P.K. Subban's Norris Trophy-winning talent and style of play often make him a highly-visible figure on the ice.
But recently, he's also become a highly-visible figure on the Montreal Canadiens' bench. Subban's lack of ice-time – particularly in late game scenarios – has become something of a trend over the Habs' most recent stretch.
In the Canadiens' 3-2 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night, he watched the final four-plus minutes of regulation time from the bench and didn't come out until the start of overtime. He was also fourth in ice time among Montreal's blue liners, trailing Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and Raphael Diaz.
"I will not comment on the ice time of any player," head coach Michel Therrien said Wednesday morning when questioned about Subban's minutes. Therrien did, however, add that Subban played "a hell of a game for us...exactly what we needed from him."
TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie found the timing of the most recent focus on Subban's ice time to be interesting. "It's a real interesting dynamic at a real interesting time that all this is happening probably a week or two before P.K.'s representatives are going to start contract negotiations with the Canadiens," McKenzie told TSN Radio 690 Montreal on Wednesday morning.
Subban is in the final year of a two-year deal he signed with the Canadiens during the 2012-13 NHL season. That deal, signed after Subban missed the first four games of the truncated 48-game season, was worth a total of $5.75 million, with $2 million going to Subban in the shortened season and $3.75 million coming his way this year.
So with a couple of years before Subban is eligible to test unrestricted free agency, it could be argued that the two-year 'bridge deal' that he signed last season may now play in his favour.
"There are some people who think that a lot of what's going on now might be contract-related and that the Montreal Canadiens want to be able to say to P.K: "Look, we don't trust you defensively. You've still got so much growing to do before you can justifiably ask for $7 million per year like Drew Doughty," McKenzie said.
But as McKenzie pointed out, a two-year deal could now be what Subban seeks, especially should he elect to go to arbitration where his offensive numbers and Norris Trophy would likely net him a handsome dollar figure on a one- or two-year term, getting him one step closer to the open market.
McKenzie also noted that there are mitigating factors beyond Subban's perceived defensive responsibility or lack thereof in the case of Tuesday night's loss.
"If you look at it, yes, he didn't play in the last four minutes," McKenzie told TSN Radio 690. "But he had a 1:54 power play shift right at the 14-15 minute mark. Think about that for a moment. He just played a minute and 54 seconds on a power play. So, he's not coming out on the next shift, no matter what.
"What we're talking about here is – and I'm not saying that there's not an issue – but in last night specifically, he probably missed one shift of five-on-five hockey in the last minute of that hockey game."
That said, how do you think this saga will end?
The Canadiens aren't even a quarter of the way into the 2013-14 season, so plenty of time remains for the situation to play out. Will the Habs continue to limit Subban's ice time late in close games, or will they let the defender grow and accept that the game may swing for the better or worse with him on the ice?
And will Subban's upcoming contract negotiations lead to a short-term deal that sees him hit the open market earlier or that big multi-year contract that keeps him in Montreal for the long term?
As always, it's Your! Call.