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P.K. Subban, Predators get chance to make history together

Defenseman will have opportunity to win Stanley Cup in first season after being traded to Nashville

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

NASHVILLE -- P.K. Subban loved his seven seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, from the history to the city to the fans. Then on June 29, he went to the Nashville Predators for Shea Weber in a blockbuster trade of superstar defensemen.

Eleven months later, Subban stood in the Predators locker room wearing a Western Conference championship hat and T-shirt, and now he will do something he never had the chance to do in Montreal: Play in the Stanley Cup Final. The Predators will face the Ottawa Senators or Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 on Monday.

He loves his new team, his new city and his new fans. They have a chance to make a new history together.

"I don't want to boost myself here or anything, but when I got traded, I said it," Subban said after the Predators' 6-3 victory against the Anaheim Ducks at raucous Bridgestone Arena on Monday. "I said that I believed that I was going to have a tremendous opportunity to win a Stanley Cup with this team, and maybe got a little bit of [flak] for it. But I believe in this dressing room."

The Subban-Weber trade not only was shocking news, it was a shock to the system of the players and the teams. Though there was friction within the Canadiens, Subban had won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman in 2013 and was beloved by the fans in Montreal. Weber had been the longtime captain of the Predators, the face of the franchise.

Predators general manager David Poile jumped at the chance to make the trade when Subban was available, because Subban was younger -- 27 at the time, compared to 30 for Weber -- and fit the up-tempo style of coach Peter Laviolette. But because of the circumstances, he had a longer-term view than he let on.

Video: NHL Tonight: Who won Subban/Weber deal? 

"I really felt when we made the trade -- I didn't say this to anybody else -- but I thought maybe next year would be even better than this year with P.K. just because he didn't ask to be traded," Poile said. "We really affected him big time."

The Predators were popular preseason picks to make the Stanley Cup Final. Subban was the center of attention. But the team and the individual got off to rocky starts. The Predators also were adjusting to the trade of defenseman Seth Jones for center Ryan Johansen on Jan. 6, 2016. Not only was Subban in a dramatically different environment personally and professionally, he was banged up in training camp and missed 16 games from mid-December to mid-January with an upper-body injury. He took another 10-15 games to get his wind and legs back afterward.

"I'm always a realist about how I play and how I need to play and what the expectations are," Subban said. "I never try to shy away from them. Obviously the expectations in my career were no higher what they were this year. I think that I was tested a lot in terms of mentally, how I was going to approach things."

Subban said he never felt he wasn't doing his job amid his struggles because of the support he received from the Nashville coaches and his teammates.

"I just put my head down and tried to work," Subban said. "As a group, we're so close. That's why we have the success that we have. We're all pulling for each other, and we want to see each other do well."

The Predators came together down the stretch, and Subban's role became defined with partner Mattias Ekholm. Subban has long been criticized for making too many risky plays, but he hasn't tried to do too much. He doesn't have to do too much with Nashville. He plays on the second power play and has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 16 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, seventh among the Predators and third among their defensemen. Some nights you don't notice him much, not nearly as much as you used do, but that's a good thing. He and Ekholm often have handled the tough matchups.

Video: ANA@NSH, Gm4: Subban rips a goal through screen

"He's really playing a great team game," Poile said. "One of the things that's probably not talked about enough is how good he is defensively. I think everybody was talking about his razzle dazzle and offensive what-have-you, but he's a stud defensively. That's probably why we're here, is our defensive play plus our goaltending."

Subban is in a good place. He's headed to the Stanley Cup Final but has a long-term view as well.

"When I first got traded here, a lot of people -- not people in Nashville, but just people generally -- said that you're going to a U.S. market but a small U.S. market and a 'C' market compared to a lot of teams," Subban said. "I mean, listen, I played in an 'A-plus' market my whole career. Coming here, there's not a city in this league that has anything on Nashville in terms of the support of this team.

"Hockey is at an all-time high here, and it will be for a long time. This isn't just a summer of greatness in Nashville. This is going to be years and years of good hockey and good support from a fan base that's got to be the best in the League. People I know just back home [in Toronto] and friends from all over just enjoy watching the game on TV because of the energy in the building. It's got to be one of the best sports atmospheres in the world."

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