Monday, April 26, 2010

What's In A Name?

PK Subban Must Feel NHL Playoff Debut

karl c.
1. man (male human)
2. husband
3.(male) member of a work force, employed to perform some particularly heavy or physically demanding job


PK Subban has been recalled for the Canadiens as a replacement to Jaroslav Spacek, and hopefully an on-ice replacement for Marc-Andre Bergeron. I applaud the move by Gauthier on the eve of the Washington showdown. It shows hope, tactical thinking and an acknowledgment of how winning in the new NHL may be changing.


Karl: Swedish for NHL-ready

Karlsson, Carlson, Pernell Karl. All three young defenders making an impact in professional leagues long before perhaps it was expected of them. But what’s in a name?

The name Carl/Karl seems to be found in many languages and has many meanings. For hockey etymologists, the roots of most interest come from the hockey hotbed of Sweden. As I noted above, the name Karl in Sweden means man, or thereabouts. Notes on the origins of the name go further, talking about connotations of manliness (to the extent that it is frowned upon by believers in gender equality) and of of possessing abilities to perform certain tasks.

According to the wiktionary, you can use Karl in an expression: karl för sin ... (with some attribute). This denotes someone who is up to par with his role, and is able to perform at least by some minimal standards on his own. Karl för sin hockey is quite apt in this case.


Leveraging young talent

I don’t want to criticize what the Canadiens did with Subban this season, I think it was right. But there is an onus on a team with its collective back against the wall to evaluate all options and come up with the best solution – whatever it takes. In this case, whatever it takes means calling up the mercurial scoring talent from the recently conquering Hamilton Bulldogs after his 9 points in 6 AHL playoff games.

Those with fear in their hearts as they think of a free-roaming Subban coming in and throwing a wrench in the works need only remember two things:

1) We already have a wrench in the works, so unless MAB and PK play together we’re no worse off
2) Teams around the league have shown that going against the conventional wisdom that Dmen age like a fine wine can be bucked with success

We don’t need to even look far for inspiration.

Our nearest rivals and underdogs in arms, the Ottawa Senators, just successfully initiated their defenceman of the future (Erik Karlsson) by entrusting him to play in all situations. His recent playoffs show that the 19-year-old has learned enough to hold his own, even if he does show plenty of room for improvement.

Even closer for now, is John Carlson. Like his namesake in Ottawa, Carlson has made a clean start to his NHL career – he currently tops Capitals defencemen in playoff scoring.

Watching Karlsson and Carlson has been a learning experience for me. As a firm adherent to the notion that rookie defenders can come and see me when they are 25 (coloured quite significantly by years of watching the Habs, no doubt), these recent upstarts have made me question these beliefs. Karlsson with a K was lively and creative from the Ottawa blueline and simply found avenues through the Penguins defenders that others may just be too jaded to consider. He looks like the best defender going forward in Ottawa and doesn't make me think of early hainsey much at all. Carlson with a C has been a standout too by skating out of trouble and confidently playing the game to win. If the Caps didn't have names on their shirts, I think most Norris voters would think this guy they'd voted for.

In both cases, I think that the brash confidence of the young draftee is showing through. Both youngsters have come through the ranks with success upon success. Neither has been tainted too deeply yet by the terror of losing. This played to their advantage this season and these playoffs as they play from pure instinct – something that is sometimes lacking in defenders.

For me, both successful career launches reinforce a trend that some younger players can play with the big boys, it’s just a matter of identifying which ones.


Enter then Pernell Karl Subban, The clear star of the Canadiens propect pool last season, NHL-capable based on his showings in September, and the leader and dynamo for the dominant Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL so far this season. As the Canadiens sit at the edge of the precipice that is a summer too long, P Karl’s promotion was a question on the tip of many tongues.

As much as Karlsson or Carlson, it seems that PK Subban is ready to play with the NHL men, to test his smoothe skating and his bottomless energy at the top level. We know the boy can score, we know the boy can pass and we know he can win. The question that remains is whether he can be mature enough, sophisticated enough to play in the man’s league when weak hockey players are sent back to the career counselor. Players across the league, his Bulldog excellence and a name that his parents borrowed from Viking marauders suggest he’ll be just fine.


For those interested in getting more re-acquainted with Subban, I recommend reading this article from an admirer in Manitoba Moose country for a start.

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