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Kovalev compares Subban to Leetch, says he isn’t worth the money

Aug 19, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT

Alex Kovalev Getty Images

By now we know P.K. Subban is a lightning rod for opinionated takes but it’s not often he’s compared to a Hall of Fame player and it’s in a negative light.

Such is the case for former Montreal Canadiens superstar Alex Kovalev.

Kovalev spoke with Phillipe Lehoux of RDS and was asked about the electrifying Habs star defenseman. SBN’s Habs Eyes On The Prize dutifully shared what the Russian had to say.

“I’m not saying he isn’t a good hockey player, but he’s not the guy,” Kovalev said. “He’s a risky defenseman, and he’s a wide open defenseman. What I’m saying is that he can give up five goals and score five goals, and the score’s still going to be zero-zero. So if for example he saves five goals and scores five goals, that’s a different style of hockey. So I always compare him with Brian Leetch, because he wants to play the same kind of style, and be more offensive. He’s not making the right decisions. He’s making the risky plays, he’s not making the right decisions sometimes. He just plays like we used to play on the street.

“Maybe because he won best defenseman of the year (Norris Trophy) that’s how they get paid these days. You know, you win best player of the year and you get a big contract right away. But for his game, I don’t know why he got so much money.”

Recall that Subban signed an eight-year, $72 million deal on Aug. 2. He also won the Norris Trophy in 2013. Also recall that Leetch was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 1994 with the New York Rangers (a team Kovalev played on) and went into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.

Basically Kovalev is saying Subban is making too much money for what he does at his position. The problem with that is there’s not much debate about him being one of the best defensemen in the league.

It’s not like Kovalev was underpaid when he was a player (he wasn’t) and it’s not as if he didn’t face a lot of questions about his work ethic (he did). Heck, the term “enigmatic Russian” may have been born from watching him play.

But hey, taking shots at Subban isn’t anything new and leave it to a guy who faced a ton of questions himself when he was in Montreal to offer up his own flammable opinion.

  1. lowenni - Aug 19, 2014 at 10:09 PM

    What the hell is Kovalev talking about…like I just happened to mention on the greatest Ranger in franchise history post, Brian Leetch was one of the best defenseman of all time, at least one of the best offensive defenseman…few could or will ever do what he did and he deserved the Conn Smythe he won. That being said, his analysis of Subban isn’t necesarrily incorrect…he is a risky offensive defenseman, but 72 mil is what the guy deserves or at least is what he gets on the market. I don’t get his point here, Leetch is a great defenseman, and if he was still playing he’d totally be worth eight years and 72 mil so if he’s comparing Subban to him that should mean he IS worth the money. Subban could end up being the best defenseman in the NHL for all we know, eight years is a long time.

    • lowenni - Aug 19, 2014 at 10:11 PM

      (9 mil is a ton of money though for a guy who’s probably not gonna be more than a 60 point guy consistently)….

      • habs9 - Aug 21, 2014 at 10:20 AM

        how many 60 point D are there in the league….what kind of statement is that exactly? or am i missing the sarcasm lol even if one might argue that he is only worth 8, im sure he would have been fine with that…..had they not decided to make him wait already 2 years ago and prove himself…and even now having to go to arbitration…you can bet the extra 1 mil is for all the bs

  2. blackheart78 - Aug 19, 2014 at 10:14 PM

    I’m going to file this under the “opinion of someone who does not know what they are talking about” in my head. Bottom line about Subban is if the Habs didn’t give him 9 million a year some other team WOULD have the first chance they got.

    • lowenni - Aug 19, 2014 at 10:16 PM

      Exactly. Whether or not Kovalev thinks he’s worth it, Subban would’ve gotten 9 OR MORE on the open market had the Habs not signed him. He may have his flaws, but defenseman like him don’t just grow on trees, and you gotta do what you gotta do to keep franchise players around. That’s what the Habs did and Kovalev should stick to figuring out his own deficiencies during his hockey career.

      • pirovash88 - Aug 20, 2014 at 11:55 AM

        He would’ve gotten 9 or more from another team that has nothing to lose. No team in contention for the Cup would’ve paid him that much, not one.

        Either way, i’m totally fine with this contract because i don’t mind seeing Montreal tank for another 8 years.

      • habs9 - Aug 21, 2014 at 10:23 AM


        wow….thats some genius statement…i mean what team thats contending right now has 9 mil to spend on one guy in the first place? doesnt add up

      • pirovash88 - Aug 21, 2014 at 11:58 AM

        Habs 9

        Chicago’s recent extensions to Kane and Toews would like to say hi.

      • habs9 - Aug 21, 2014 at 2:58 PM


        really?????……..thats your answer for real?
        What team did Kane and Toews play for before being signed this year?….. and did their previous contracts come off the books?

        i’m willing to bet you can answer that……RE-signing a player(s) and SIGNING a free agent are 2 different things

        furthermore Chicago without Kane and Toews is not a contender so that makes your theory go Poof either way

    • atwatercrushesokoye - Aug 19, 2014 at 10:50 PM

      So because another team would give Subban a bad contract the Canadiens were obligated to? That’s the same rationale that Dave Nonis threw out there when he signed Phaneuf and I think that’s an extremely poor reason to sign a player to a massive contract, now having said that I have no horse in this race, I’m neutral to the contract and can see both sides:

      Reasons it was a horrible decision: I think Kovalev said it best, Subban is a defenseman who’s very limited defensively, he’ll put up 50-60 points and will help your power play but he’s not a huge asset in your own zone and doesn’t help (and some might argue hurts) your penalty kill.

      Reasons it was a great contract: He’s arguably Montreal’s best player (Price being the other player in the conversation) he’s going to put up 50-60 points as a defenseman and you should always have a dangerous first power play unit with him on the point. Also him taking risks will lead to rewards. And I think one of the most important reasons…he’s a player who’s played in the pressure of Montreal, dealing with the media there and he’s thrived, and most importantly he wants to stay there and take on the challenges of playing in front of that fanbase and deaing with that media.

      If you’re a fan of Subban and the Canadiens you’ll definitely see the pros, if you’re not then you’ll see the cons.

      • phtjoey - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:03 PM

        Ok. So you dońt get way they signed him to a multi million $ contract for 8 years. Let’s say in two years from now he walks as a UFA. How do you replace him? Answer: you can’t. The dynamics of the cap/CBA forces team owners to keep their best young players or lose them to free agency. Draft choice loss, and a boat load of player development money shot to hell.

      • atwatercrushesokoye - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:11 PM

        Joey: There’s also a third option, if you don’t believe he’s worth the money you can trade him, there are teams everywhere who will give up the world for a marquee name player.

        According to many reports the hockey men with the Canadiens (Bergevin et al) don’t consider him worth the money and were willing to let an arbitrator set his value, it wasn’t until the last minute when Geoff Molson stepped in and overruled his hockey guys and gave Subban the contract.

      • bsaures - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:42 PM

        Except advanced stats has explicitly proven that the arguement that pk is bad defensively is complete bull and also that when he has killdd penalties he has been among the leagues best at doing it. People just like to be ignorant and ignore the reality

      • sanfranbruinsfan - Aug 20, 2014 at 12:12 AM

        bsaures, i’m interested in seeing that article about his advanced stats in the defensive zone . . . that’s probably the most relevant way to evaluate Kovalev’s comments.

        Also, he got big money from Moulson in part because he is damn entertaining to watch and that’s great for business. He’s kind of like the Ovechkin of defense — huge points, great personality, some questions about his D responsibility (whether those are fair, well, advanced stats should do the talking).

      • phtjoey - Aug 20, 2014 at 6:48 AM

        Trade him? Would you trade for a player who’s set to become a UFA and break the bank? Who do you get to replace him? Bergevin gambled and lost with the bridge contract. PK answered with very good play in the playoffs. He’s marketable and is money in the bank for the Habs. Bergevin wanted to save what? 1.5 – 2 million per year on his cap? Peanuts when you consider the financial status of the team, and that the cap will go up to 75 million or so next year.

      • bsaures - Aug 20, 2014 at 7:38 AM

        Right around the olympics the canucks army produced a article written comparing several stats on defense against his olympic counterparts and pk was either the best or second best in every catagory.

      • feedmetherock - Aug 20, 2014 at 9:25 AM

        Wasn’t Subban one of the only reasons they went as far as they did in the playoffs? lol.. he basically carried them offensively at times

      • feedmetherock - Aug 20, 2014 at 9:27 AM

        Here is the article.. took me two seconds to google..

      • bsaures - Aug 20, 2014 at 9:42 AM

        Here is the canucks army link

    • drewsylvania - Aug 20, 2014 at 12:52 PM

      Kovalev *did* play in the NHL, and with the guy.

      I think he’s spot on here. The comparison to Leetch is apt.

  3. newgod99 - Aug 19, 2014 at 10:15 PM

    At least Montreal isn’t paying him by the dive, they’d be broke before Christmas.

  4. geejon - Aug 19, 2014 at 10:30 PM

    I don’t think Subban is the liability on defense that Kovalev makes him out to be. Apart from the points, he’s also amongst the leaders amongst d-men in hits and blocked shots.

    • jcakes585 - Aug 20, 2014 at 7:19 AM

      Get a clue, Subban isnt even close to being amongst the leaders in hits and blocked shots. Subban ranked 45th amongst d-men in hits and even worse at 59th in the blocked shots category this past season.

      • madmax80 - Aug 20, 2014 at 12:21 PM

        I like Ken Hichcock’s take on hits and blocked shots: They’re worthless stats because they are accumulated when you don’t have the puck.

      • titansbro - Aug 20, 2014 at 12:54 PM

        never seen a team who possesses the puck 60 minutes out of 60 minutes.

      • drewsylvania - Aug 20, 2014 at 12:56 PM

        They’re not good as collected stats. However, they’re certainly good when a player has to make one.

  5. areaman714 - Aug 19, 2014 at 10:51 PM

    There aren’t that many legit top two defensemen out there . . . when one comes along, you have to pay him. As mentioned above, if the Habs didn’t pay him, half the league would without hesitation . . .

    • storminator16 - Aug 20, 2014 at 1:57 PM

      The truth.

  6. phtjoey - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:05 PM

    “It’s not like Kovalev was underpaid when he was a player (he wasn’t) and it’s not as if he didn’t face a lot of questions about his work ethic (he did). Heck, the term “enigmatic Russian” may have been born from watching him play.”

    Well said JY.

    • rainyday56 - Aug 20, 2014 at 12:53 AM

      Kovalev: prototypical enigmatic Russian, practice player poster boy. 😉

  7. ducksk - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:15 PM

    Another Russian speaking nothing I want to hear. Go away, has been.

  8. Wineshard - Aug 19, 2014 at 11:56 PM

    What do Ukranians think about Subban?

  9. starshower776 - Aug 20, 2014 at 12:19 AM

    Kovalev has lost his mind, if he thinks Subban and Leetch are even remotely similar players. Leetch, even in his later years, was severely underrated defensively. The guy could kill off penalties like a madman, and was actually a very good shot-blocker. Subban is definitely more of a wild thing than Leetch ever was. It’s not a knock on the guy. Just a knock on Kovalev’s eyes.

  10. 19to77 - Aug 20, 2014 at 12:52 AM

    I just want to take a moment to point out that what he’s saying really boils down to that last line: “But for his game, I don’t know why he got so much money.”

    Now take a look at this:

    Is he a dick for the way he said it, and for the unprompted (and hilariously wrong) Leetch snipes? Yeah. Totally. Stop the presses, Kovalev’s still kind of an asshole. But the only real point he’s making is “Subban makes too much for what he does.” Show of hands, who actually disagrees with that?

  11. tyler4richardson - Aug 20, 2014 at 8:13 AM

    Kovalev knows a thing or 2 about being overpaid.

  12. anthonykornheiser - Aug 20, 2014 at 8:41 AM

    leetch and subban shouldnt be mentioned in the same breath. Maybe he meant he wants to play an offensive game like leetch. but in no point in time has leetch ever cost the rangers five goals while scoring five. He was always a sound d-man and was overshadowed by his great offensive play.
    He also played a very clean game and no nonsense in between the whistles. Leetch is one of the greatest dmen and players to ever lace them up. Subban in my opinion doesnt even round out the top 7 or 8 dmen in the NHL currently.

  13. jcle1984 - Aug 20, 2014 at 9:12 AM

    Atwater: i dont agree with saying bergevin doesnt think hes worth the money the situation was not that simple, bergevin has a job to do considering salary cap and look at the cap future (the big picture) he low balled and it was mistake, the fans got pissed at bergevin, thats about when all the toronto news papers began to talk about how their hometown boy might one day play for the queefs. At this point everyone fans and media alike start critisizing bergevin because he screwed up and he better sign subban because we dont wanna lose pk blabla, the montreal fan/media pressure was on… they can say they dont pay attention to it but when its to that extent we all know they feel it, 9mil 8 years, wooooo 9 mil wtf lets critisize bergevin some more, 2 days of it is he worth it or not,some wannabe gms say yes others say no, and all of a sudden molson stepped in,mhmmm cant rly critisize him as much for it can we?not yet at least, we can pretend were all gms but not owners right…his team, his money, sounds like a classy move by an owner if you ask me, taking the attention off mb or maybe he did step in for the first since he bought the team…hmm dont think so. “The trusted source” they said gave them the info was molson himself its a conspiracy!

    So now its not about critisizing bergevin its is he worth it? Anyone whos watched him play (more than 5 games against their team) know hes worth whatever they needed to pay theyre are players you can let go (gionta) and player you cant, subban is one you cant any gm in the nhl would have given the same contract given cap space and the chance, and hes been solid defensively for id say 125+ games he was only taking stupid risks at the beggining of his career ,apparently ppl are still watching replays from 3-4 years ago, taking stupid penalties at the wrong time was more of a problem. Charas slow back skating causes way more goals against the bruins then pks taking chances for past two years and charas nominated or winning the norris yearly.

  14. Sean J - Aug 20, 2014 at 9:19 AM

    NO ONE “deserves” that kind of money to play a sport. It’s ludicrous. Subban is greedy and the Habs will be worse off in the long run for having caved in and paid him.

    • hockeyflow33 - Aug 20, 2014 at 11:37 AM

      Why not? Athletes generate billions and billions of dollars into multiple economies, why should they not profit off of their talents?

      • Sean J - Aug 20, 2014 at 12:35 PM

        I’m not saying it’s the fault of the athletes, but the amount of $ being tossed around like water in the ALS challenge by sports organizations while the middle-class shrinks and the national debt soars is just dumb.

        When Subban helps the Habs win multiple Stanley Cups maybe then I’ll come back here and say I was wrong, but as things stand no one DESERVES that kind of money.

      • storminator16 - Aug 20, 2014 at 2:06 PM

        “the amount of $ being tossed around like water in the ALS challenge by sports organizations while the middle-class shrinks and the national debt soars is just dumb.”

        I would expect that comment from someone who doesn’t (or passively) follows sports, not someone who actually posts on PHT…

        Sounds like you should be angry at your country and your politicians, not pro-athletes. Pro athletes are being paid for gifts most of the competition don’t have and they provide a source of entertainment that we are willing to see live for a price. It isn’t the athletes faults that governments waste their money on non-sense (that includes funding venues to see the aforementioned live events).

      • storminator16 - Aug 20, 2014 at 2:08 PM

        I meant “most of the population” don’t have. And by “most”, I mean 99.5%

      • storminator16 - Aug 20, 2014 at 2:10 PM

        Furthermore, everyone “DESERVES” whatever someone is willing to pay you. Egads, don’t you guys ever negotiate your compensation from your employer? Hate to hear how much money many of you are leaving on the table. Sheesh.

      • hockeyflow33 - Aug 20, 2014 at 4:04 PM

        So your complaint is that you don’t like organizations donating money to research and cure a horrible disease?

  15. xaile94 - Aug 20, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    if we’re gonna use 1993-94 Rangers, Zubov would be a better comparison than Leetch.

    …also, when you mention Leetch, you should always mention that he was the last d-man to put up 100pts in a season.

  16. hockeyflow33 - Aug 20, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    Did the writer really say that there’s no debating that Subban is one of the best defenseman in the league? I can’t tell if I should be reading that line as a fact or as sarcasm because there’s nothing but debate that he’s a terrible defensive-defenseman.

    And statistics back up what Kovalev is saying.

    • bsaures - Aug 20, 2014 at 11:56 AM

      No they dont look at the two articles above they completely contradict what kovalev said. Advanced stats have proved that pk is elite defensively as well

      • hockeyflow33 - Aug 20, 2014 at 4:07 PM


  17. i1theinternet - Aug 20, 2014 at 12:07 PM

    “What I’m saying is that he can give up five goals and score five goals, and the score’s still going to be zero-zero.”

    Um…Wouldn’t it be at least five-five?

  18. drewsylvania - Aug 20, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    The biggest problem with Subban “winning” the Norris is that people in the future will use that to suggest that he’s a good defender. He’s not now, nor was he when he won the trophy.

    • strictlythedanks - Aug 20, 2014 at 1:11 PM

      Yup, Suter was the norris winner that year to true hockey fans

  19. millertime1101 - Aug 20, 2014 at 2:34 PM

    Leetch is great so…
    stats don’t lie PK is a stud with a upside 60 pts per year 123 ast in 4 years comparing him to leech is a good thing

    • drewsylvania - Aug 20, 2014 at 2:43 PM

      Not from a defensive perspective…

  20. Hard to BeLeaf - Aug 21, 2014 at 2:23 AM

    I’m no Subban fan, I agree with Kovalev’s assessment somewhat…. but Kovalev calling anyone out for being a defensive liability? That’s the pot calling the kettle black!

  21. mackattack29 - Aug 24, 2014 at 6:22 AM

    Subban is arguably in the top 5 best defensemen in the league today. 1. Weber 2. Doughty 3. Suter 4. Keith 5. Subban. He is a game changing player. He controls the flow of games and like kovalev said, he does stuff in the freaking nhl that most guys can only do playing with their friends out on the street. He made Boston look ridiculous in the playoffs and considering the market today, his contract is completely reasonable. Especially if Toews and Kane are making 21 million dollars. I mean if the little Chicago boys are making that kind of money (especially if little Kane who’s terrified to death of getting hit is making over 10 million…) then Subban making 9 doesn’t look nearly as ridiculous.

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