Shea crowd was shouting almost from day one that the debate had to be closed, that we had to “get over it” and Bergevin, naturally enough, supported this discourse, quickly saying he would no longer be taking questions on the trade.
The pro-Shea/pro-Bergevin types keep saying that we are not “real” Canadiens fans because we still like Subban and were cheering for the Predators in the playoffs. It’s true that many of the Subban fans are indeed hyper critical of current Montreal Canadiens management. I confess. I may have launched one or two arrows in M. Bergevin’s direction.
But it only makes sense. If you think the trade was a huge misstep for Montreal, chances are you’re not thinking Bergevin is an ace GM. And that’s part of the roots of the hating. The anti-P.K. brigade don’t like the Subban love-in because it is something of a resistance movement against the Bergevin regime. Yes we wanted Subban to win the Cup in part to make it even more obvious that the Habs GM had made a big mistake. But that’s okay. We don’t need the Cup to prove that thesis.
With the exception of the Montreal media haters, there was widespread agreement in the hockey media elsewhere that Subban was having a monster playoff. He was on the ice against the top lines of Chicago, St. Louis, Anaheim and Pittsburgh and with the exception of the game last Thursday, he mostly shut them right down. Predators coach Peter Laviolette was playing him more than any other Preds skaters most nights and he wasn’t doing that because P.K. had the best smile on the team. He was one of the best players in these playoffs.
So why the hatred? Partly it’s because to love Subban is to have issues with the way the Habs are run. But it’s bigger and uglier than that. Bergevin and former coach Michel Therrien constructed a narrative that day-in and day-out subtly and sometimes not so subtly insinuated Subban was a cancer in the room. It’s unprecedented for management to treat a star player like that.
And a large portion of the Habs fan base bought into that nasty storyline. And now they’re happy to kick him when he’s down. Classy.
And is it even uglier than that? Does race have something to do with the hatred? I hope not. But it’s lurking there in the background. I had a couple of friends who went down to see a Habs game in Boston during that epic Bruins series in 2014 and they heard cheap jerseys China a lot of racist comments outside the rink.
I mean the National Hockey League is a very white league and Subban is one of the few black stars, so it is an odd coincidence that he is one of the few players who’s booed in every rink he plays in. Was race part of the reason he was in a perpetual conflict with Canadiens management? I don’t really think so. I think it was a cultural clash between conservative managers who didn’t know how to deal with a 21st-century player with a big ego.
But I do think all of the Habs “fans” gleefully hating on Subban in the wake of the Preds loss should maybe think about the optics of their Subban trashing. At best, it ain’t pretty.
There’s the team-worst minus-23, an unflattering shot differential – particularly for a playmaking defenseman – and the drop in production.
All suggest a down season for the Coyotes’ Oliver Ekman-Larsson, an assessment he agrees with when he reflects on his play with about a month left on the schedule.
“I think I haven’t been playing bad, and I haven’t been playing very good,” he said. “You can consider it an off year.”
But there’s also the fact Ekman-Larsson played through injury while feeling the frustration of yet another playoff-less trek – all the while bearing in mind he’s a role model for a growing cast of rookies.
And while these numbers and experiences from the past five months have culminated in the most adversity he’s faced in the NHL, Ekman-Larsson is confident he’ll rebound.
“It’s how you really handle it,” he said. “If you say to yourself, ‘I’m going to keep playing like this,’ then you will. If you tell yourself, ‘You’re going to get better,’ you will get better. I feel like I’m going to get better, and I know it and I’m going to work hard to get better. That’s the player and person I am.”
Arizona’s offensive leader the previous two seasons, Ekman-Larsson is on pace for his lowest point total since 2013.
Five teammates had more than his 10 goals entering Saturday’s game against the Devils, and his 34 points sat second to winger Radim Vrbata’s output – which was on the brink of 50.
His shots are way down from the paces he set the past cheap jerseys China two years, when he eclipsed the 20-goal plateau. And while that’s a standard Ekman-Larsson said isn’t realistic to expect every season, it could explain the fewer offensive contributions. So perhaps could the broken left thumb he played with for six weeks after suffering the injury Nov. 29 against the Sharks.
“It’s tough,” he said. “Obviously, you can’t really do the things that you want to do. You have to switch up your game a little bit, and maybe I was more of a passer for six weeks than a shooter.”
Although he said he had the option to not play, Ekman-Larsson hasn’t missed a single game. He didn’t want to take “the easy way out” and chose to continue suiting up. And while the injury was certainly a factor, he doesn’t blame it for his performance.
“I felt like I could still be out on the ice and adapt my game to that situation,” he said. “I think that’s something you will have as long as you play in the league, that you are able to battle through, and I’ve battled through a lot of stuff over the years. I feel that helps you, too, and realize you just have to find a way to be the best player every day, and you’re not going to feel 100 percent every night.”
Ekman-Larsson’s struggles, however, haven’t been limited to the offensive zone.
Aside from an eyesore of a plus-minus, a stat “he’d love to do something about” while acknowledging it includes empty-net goals, turnovers have been glaring – especially since he’s carved out a reputation as a smooth operator in his own end, poise that typically enables him to organize a rush the other way.
Overall, the Coyotes have given up 198 more shots at 5-on-5 than they’ve managed with Ekman-Larsson on the ice.
“I don’t think I switched anything up or doing anything different,” he said. “It’s just you don’t get the bounces. That’s the one thing I’ve been telling myself that I’m not going to stop making plays. That’s not the player I am. I could do it really simple for myself and chip it out every single play and then it would be wrong.”
He’d rather go through a tough season now than when the team is contending for the playoffs, Ekman-Larsson said, and he believes when the team is ready for that pursuit, he’ll be on-point to stoke success.
But a four-going-on-five-year playoff drought has been a harsh reality.
“You obviously don’t feel very good about it,” Ekman-Larsson said. “It’s kind of hard to don’t really play for anything.”
Still, he has hope and the Coyotes’ youth has helped fuel that – an audience the 25-year-old, who has two full seasons left on a six-year, $33 million contract, is aware he has as a leader on the team.
“When I got in the league, I looked to Doaner (captain Shane Doan) every game we lost and how he acted or how he handled himself,” he said. “I think that’s huge, especially when we have a lot of young players. I feel that’s important.”
The remainder of the season is no doubt still significant for the rookies since every shift offers much-needed experience, but the time left is also meaningful for a veteran like Ekman-Larsson.
He wants to exit every game feeling proud of his play and like he did the best he could.
Because as much as this season has tested him, it hasn’t changed who he is.
“I feel like even if I’ve been hurt or if I’ve been playing bad, I’ve been the same person and the same happy guy,” he said. “That’s what I’m taking with me this season.”
Eurobasket preparation is starting to get underway with a month before the big international competition. Mario Hezonja is sitting out, as expected.
Mario Hezonja said after the season ended he did not think he would participate in this summer’s Eurobasket after playing for his national team in each of the past two summers. He said he wanted to stick around Orlando and focus on improving his game ahead of his third season in the NBA.
Judging by how poorly he played, focusing on himself seemed like the right idea. Only time will tell if that work will pay off.
Hezonja’s decision to skip Eurobasket for Croatia became official this week.
Croatia released its roster for Eurobasket this week and left Hezonja out of the player pool.
This is no surprise. Hezonja told reporters after the season he was going to skip Eurobasket. This just makes the decision official.
Hezonja averaged 4.9 points per game last year for the Orlando Magic, but he struggled to find a role with the team. He appeared in only 65 games, playing 14.8 minutes per game. Hezonja shot just 35.5 percent from the floor and 29.9 percent from beyond the arc. It was a disappointing season for the second-year player.
That poor play was not foreshadowed at all in his run with the Croatian National Team. After an up-and-down rookie year, Hezonja played for Croatia at the Olympics. He averaged 9.0 points per game and made 12 of his 24 3-pointers. Croatia largely used him as a spot-up shooter, but he picked his spots to attack and made open jumpers.
It looked like he was due for a good season after that.
Of course, things did not play that well. Hezonja’s strong summer run with the national team did not translate to the NBA. It left fans, the team and Hezonja all frustrated.
To his credit, he recognized all that frustration. He seemed eager to get his summer started. Hezonja never blamed his international play — he said he wanted to play for his national team — but admitted that playing for them may have hurt his individual growth. magic Orlando Magic Daily 16h Orlando Magic waive Marcus Georges-Hunt More headlines around FanSided: 2d – Mario Hezonja officially out for Eurobasket 2d – A BIG3 and NBA JAM duo for the Orlando Magic 3d – USA TODAY: Orlando Magic could really use Kyrie Irving 3d – The Orlando Magic are embracing positionless basketball 4d – Orlando Magic’s expectations, goals for 2018 become clear More News at Orlando Magic Daily
He said he believed staying in Orlando and working out with the Magic coaching staff will help him. Only time will tell if that works out for him.
Hezonja now faces a roster loaded with talented wings and a management group that did not draft him. He will have to earn every single one of his minutes this upcoming season.
Eurobasket will take place beginning August 31 in four different countries across Europe. The Magic will have two other players who are expected to play in the competition.
First, Evan Fournier is expected to play for France after getting left off last year’s Olympic roster. Fournier opted to sit out the Olympic Qualifying Tournament last summer as he worked out his contract with the Magic.
With that worked out, he was ready to play with the Olympics. cheap jerseys China But French coach Vincent Collet opted to maintain the same guard rotation, leaving Fournier off the roster.
Fournier was named to the initial 18-man roster for Eurobasket. France will open up play Aug. 31 against Finland.
Nikola Vucevic is also set to play.
Hehelped Montenegro qualify for the tournament last summer. It is Montenegro’s first Eurobasket since 2013. It is a big achievement for the tiny country to qualify for the European championship.
Vucevic is listed on the initial roster for Montenegro on their web site. They open up play at Eurobasket on Sept. 1 against tournament-favorite Spain.
It seems the Magic will still see Vucevic and Fournier play in the big international tournament in about a month. But Hezonja will be sitting this one out in hopes of building toward a strong third season.
Can we start with the following premise, please? In the middle of his 10th NHL season, Nicklas Backstrom is underrated. Actually, fix that. He’s criminally underrated.
We consider the Capitals center such a fixture here in Washington — where he is predated only by Alex Ovechkin and Ryan Zimmerman among pro athletes — that such a claim might seem silly. Yet marry the following: Since Backstrom entered the league in 2007-08, only six players have scored more points. Those players have combined for eight Hart Trophies as the league’s MVP, 15 first-team all-NHL nods, seven second-team all-NHL appearances and 29 invitations to the NHL All-Star Game.
Backstrom’s baubles over that time: one NHL All-Star Game, which came last year. Oh, and he once came in 10th in the voting for the Selke Trophy as his league’s top defensive forward. So that’s nice. Backstrom’s mantel back home in Gavle, Sweden, must hold only candlesticks and picture frames.
How is that possible?
“You’re asking the same question I’ve been asking forever,” Caps defenseman Karl Alzner said.
Perhaps the rest of the league doesn’t see him as we do, right here in Washington, where Ovechkin has explosively been converting Backstrom’s quietly brilliant passes into goals for an athletic lifetime. It’s worth asking around.
“The way he passes, the way he sees the ice, the way he thinks the game is very rare,” Detroit center Henrik Zetterberg said.
“He’s one of the top three passers in the game,” Vancouver winger Daniel Sedin said.
“We grabbed a scouting report from another team out of the garbage can in the visiting [locker] room,” Caps General Manager Brian MacLellan said.
You don’t say? Do tell.
“Here’s Nicky,” MacLellan said, reading directly from the paper Friday: “Very smart. Great passer and setup man. Strong on the puck. High-end stick skills. Good shot with quick release but prefers to pass. Can be dominant when he pushes the pace.”
That is the league’s assessment of a player who — apparently in complete silence — is building a Hall of Fame résumé.
“I don’t really care about that stuff,” Backstrom said Friday.
Fine. I do care. Look at other sports during the time Backstrom has been in the NHL: The guy who has driven in the seventh-most runs in baseball since 2007 is Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers — a six-time all-star and five-time Silver Slugger winner who was the National League’s MVP in 2011. The basketball player with the seventh-most points is Russell Westbrook, a five-time all-star who’s an MVP candidate this season. The quarterback who has thrown for the seventh-most yards is Aaron Freaking Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, a two-time NFL MVP and six-time Pro Bowler.
These are stars, every single one. Raw numbers almost always produce recognition. Just not for Backstrom.
So there must be something hidden here. Maybe he doesn’t pass the eye test? But then every night, he does something like he did Wednesday, early in the first period against Boston. Backstrom intercepted a Bruins pass inside his own blue line, looked up immediately and saw T.J. Oshie at center ice.
What happened next was … I mean, wow.
“That’s a high-level pass,” Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen said, eyebrows raised.
“It takes some touch,” Coach Barry Trotz said, smirking.
“For me, that’s an impossible pass,” Alzner said.
“Nicky’s Nicky,” Oshie said.
Nicky being Nicky, he lifted a pass not even a foot off the ice — high enough to rise above the sticks of Bruins Brad Marchand and Zdeno Charra but not so high that Oshie had to wait for it to come down. Backstrom made sure, though, that the puck landed flat on the ice so Oshie could handle it easily. The result: a one-on-none breakaway that Oshie converted into Backstrom’s 36th assist of the season.
“To process that play that quick, and then to thread the needle and have it land flat, I mean … ” Niskanen said, shaking his head. “It’s an overlooked skill to put a puck through traffic like that and still have it land flat. Only the high, high-end players do that at game speed.”
Exactly no part of the play happened by accident. Backstrom’s assessment: “I’ve done it many times.”
True. But if he has done stuff like this many times — “We see it every day,” Trotz said — then why doesn’t he get recognized for it?
There are a couple of likely culprits. First: logistics. To make an All-Star Game, Backstrom is not only frequently behind other prominent Eastern Conference centers — notably Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh — but the NHL’s requirement that each team be represented often has put him behind, say, John Tavares of the Islanders or Claude Giroux of the Flyers. Though Trotz touts him for the Selke and the Capitals believe he has the skills to win one, he doesn’t play on the penalty-kill unit because the Caps prefer to save him for the power play and five-on-five.
But there are other factors that keep Backstrom’s national profile low, too. Namely, Nicklas Backstrom.
“Nick’s not that person that seeks attention or wants to be that way,” said Zetterberg, who has played with Backstrom on Sweden’s national teams. “He doesn’t want to stand out.”
Ovechkin, on the other hand, does. The spotlight and the eye have long naturally fallen on the big Russian, who has benefited most from Backstrom’s unassuming nature. No Capital has ever racked up more than Backstrom’s 514 assists. But an incredible 206 have set up goals by Ovechkin. It is Backstrom’s reality that he can score a goal and set up two others, as he did Wednesday against Boston, and have the headline on NHL.com read, “Ovechkin powers Capitals past Bruins.”
“That’s how he likes it,” Sedin said.
Indeed, he does. Even now, a decade into his career, Backstrom searches for ways to talk about himself. “There’s a little bit of Swedish culture, I think, to put your team in front of yourself,” he said. And the efficiency in his game — which includes a craftiness and strength in warding opponents off the puck, not to mention a willingness and ability to cover for the mistakes of teammates — scream “solid,” not “star.” So some of his greatest strengths in terms of hockey become his greatest weaknesses in terms of garnering attention.
“He just kind of skates at one speed,” MacLellan said. “He doesn’t go into that extra gear where you go, ‘Whoa.’ He just kind of flows into the right areas, in the right spot, doing the right thing. It’s not flashy. It’s cheap jerseys not fast, and it’s not a change of speed. It’s more blending in.”
There, right there. That’s what Backstrom has mastered. Blending in. He blends in on the Capitals. He blends into Washington, as a sports town. He blends into the NHL as if wearing camouflage.
Every team in the league, every member of the Capitals organization, realizes the importance of Nicklas Backstrom to Washington’s quest for the (don’t say it, don’t say it) Stanley Cup.
DALLAS — How will Nathan MacKinnon remember this season?
“I’ll try to forget it, honestly,” the Avalanche center said after the morning skate Thursday.
The 21-year-old MacKinnon, speaking hours before the Avalanche finished out its home season with a 4-3 loss to Minnesota, caught himself.
“No, I mean, winning and losing there’s stuff to look back on, and lately I feel we’ve been playing pretty good,” he said. “But we still have 54 losses and I’m sure there will be a big turnaround next year. There’s stuff to learn from, but I want to be as positive as I can. If you dwell on this year, it’s going to be tough coming into next year feeling good about yourself.
“I’m going to reflect and find stuff in my personal game that I need to get better at, but other than that, I’m going to try to forget about it.”
The Avalanche will close out the season with games at Dallas on Saturday and St. Louis on Sunday. MacKinnon will go into the weekend with 16 goals and 35 assists, totals considered underachieving and disappointing in his fourth season after going No. 1 overall in the NHL’s 2013 draft. Even as a rookie in 2013-14, when he won the Calder Trophy and the Avalanche surprisingly piled up 112 points, he had 24 goals and both he and the franchise seemed on the verge of great things.
This season also is a downturn after he had 21 goals in 2015-16. He has utilized his speed and dexterity to get 247 shots on goal, which ranked rank 16th in the NHL entering Friday, but his 6.5 shooting percentage was the worst among the league’s top 20 shooters.
Plus, his flashy play for the 23-and-under Team North America in the World Cup last September added to both his image and expectations.
MacKinnon also is suffering by comparison to the recent No. 1 overall choices, Connor McDavid of Edmonton, who will lead the league in scoring, and Auston Matthews of Toronto, who could crack 40 goals.
“I just want to come back and be effective,” MacKinnon said. “We’re going to have a high pick and (Tyson) Jost is here and wholesale nhl jerseys we have some young guys in the (AHL) and I want to be a good leader for them. I’ve recently been a young guy, only been a rookie a few years ago and it’s pretty fresh in my mind, things to do and things not to do and those are probably the things I want to bring next year.”
The Avalanche is 22-55-3 heading into the weekend.
“I don’t know exactly what went wrong, but when you lose that much, it’s tough to rebound from,” MacKinnon said. “And just the collapsing. When we were down 2-0 and all of a sudden we’re down 6-0 after the third period. We were in a lot of close games and we collapsed.
“We had some tough injuries, losing (Erik Johnson) for most of the year was hard and obviously (Semyon Varlamov) is a great goalie. Every time he made a push, he was thinking about his groin tearing. People gave him some heat for the way he played, but when you feel like you’re going to tear your groin every time you make a save, you feel bad for the guy. He’ll be back next year healthy and we have some motivated young guys coming in.”