December 12, 2010
"He's a guy that's come in the League and hasn't earned respect. It's just frustrating to see a young guy like that come in here and so much as think that he's better than a lot of people. You have to earn respect in this League. It takes a lot. You can't just come in here as a rookie and play like that. It's not the way to get respect from other players around the League." - Mike Richards on P.K. Subban, Nov. 17th.
"You come into a league, a respectful league like this, and you try a little move like that. It's not a very classy thing. That's just the kind of person he is." - Dan Ellis on Linus Omark, Dec. 10th.
Two separate quotes. Two separate games. Three weeks apart.
One consistent feeling: Hard-nosed NHL veterans don't appreciate young rookies showing them up.
When P.K. Subban(notes) constantly chirped the opposition during last month's Philadelphia Flyers/Montreal Canadiens game, that's what set off Richards. The fact that Subban -- he of 20 NHL games at the time - managed to get under the skin of some Flyers players, including the team's captain, during a 3-0 Canadiens win shows that he was successful in his efforts. It also showed he was willing to stick up for his teammates despite his status as a 21-year old rookie in the league.
The only reason majority of hockey fans outside of Edmonton and Sweden know Linus Omark's(notes) name is because of YouTube. His dazzling shootout displays have been akin to Internet porn over the last few years. You couldn't get enough of them. So when Omark beat Tampa Bay Lightning Dan Ellis(notes) in style to clinch the shootout for the Oilers against Tampa Bay on Friday, it's no surprise that hockey fans immediately began to seek out video of the goal. Marking his NHL debut with that kind of exclamation point is just another notch on Omark's already impressive reel of highlights.
There's a culture in hockey that respect need to be earned, no matter who you are. Despite the fact that Subban has always been talkative on the ice going back to his junior days and Omark has been making YouTube videos since the days when Len Barrie and Oren Koules had a plan for the Lightning franchise, when players enter the NHL, they're apparently expected to leave their personalities at the door.
And what a load of crap that is.
In this age where personality is king (see: Biz Nasty) and fans are drawn to athletes who aren't afraid to be themselves, the post-game press conference cliches have grown tiresome and the robotic nature of players leaves much to be desired.
As the Vancouver Sun's Cam Cole pointed out this week, players are taught to be uncontroversial, plain and downright boring from early on in their careers:
Talkativeness is held to be a character flaw in hockey, and our juniors learn this before they've ever set foot in the pros. Our heroes have been Bobby Orr, who preferred not to speak at all, Wayne Gretzky, who was pleasant but instinctively uncontroversial, Mario Lemieux - who hid from the public until he needed help building his arena, then quickly ducked back under cover - and now Sid The Kid, whose next verbal revelation will be his first.
Players like Jeremy Roenick(notes) and Brett Hull and Chris Chelios(notes), who had things to say and didn't hold back, were not only a dying breed, they were always viewed with suspicion by hockey's conservative establishment. Probably because we media guys loved them.
Then, too, they were all Americans, and American individuality is notoriously more difficult to trample beneath an iron boot.
A Canadian who expresses himself at length is apt to be labelled a clubhouse lawyer (Willie Mitchell's(notes) burden) or at least a selfish, non-team player (see Shane O'Brien(notes)) if not downright weird (Kyle Wellwood(notes)).
This behavioural law is occasionally waived in non-traditional hockey markets, where something more than the game itself is needed to sell tickets and players' personalities are reluctantly cultivated in aid of marketing.
Playing in hockey markets like Montreal and Edmonton, Subban's words and Omark's flashy style will echo louder than they would elsewhere. But whatever negative reaction they get, whether on or off the ice, would be a hindrance to the marketing of the game.
Subban talks too much on the ice? Make him pay with a big hit or get him to drop the gloves. Or better yet, ignore him.
Omark's shootout was "a ... joke", "embarrassing" and "disrespectful"? How 'bout next time stopping the damn thing; then the embarrassing, disrespectful joke will be on him.
What's the barrier that Subban and Omark need to cross in order to gain respect from their NHL bretheren before they can be themselves on the ice? And what did Maxim Lapierre(notes), Sean Avery(notes), Matt Cooke(notes), and Jordin Tootoo(notes) among others do to cross that line from needing to earn respect and gaining it?
Much like every team needs specific players for specific roles, a team full of nothing but guys who "give it 110 percent" and take things "one shift at a time" and "play to our game" is boring.
Subban wasn't calling press conferences and randomly calling out players for no reason and Omark didn't call his shot using the referees mic before his shootout attempt last night.
Let Subban and Omark be brash individuals inside a game dominant with conformists.
It's a breath of fresh air and we should just breathe it in.