January 29, 2013 8:15 PM | By Jeff Hale, MSN Sports

Subban, Habs look to each other for a restoration

Also, forgiving fans may still bolt; Pro Bowl lowers the all-star bar again

Montreal Canadiens' PK Subban celebrates after scoring the overtime winning goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during an NHL hockey game in Montreal, Tuesday, April 5, 2011. (© CANADIAN PRESS - Graham Hughes)

Montreal Canadiens' PK Subban celebrates after scoring the overtime winning goal against the Chicago Blackhawks during an NHL hockey game in Montreal, Tuesday, April 5, 2011.

Jeff Hale, MSN Sports

Jeff Hale, MSN Sports

Here’s a look at three topics, none of which mention the Harbaugh family reunion in New Orleans this week.

The Subban saga. The staredown between defenceman P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens ended amicably Monday, Subban agreeing to a two-year contract for $5.75 million (US). It probably isn’t what Subban wanted, both in money and in term, but he made nice afterward, saying all the right things about the Canadiens and general manager Marc Bergevin.

The Canadiens made it difficult for Subban to continue his holdout by winning three of their first four games. Subban had already made his best negotiating move by withdrawing his services, and his leverage would erode further with each subsequent Canadiens’ victory. Add last week’s rumblings about a possible Subban trade and it was clear he had to settle.

Two things intrigue in the future: the effect the holdout has on Subban’s play and whether his relationship with the Canadiens and Bergevin has been harmed.

Subban’s play should hold up just fine. He is 23, is improving defensively and has an offensive flair few NHL defencemen possess. He is also a charismatic presence who has not wilted previously in the hothouse of scrutiny that is the Canadiens’ fan base.

Like most pro athletes today, though, he wanted to be paid accordingly for that potential. Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings held out at 21 before last season and ended up with an eight-year, $56-million (US) deal.

That’s where the hard feelings could gain traction with Subban. The trade talk could grease that grousing.

Both sides now have to renew their faith in each other. Subban’s grateful reaction to the deal was a welcome first step in that process. Bergevin will need to do his share of stroking, too.

Otherwise, it will be very easy for each party to nourish their resentment and wave goodbye to the other in two years.

Not so fast. There was a considerable rush to judgment last week, proclamations that hockey fans are back after the NHL’s ill-considered, 119-day lockout. Attendance was up, so were television ratings and all seemed forgiven. 

If you deny anyone something they adore long enough, they will greet its return with happiness and relief. When it comes to hockey, that is especially true in Canada, where the game occupies a spectrum that ranges from an excuse to drink beer to a form of latent nationalism.

The more difficult puzzle is determining how long that euphoria will last. In the case of the NHL lockout, fans seem to have reserved their anger for the league and their love for their individual teams. What happens to that love when those teams lose and start to slide in their divisions? Right now, after one week in a truncated season, everyone is truly in it and many teams will stay that way until the waning days of April. That makes it easy to stay happy and relieved. Check the pulse of the fans in October, after the Stanley Cup playoffs have been shoehorned into two months, the new collective bargaining agreement has been truly tested over a summer of free agency and a long 82-game season beckons.

Go figure. The NFL Pro Bowl, a gimcrack version of football that churned out a combined NBA-like 97 points Sunday, attracted nearly 10 million viewers on U.S. television, paltry by NFL standards but better than any other show on TV Sunday night.

The relevance of all-star games has long been exposed for everyone to see. They are nothing more than grandiose exhibitions, largely meaningless to the players, many of whom play with a reduced effort if they haven’t already begged off because of injury.

The fans’ interest is also questionable. Hands up, all of you who were disappointed the NHL scrubbed its all-star game in Columbus this year. Yeah, I thought so.

As competition, all-star games are worthless, unless you count the nonsense instituted by baseball in 2003, which lets the winner of its all-star game determine home-field advantage in its marquee event, the World Series. No other league has moved in that direction with its all-star game.

Yet, despite musing publicly in October about dropping the Pro Bowl, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was better disposed toward Sunday’s game, remarking on its “improved quality.”

In last year’s game, the teams combined for 100 points.

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