P.K. Subban key to Predators' first trip to Cup Final
Defenseman has been great fit since trade with Canadiens, counted on to help shut down Penguinsby Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / LNH.com Senior Managing Editor
PITTSBURGH -- P.K. Subban and the Nashville Predators are playing in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.
Shea Weber and the Montreal Canadiens are not.
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That, in a nutshell, is where the evaluation for many of the monumental trade of superstar defensemen on June 29 begins and ends, even though it is nowhere near that simple.
But facts are facts, and the fact is that the Predators will begin their first Final in Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena on Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports), and the arrival of Subban is a big part of the reason why.
Not the only reason, but a big one.
Video: Subban on facing Pens, Nashville excitement
Except the decision to pull off that trade was not an easy one for Nashville general manager David Poile, not when the Predators were trading away their longtime captain and face of the franchise in Weber, and not when Subban was arriving amid rumors of chemistry issues and dressing room discontent in Montreal.
No, the Predators and Poile had to make this trade work, had to make sure that not only Subban the hockey player but Subban the person with his charitable endeavors and larger-than-life personality fit into the culture of Nashville, and even to adapt that culture to him within reason.
They worked hard to make sure that happened, taking some time to find out where Subban fit hockey-wise and welcoming his off-ice initiatives with open arms.
This is the result, a first trip to the Final and a player who says he couldn't be happier to be in Nashville.
"David made that trade and whether we wanted to say it or not, a lot of people touted it to be a piece that would put us over the top," Subban said at 2017 Stanley Cup Final Media Day on Sunday. "I didn't really see it that way, but it seems that for our team we just jelled at the right time and we've been clicking down the stretch. I guess you can say I'm definitely happier just to come in and do my job every day, whether that's playing 32 minutes or playing 15. You just have to do whatever it takes to win."
The Predators are winning a lot now, but that took time. They needed to adjust to Weber not being around anymore and needed to find the proper role for Subban, which wound up being on a defense pairing with Mattias Ekholm that coach Peter Laviolette likes to use as a physical, shutdown pairing.
Video: P.K. Subban becomes the media on Media Day
Poile had long ago identified a need for the Predators to play a different style, to go from a team built around goaltending and defense to one that still had those components but could also push the play toward the opposing goal and do so as a threat to score.
Firing Barry Trotz as coach and replacing him with Laviolette prior to the 2014-15 season was step one in that process, but he also made a number of trades that gave Laviolette the horses he would eventually need to play a more up-tempo, offensive style of hockey that Poile had correctly identified the NHL was trending toward.
He acquired forwards Filip Forsberg, James Neal and Ryan Johansen via trade, developed defensemen Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Ekholm and began drafting players who would fit the Predators' new identity.
Swapping Weber for Subban followed that same path, making the Predators faster, younger and more dynamic, but sacrificing everything Weber meant to the organization and the city of Nashville in order to get it.
"This (trade) was right up from me to the ownership level because we wanted to know if we trade Shea Weber, is this going to affect our season ticket base?" Poile said. "What's going to be the backlash? Any number of things. Who's going to be the new captain? What's the leadership going to be? On and on and on. There's a ton of things to think about. It's risky. You can think it all out, but you don't know until it actually happens."
Once it did actually happen, once Weber was gone and Subban arrived, it was a question of giving the trade every chance it needed to succeed, of making that sure that risk paid off. Poile has acquired several players who had questions surrounding them for various issues off the ice and decided in each case the talent on the ice would justify it. Subban was no different.
Video: Subban on locker room culture, playing in Nashville
"I heard all the noise or what have you [about Subban] and it doesn't really matter if it's right or wrong," Poile said. "What matters is you are now a Nashville Predator, what do we want to accomplish, what do you want to accomplish? What else do you have going on in your life and if you do, like P.K., we just want to know what it is so that we can support it."
Subban said that support of his life off the ice was a big change from what he had in Montreal.
"You're dealing with a franchise that has been around a long time, over 100 years, and they do things a certain way, and that's fine," he said. "But just going to Nashville was a lot different."
Ultimately, that's made Subban a happier player, one comfortable enough to be himself off the ice, and that comfort level could easily make him a better player on the ice.
"It's what the coach says, what the GM says, and what the ownership says, that's going to develop a certain culture in the room," Subban said. "And I definitely love the culture in Nashville."
That culture of acceptance is quickly becoming a culture of winning, one that can be cemented in the Final beginning Monday, and one that is easy to love for Subban and his teammates.