New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban went into this offseason as a free agent. He has decided to take a different path: retirement. The now-former Devil, Predator, and Canadien has announced his retirement on social media this morning.
It struck me as somewhat odd that the former Norris Trophy winner did not get much attention in free agency. However, I kind of get it in retrospect. Subban’s time with New Jersey showed a player that maybe could keep playing but not in the way that made him special. The 33-year old two-way threat was not as quick or decisive as he was earlier in his career. He kept shooting but the production was a shell of his past in Montreal and Nashville. This past season saw Subban average 18:18 per game - the lowest in his entire career. His on-ice rates in 5-on-5 were not bad but nothing so exceptional that it would make someone realize he’s a hidden gem on the open market. If it was not for his past accolades, then I do not think we would pay too much attention that there was not a lot of league-wide interest in the #5 defenseman on a bad Devils team in 2021-22. To that end, I can understand Subban seeing the lack of interest and deciding to go out.
What he leaves behind on the ice is an interesting Hall of Fame case. In addition to winning the Norris in 2013, he was also named to the NHL All-Rookie Team for 2010-11 as well as the NHL First All-Star Team in 2013 and 2014-15. Those All-Star team selections are good indicators for a future induction; they support the idea that he was among the best defensemen in the NHL when he played - which he was. Further, just about everyone who ever won a Norris ended up in the Hall at some point. The only exception is currently Randy Carlyle. As Subban averaged over a half-point-per game (467 in 863 games) in a 13-season career, one can claim him to be one of the best offensive-defensemen of the 2010s. I think his case for getting in is a valid one. I say it happens in time.
Subban’s legacy goes beyond the rink, though. He did not win the Clancy last season for nothing. Subban’s philanthropy is well-documented and impressive on its own. From his Blueline Buddies program to his donations to the Montreal Children’s Hospital to supporting the various charity efforts of the teams he’s played for and communities he’s played in, Subban gave a lot back to the world. He did not do it for a trophy or an honor. This is not something he did on the side or for a PR bump. Subban even specifically thanked the NHL for “a platform that allowed me to give back thru my charities” in his retirement message. He did all this because that’s just how he is as a person. I would expect it to continue to some degree now that he is retired.
I would also expect Subban to be around in some capacity. When the Devils acquired him, I called him a celebrity because, well, he kind of was. Sure, he’s no longer with Lindsey Vonn, he’s not working out with The Rock, and he’s not in People as much. (But People acknowledged his retirement!) Still, Subban has always been a favorite among the hockey and non-hockey media. He’s perfect in front of the camera and has already appeared on ESPN as an analyst and as a talking head. He can entertain. Maybe he takes a short break, but I think he will be on TV at some point and probably excels at that too. For a hockey media that laments a lack of personality - as if a lot of those media people know anything about what that’s like - Subban would greatly fill that desire.
As a final point, I do want to emphasize how well-liked Subban was. At least in New Jersey. While it does not matter much on the ice, all accounts I’ve seen is that Subban was beloved in the Devils locker room. As one of the older players on the Devils in his time in Newark, Subban got along supremely well with the burgeoning young talent of the Devils. Sure, his nicknaming skills leave a lot to be desired; but he was clearly a player of influence with the rest of the young men. He was also never a bad influence or let his frustrations get the best of him. He did not complain about a drop in ice time. Or whine that he was not getting PP work. Or create a divide among the players and/or staff. Did he take some penalties or do some questionable acts? Yes - just like most other hockey players. I do not see that as a reason to mar an otherwise positive force in the locker room and outside of the rink.
Subban’s retirement comes on what has been an eventful day in the world of hockey. Zdeno Chara and Keith Yandle each announced their retirements this morning. Nathan MacKinnon is now the highest-paid player in the NHL. Toronto is going to wear a jersey with “Milk” on it. Some teams have announced their training camp rosters. Before the next thing happens, take some time to let the memories of Subban live on. Thank you and good luck in the future, Pernell Karl Subban.