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P.K. Subban music to Nashville's ears

Predators defenseman makes Music City debut Friday

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

NASHVILLE -- Country music? Of course P.K. Subban has country music on his iPod. He had it long before the Montreal Canadiens traded him to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber on June 29, long before he embraced Music City by singing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge on July 17.

As he explained after practice Thursday, Subban played with Carey Price in Montreal, and when you play with Carey Price, you've got to have some country on there. He listed Eric Church, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Buddy Jewell, Taylor Swift … 

"I've got some Carrie Underwood," he said.

He paused, looked up and said it louder so the whole dressing room could hear.


His new teammate Mike Fisher, of course, is Underwood's husband.

"Yeah, I've got a bunch on there," he said with a smile.

Video: Weber vs. Subban in 16-17

Everything is in harmony now -- Subban's creative playing style, his outgoing personality and the Predators philosophy -- as they open the regular season against the Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports, CSN-CH, NHL.TV).

Subban's breakup with the Canadiens has been well-documented, from his love affair with the fans to his conflicts with the organization. But maybe it will turn out for the best. The focus is on the positive, on the future.

Told a season-ticket holder had taken out a full-page ad in the Montreal Gazette, saying he or she would attend only the Predators' appearance at the Bell Centre on March 2, Subban said: "It would be nice to hear the opposite: 'I'm so happy that P.K.'s here, I'm going to buy season tickets.' It would be great to hear that. I mean, obviously there's a lot of things going on in Montreal. People are going to talk about [the trade]. It will be interesting to see what happens once the season starts, if everything kind of goes away."

Unprompted, he went on to say this: "To be honest with you, the transition to Nashville's been great. I get along really well with everybody in here. It feels like I've been here a lot longer."

He listed new teammates with whom he had some familiarity like he listed those country stars: Fisher, Colin Wilson, Cody Bass, Ryan Ellis, James Neal, Roman Josi, Pekka Rinne, He knew them from the IIHF World Championship, or from back home in Toronto, or from seeing them at the NHL All-Star Game.

"Coming in, I feel right at home, and I haven't really thought too much about anything else other than just getting ready for the season, which is good," he said. "Still talk to all of my friends every day in Montreal. I don't think there's a day that goes by that people aren't like, 'Aw, I miss you,' or whatever. But that's expected. But I'm happy."

The Predators want Subban to be himself as a player and a person. All they ask is that everyone stay on the same page.

Video: Subban says he loves the city and people of Nashville

On the ice, coach Peter Laviolette and assistant Phil Housley want Subban to abide by the same rules as every other defenseman. They don't want him to take silly risks. But they play an aggressive style, recognize he has special talent and want him to take advantage of it at the right times. They have paired him with Josi, another dynamic player.

"We're very happy to have P.K. here," said Housley, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame who had 1,232 points as an NHL defenseman from 1982-2003. "I think he's going to fit right in with our system, I think he's getting more and more comfortable with it, and I think his talent will take over."

Off the ice, general manager David Poile doesn't want surprises even when Subban means well. But that's to avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding, and maximize the impact of what he and the team can do together.

"Obviously he got traded from Montreal for a reason or reasons," Poile said. "We don't want to change him. We don't want to take anything away from him. … We just want to be in concert in terms of communication and transparency, and we need to let him know what we're doing as an organization. Maybe we can be not only supportive of each other, but we can help each other."

Subban could have a greater impact in Nashville than he did in Montreal. The Canadiens have more than a century of history and have won the Stanley Cup 24 times. Their players have won countless individual awards. When Subban won the Norris Trophy in 2013, he just added to their collection. The Predators have less than a fifth of a century of history and have never been to the Western Conference Final. Though they have had stars like Weber, Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya, they have never had a star quite so bright.

And look at the timing: Subban comes in his prime at age 27, after Nashville hosted the 2016 NHL All-Star Game and the Predators made it to Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round before falling to the San Jose Sharks. They are Stanley Cup contenders. Expectations are higher than ever before.

Asked about Subban's marketing value, Poile said: "Well, let's put it this way: It certainly was not a reason not to make the trade. I mean, again, the Montreal Canadiens have been around since Day 1. They are everything that everybody would want to be in terms of a successful franchise: the brand, the Canadiens, the Cups, everything. We are just a young franchise that's getting its foundation, that's getting its traction in a non-hockey market. Bringing in players that are going to play with hopefully more offensive tendencies, exciting players, players like P.K. Subban, I think can only give us the best chance possible of making this a successful franchise."

Subban and the Predators could make beautiful music together, because Subban has the talent and charisma to do things that haven't been done here before. The day after he did his Johnny Cash impression, he came to the office to be introduced to the team staff.

"I said, 'I just want everybody to know that I've been here 18 years, and P.K. has now been in Tootsie's one more time than I have,'" Poile said with a laugh.

Get your tickets now. 

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