Share this article

print logo

Mike Harrington: Cast aside in stunning fashion by Habs, P.K. Subban is a face of the Cup final

PITTSBURGH -- Shea Weber had a fine year for the Montreal Canadiens but he's been home since the first round of the playoffs ended. P.K. Subban's season started with injuries and inconsistency. Over the last four months, he's once again emerged as a star, a face-of-the-game persona. And the Nashville Predators are in the first Stanley Cup final in their history.

Both teams are happy with the player they got in the most shocking straight deal in the salary cap era. But you still have to wonder what the thinking was from the Montreal standpoint.

Here was a 28-year-old in Subban at the prime of his career and the prime of his popularity in the city, a philanthropist the likes of which the game has rarely seen. While still an active player, Subban donated $10 million to Montreal's Children's Hospital, even had an entire wing named for him and created a Christmas wonderland for sick children.

But there were always murmurs out of Montreal that Subban was, well, too much about Subban.

Maybe some of them were true. Maybe some of them were borne in jealousy, be it from players, former coach Michel Therrien or embattled GM Marc Bergevin. But whatever the reason, the Habs decided they were willing to shake up the club and deal the face of their franchise.

The Subban-Weber deal was part of that crazy and historic 23-minute stretch on the afternoon of June 29, when Edmonton also traded former No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall to New Jersey and Steven Stamkos opted to re-sign with Tampa Bay and not go into free agency. The Sabres, of course, were dying to make a move on him on July 1.

The sheer numbers this season were interesting.  Weber had 17 goals, 25 assists and a plus-20 rating in 78 games. Subban was at 10-30-40 in 66 games but had a better points per game average (0.61-0.54). Both players had strong possession numbers, with Subban at nearly 55 percent and Weber at nearly 51 percent when games were tied or within one goal.

"When I was in Montreal, I felt comfortable and we had a great team," Subban said. "We accomplished maybe not the ultimate goal of winning a Cup but we got to the conference finals twice and made the playoffs regularly. We had some great runs. I don't think I can debate who won the trade or not. I'll let you guys do that.

"What Shea brings and what I bring, maybe we have some similarities and we also have some differences as well. I think one of the toughest things for me to think about was to come into a locker room he'd been in for 12 years and been a captain in and you're thinking how you're going to fit in because he had such a great presence. When he went to Montreal, I'm sure he had to do similar things."

Subban as Jagr with the real Jagr at 2016 All-Star Game (Getty Images).

Nashville, of course, is all about show. Subban fits right in. It was in the Music City, remember, where he donned a long wig and did Jaromir Jagr impressions that had the Bridgestone Arena crowd in stitches during last year's All-Star skills competition.

When the Predators brought him to Nashville in July, the first stop was a quick tour of Broadway. It's the main drag, right by the arena filled with restaurants and country music haunts.

They went into Tootsie's, a legendary place for visitors and, truth be told, visiting hockey writers. Subban had become a Johnny Cash fan thanks to Habs goaltender Carey Price. Suddenly, he was on the stage in his new hometown.

What's one to do? Belt out one of Cash's hits.

"It's not like it popped in my head that when I got traded I was going to perform 'Folsom Prison Blues' on the stage at Tootsie's," Subban said. "It was sort of a spontaneous thing that happened. I honestly walked in, they're walking me down the strip at Broadway. There must have been 15 or 20 people in there at the time and the owner is like, 'Why don't you sing us a song? Get up there.' Everybody is looking up there so I hopped up and did it."

The clip, of course, went viral across the hockey world.

"Nashville is amazing for entertainment," Subban said. "It was a cool time I came in. The team has had great runs. People were getting involved in hockey. Once I came in, there was a lot of attention around the team."

The attention has mushroomed in the playoffs. Subban has two goals and nine assists in 17 games with a plus-6 rating and has combined with Mattias Ekholm to produce one of the postseason's prime shutdown pairs. Subban even scored the first goal of the series Monday in the Predators' 5-3 loss. Or at least he thought he did until the NHL's absurd offside review challenges got in the way and wiped it out.

The celebration was full bore too, a classic Subban windmill, down-on-one-knee with chest pump point back to goalie Pekka Rinne at the other end.

Filip Forsberg, who said here Tuesday he thought the replay was inconclusive, was ruled offside by a toe. Subban was smirking during Forsberg's answer but still played diplomat when it was his turn to address the situation.

"I watched the replay just on the Jumbotron. I thought for sure it was going to be a good goal," he said. "I didn't get the explanation. I'm not really sure. But we're sadly mistaken if we don't think that changes or rules that are brought into the game aren't there to help the game be better. ... Obviously we would have loved that goal to have counted, but it didn't.

Subban is here chasing his ultimate goal, even though the feeling from some in Montreal was winning may not have been high enough on his priority list. Once the trade was consummated, Predators general manager David Poile commissioned a meeting with Subban as well as the player's agents and business advisors. Just so everyone was on the same page. The main question was simple: What are your goals? The answer really couldn't be P.K. Subban, The Industry.

It wasn't.

"He said, ‘To win the Stanley Cup,''' Poile recalled. "I said, ‘That’s what our goals are, too.’

Poile had heard the stories.

"P.K. brings a lot to the table as a hockey player and as a person, his involvement in charities," he said. "He has a lot of things going on. We obviously heard a lot about things that happened in Montreal, some good, maybe some not so good. The whole idea was to get on the same page. "

Subban does tend to rub opponents and maybe even teammates the wrong way at times. Just this week, retired ex-NHLer John Scott had to point out that comments from him that were aired on Sunday's ESPN "E:60" were actually made two years ago when Scott said of Subban, "I don’t like him. I think on the ice, he’s a piece of garbage. Perceived as like a hot shot, this guy thinks he’s better than everybody.”

Subban and Scott exchanged tweets this week, with Subban making it clear there were no hard feelings. Subban has become friends with Penguins winger Phil Kessel and even attended Kessel's Stanley Cup party in July. From his days in Toronto, Kessel knows what it's like to be a lightning rod for attention in a Canadian market.

"I know what he’s going through and what he dealt with,” Kessel said of Subban. “Obviously, he wants to win really bad because he got, I’d say, the shaft in Montreal a little bit. That’s how it goes. So you want to prove people wrong."

The Predators are trailing in a series for the first time in these playoffs. A lot of people think the defending champion Penguins pulled an escape Monday and will be much better Wednesday. Subban and the Preds have been answering doubts all spring. Here's another chance.

"At the end of the day, there was a lot of positives for us to take out of that hockey game," Subban said. "It's the Stanley Cup final. You've got to play a full 60 minutes. We did a lot of good things last game, but we have to do great things to win our next one."

Mike Harrington: Penguins survive bizarre opener with Guentzel goal, assist from offside challenge

There are no comments - be the first to comment