P.K. Subban's 2012-13 NHL season began with the Montreal Canadiens defenseman sitting on the sidelines, watching his teammates get off to a great start while he negotiated a new contract with general manager Marc Bergevin.
Subban missed the first four games of the season before signing a two-year, $5.75 million deal, and he sat out two more games before finally getting his season underway.
Though that might not have been the ideal start to the season for Subban, it couldn't have come to a much better conclusion Saturday night.
Subban was named the recipient of the James Norris Memorial Trophy prior to Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, beating out fellow finalists Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild.
The Norris Trophy is awarded to the defenseman demonstrating "the greatest all-around ability in the position," as selected by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
Subban becomes the sixth defenseman in the long history of the Canadiens to win the Norris, the first since Chris Chelios won it in 1989, and the youngest to do so in team history, having celebrated his 24th birthday May 13.
But as Subban has done all season when faced with praise for his ever improving game, he deflected the credit to his teammates and the great turnaround the Canadiens made by going from last in the Eastern Conference last year to second this season.
"I think as an organization, as a group, as a team we improved this year," Subban said during a conference call. "When you improve, everybody benefits, and I think I'm just benefitting from our team's success this year."
Subban was a big part of that success.
He had a point in each of the first four games he played and over a 26-game stretch from Feb. 21 to April 15 had eight goals, 22 assists and a plus-8 rating. Subban failed to get a point in nine of those 26 games.
His season total of 38 points tied for the League-lead among defensemen with Letang (though Letang played in seven fewer games), and his 11 goals were second to Washington Capitals blueliner Mike Green.
On the defensive side, Subban was regularly used against the opposition's top forward lines with his regular partner, Josh Gorges, and his plus/minus rating of plus-12 was the best among Canadiens defensemen. Gorges, Francis Bouillon and Rapahel Diaz were tied for second among the Montreal regulars on the blue line at plus-4.
It's a side of Subban's game that does not get as much attention as his flashy offensive skills and his dangerous shot on the power play, but it is a facet that has improved in each of his three full NHL seasons.
"With time in the League comes maturity, and I think I've grown a lot over the past three years and I'm going to continue to grow," Subban said. "I didn't think I would have [had] such a personal accomplishment at this point, but at the same token it's all the more reason for me to continue to get better, to continue to be a leader and develop both as a player and as a person."
Subban's defensive game will always be overshadowed by what he is able to do with the puck, simply because it is such a rare quality for a defenseman to have, particularly one who does not hurt you in your own zone.
"I used to watch the best of Bobby Orr tape, my dad got it for me, and I couldn't tell you how many times I watched it. He was my favorite defenseman of all time," Subban said. "I don't think I would be playing the style I do if it weren't for Bobby Orr. He's a class act off the ice too. Every hockey player should try and pattern themselves after Bobby Orr."
Subban now has his name on the same trophy as Orr, but it is another trophy that Orr won twice that interests Subban much more. This season Subban learned just what he needs to do in order to get his hands on the Stanley Cup for the first time.
When NBC Sports Network analyst Keith Jones asked Subban what facet of his game he is most proud of, Subban's answer was very revealing of the importance he places on good team hockey.
"I hope it's my ability to be a good teammate," Subban said. "The on the ice is fun, and this award is great, but I want to win a Stanley Cup one day, and to do that you need to be a good teammate. I think this year was a great year for our team coming together and really understanding what it takes to win. I think we're going through a learning curve, we have a young team, but the future's bright for the Montreal Canadiens."
To that end, before leaving the NBCSN set, Subban had a message for the Montreal fans watching at home, saying in French, "Bonjour Montréal, je suis excité pour l'année prochaine."
That means, "Hello Montreal, I am excited for next year."
If Canadiens fans could answer, they probably would have said to Subban, "Likewise."
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