P.K. Subban spent the first seven years of his career with the Montreal Canadiens before he was traded this past offseason to the Nashville Predators. On The Bill Simmons Podcast, the star defenseman explains how commissioner Gary Bettman has grown the league and considers changing the NHL’s 82-game regular season. Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.
Should the NHL’s Season Be Shorter?
Bill Simmons: I don’t want to get rid of teams. I feel bad. But the rivalries and seeing the same team five, six times a year, by that fourth time in March you’re tired of them already. I don’t know. I think it helps to have the teams come in once or twice and that’s it.
P.K. Subban: If that’s the case, as a player I’m looking at it [like], well, let’s play less games. Our game is just, if not more, physical as the NFL.
Simmons: I agree with you on that.
Subban: They play 16 games a year. We play 82, plus travel, plus playoffs. You’re looking at the top teams in the league — Jonathan Toews has played over a hundred games a year, probably consistently for the past five or six years.
Simmons: Yeah, for like five straight years.
Subban: Think about the wear and tear on your body when that happens.
Simmons: But that’s why Stanley Cup champs don’t repeat. I’m convinced.
Subban: It’s so hard.
Simmons: I know a couple of the [Los Angeles] Kings a little bit. After 2012 and 2014, those guys were so banged up. [Jonathan] Quick, physically, really hasn’t totally recovered from that three-year stretch, because they almost made it [to the Stanley Cup finals] in 2013 too. But man, it’s over 300 games.
Subban: Listen, if I had it my way, just as a player — and this is me speaking selfishly, this has nothing to do with what other guys think, this is just me — I would like to see the games get cut down. I would like to see — 82 games in my opinion, it’s a grind. You’re going to see great players’ careers end[ing sooner], because … they’re playing more games. You look at this year, just the schedule alone, we’ve been playing almost every second day for the whole season. It’s been crazy, because of the World Cup [of Hockey] and the All-Star Game and all these extra things that are coming in, and it’s crazy. But here’s the reality: You cut games, that’s less revenue, that’s less money for players, that’s less money for owners. So you[’ve] got to understand — it’s like, what do you want? Everybody’s got to make money, right?
Simmons: What about a 70-game series and best of nine for the playoffs?
Subban: A 70-game season?
Simmons: A 70-game regular season, best of nine.
Subban: I’d like to see you do it just like the NFL. Do 16 games …
Simmons: Sixteen games? [Laughs]
Subban: One game a week.
Simmons: So more like a soccer model?
Subban: Just blow up the stadiums, make them huge, and make it really really intense. I’m just kidding. [Laughing] You can’t do 16 games.
Simmons: No, but you could do like a Premier League type of model. … It’s what, a 36-game season, or something like that?
Subban: But here’s my point: revenues. It comes down to money: 82 games, that’s 41 games in your building, that’s 41 games of 22,000-plus fans. That’s tickets, that’s everything. Every time someone comes in the building, that’s beer, that’s … food, concession stands. It’s all about money. TV — that’s what it’s about, right? I don’t think you could ever restructure the league that way. But I’m just thinking, the days of seeing the guys that have 22-year careers — only the freaks will be able to do that. There’s some freaks out there that are blessed with that body type.
Simmons: [Chris] Chelios was a freak, right?
Subban: There’s a couple.
Simmons: He couldn’t have been a human being.
Subban: … There’s a lot of guys out there. But with the game the way it is now — those guys will tell you — it is so much faster. And it only gets faster every year, because guys are training. Think about it: You get your contract, there’s guys coming in the league who want their contract, and they’re young. There’s guys coming in, like, [Kevin] Fiala on our team, he’s [born in] ’96. … I mean, Jesus, he’s so young. It’s unbelievable how young the players are now coming into the league. So, the speed, the skill, it’s all higher.
Simmons: I can’t believe how much bigger the guys are.
Subban: They’re huge!
Simmons: I sit behind the net for the Kings games. Every other team has some defenseman that’s, like, 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8.
Subban: And they can skate. It’s not only that they are big, they can skate.
Simmons: Yeah, they’re not awkward.
Subban: They can hit, they have skills. The game has changed so much. With that … I’m going to be 28 and I’m looking at this, and I’m saying, wow, the game is really fast. It’s fast. It seemed slow for me for a while and now it’s fast. You’ve got to prepare your body for that type of game. …You’re going to see less and less guys that are going to play 18 seasons and 19 seasons. You’re going to see more guys that’ll play 12 to 15, and then that’ll be it.
Simmons: Defensemen usually last a little bit longer, so you’re in better shape.
Subban: Defensemen can last a little bit longer because … even as a defenseman, you can change. You can be a top defenseman that contributes offensively, that plays in all situations, and then, as your career goes on, maybe your body doesn’t allow you [to keep that pace], your game slows down. You can become a third or fourth defenseman and still be able to contribute and fit into the lineup. The thing about the top forwards is that, once you’re a top forward and you’re a scorer, you’re expected to score goals. The moment you can’t score anymore, they find somebody else to do it. There’s a young player that can come in and do that. It’s a lot tougher.
How the NHL Has Grown Under Gary Bettman
Subban: If I’m going to play manager, if I’m going to play executive right now and look at the league …
Bill Simmons: You’d be commissioner.
Subban: You know what? One day I’d love to be the commissioner of the NHL.
Simmons: I think you’re disqualified because you have a personality.
Simmons: Yeah, that was a Bettman dig, you heard me. I know you can’t say a name, but I made [the joke]. You’re just an innocent bystander.
Subban: OK, but here’s the thing. Fans don’t know Gary personally, right? I’ve had an opportunity to talk with him and speak with him. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this as a player, but I like Gary.
Simmons: I booed him personally, does that count?
Subban: No, I like Gary. … It’s unbelievably tough. People look at the coach of the Montreal Canadiens or the goaltender — nobody can imagine what it’s like to be in that position. Nobody can imagine or understand what it’s like to be the commissioner of the NHL. You look at the other leagues and the revenues that they bring in, and the NHL’s at the bottom. It’s not in the top two or three leagues. Gary’s job, in terms of expanding the league and growing revenues, revenues have only gone up. They’ve only gone up since he’s been here.
Simmons: You really should be the next commissioner. This is an impressive selling job.
Subban: You’ve got to look at it big picture. … I’ve been lucky enough to be one of the top players in the league, where I get paid top dollars. So it’s easy to speak when you’re getting paid handsomely and you’re one of the top-paid guys in the league. But if I’m looking at it, those third- and fourth-line guys are making a lot more money now than they were 10, 15 years ago.