‘Huge gam­ble’ pay­ing off

Sub­ban a big part of Preds’ deep­est play­off run in 19-year his­tory

Kingston Whig-Standard - - SPORTS - MICHAEL TRAIKOS mtraikos@post­media.com twit­ter.com/Michael_Traikos

NASHVILLE — David Poile was ner­vous.

The Nashville Preda­tors gen­eral man­ager is al­ways ner­vous when he makes a trade. Big or small, it doesn’t mat­ter. Trades are gam­bles. And over the years, per­haps no GM has gam­bled more than Poile.

Three years af­ter draft­ing Seth Jones fourth over­all, Poile sent the young de­fence­man to Colum­bus for Ryan Jo­hansen. He traded Martin Erat for Filip Fors­berg be­fore the lat­ter had even played a game in North Amer­ica. He pack­aged Pa­tric Horn­qvist and Nick Spal­ing for James Neal.

But trad­ing Shea We­ber was dif­fer­ent.

We­ber had been the Preda­tors’ cap­tain and beloved bearded face of the fran­chise. He de­fined Nashville’s de­fen­sive iden­tity, lead­ing the team to eight play­off ap­pear­ances in 11 years. As Poile said, “there was no down­side to how We­ber con­ducted him­self on and off the ice.”

He added: “And then there’s P.K. Sub­ban.”

Poile ad­mits trad­ing We­ber for Sub­ban last sum­mer was “a huge gam­ble.”

“P.K. is dif­fer­ent,” he says. “My favourite ex­pres­sion is (Sub­ban) gets a lot of touches ev­ery day. Ev­ery­thing that hap­pens is a story about P.K. He just can’t help him­self. So was I ner­vous? I’m ner­vous about ev­ery trade I make. But this one was huge.”

Al­most a year later, the gam­ble is pay­ing off.

The Preda­tors are in the con­fer­ence fi­nal for the first time in their 19-year his­tory and Sub­ban has been a big part of their suc­cess. He might not be the best player on the team or even the best de­fence­man, but the same guy who was run out of Mon­treal be­cause of a sup­posed me-first at­ti­tude has sur­prised crit­ics with his team-first ap­proach.

Head­ing into Game 4 of the Western Con­fer­ence fi­nal against the Ana­heim Ducks, Sub­ban was ranked third amongst Nashville de­fence­men with one goal and seven as­sists in 13 games. But it’s not about points or play­ing the hero. Like We­ber, who was a rock for the Preda­tors, Sub­ban has ac­cepted a shut­down role that has shined a light on his de­fen­sive play.

Preda­tors head coach Peter Lavi­o­lette called Sub­ban “a re­ally good 200-foot, two-way player for us,” whose at­ten­tion to de­tail in the de­fen­sive end has been “on the money.” Ryan El­lis, who said Sub­ban’s first goal as a Preda­tor fea­tured “a re­ally big celly,” de­scribed his team­mate as “re­spon­si­ble.”

Those aren’t words Sub­ban had been hear­ing in Mon­treal, where he was por­trayed as a river­boat gam­bler who was more con­cerned with pad­ding his own stats and build­ing his per­sonal brand than win­ning a cham­pi­onship. It wasn’t true. But that was the im­age that made Poile ner­vous.

Be­fore pulling the trig­ger on the block­buster deal, Poile did his due dili­gence, talk­ing to ev­ery­one from hockey scouts to mar­ket­ing man­agers to de­ter­mine what ef­fect Sub­ban would have on the Preda­tors, both on and off the ice. Poile con­sid­ered Sub­ban’s per­sonal brand and char­i­ta­ble work a pos­i­tive, es­pe­cially in a city like Nashville, where hockey isn’t nec­es­sar­ily the No. 1 sport.

Poile didn’t want to change Sub­ban. But af­ter mak­ing the trade, he made sure they were on the same page.

“The first meet­ing I just told him, ‘I’m the gen­eral man­ager of the team and my goal is to win a Stan­ley Cup,’ ” said Poile, who then asked Sub­ban for his goals.

The an­swer: to win a Stan­ley Cup.

And then Poile said, “As far as all the other things you’re do­ing — be­cause my opin­ion, and it’s my opin­ion, is that it af­fected your re­la­tion­ship with Mon­treal and pos­si­bly was one of the rea­sons why you were traded — we’ll sup­port you in any­thing and ev­ery­thing you’re do­ing, just as long as we know what you’re do­ing. So the left hand will know what the right hand is do­ing and we’ll walk to­gether. Just as long as hockey is your No. 1 fo­cus.”

So far, the Preda­tors have not had any is­sues with Sub­ban. Nei­ther has Sub­ban had is­sues with Nashville. He was an in­stant hit in the city, whether it was singing at the honky­tonk bar Toot­sies or pump­ing up the crowd at a Ten­nessee Ti­tans foot­ball game. NBC hockey an­a­lyst Mike Mil­bury might have called Sub­ban a “clown” for danc­ing around dur­ing the pre-game warm-up, but he hasn’t be­come a dis­trac­tion. If any­thing, he’s bought in to what the team is sell­ing.

“I don’t know if that has to do with the weather in Nashville or not, but we’re re­ally en­joy­ing be­ing a part of this post-sea­son for sure,” said Sub­ban. “We all love each other in that dress­ing room. I think it’s just the cul­ture. It’s the cul­ture of the or­ga­ni­za­tion. And like I said, the city’s re­ally em­braced this team and hockey. And makes it fun for us to come back home.”

Sub­ban had 10 goals and 40 points in 66 games this sea­son, but it wasn’t an easy first year for him. He missed time be­cause of in­jury and strug­gled to find what he called “his niche” on the team. It wasn’t un­til later in the year, when Sub­ban found chem­istry with Mat­tias Ekholm as part of Nashville’s shut­down pair­ing, that he started to make a big­ger im­pact.

“I said to my­self at the time — and I still be­lieve it — I thought this trade is go­ing to be bet­ter a year from now for us than it would be for this year,” said Poile, ref­er­enc­ing the ages of We­ber (31) and Sub­ban (28).

That seemed to be the case in early Jan­uary, when the Preda­tors had lost six of eight games and were look­ing at pos­si­bly miss­ing the play­offs. They won nine of their last 15 games, en­ter­ing the post-sea­son as the No. 8 seed.

“Noth­ing was gelling at all,” Poile said of the early-sea­son strug­gles. “It wasn’t un­til the lat­ter part of the sea­son, maybe the last 20 or so games, when we and he got it to­gether and started to play on a more con­sis­tent ba­sis, And now, here we are in the play­offs and we’re see­ing the best of P.K. on a night-in and night-out ba­sis.”

Now, with the team on the doorstep of the Stan­ley Cup fi­nal, the spot­light is shin­ing on Sub­ban and Nashville. And as Poile said, there’s more than enough of that spot­light to go around.

“When play­ers think they are big­ger than the team or don’t lis­ten to the coach, things go awry,” said Poile. “Right now we have every­body buy­ing in. P.K. is a ter­rific hockey player. I think he’s a real good per­son. The P.K. brand, which in some cir­cles could be viewed as a neg­a­tive, in Nashville it’s all good.”

SEAN M. HAFFEY/GETTY IM­AGES

Nashville gen­eral man­ager David Poile is ner­vous be­fore ev­ery trade, but swap­ping Shea We­ber for P.K. Sub­ban, pic­tured, “was dif­fer­ent ... huge.”

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