NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As a handful of reporters descended on his locker stall the morning of his first regular-season game in Nashville, P.K. Subban slapped a Predators hat on backward, smiled, and said, “Let’s rock and roll.”
If ever there was a perfect match of superstar and city, it might be Subban and Nashville. His infectious personality and electric game suit the flamboyant and perpetually hopping downtown scene just perfectly. But most importantly, his aggressive, offensive-minded style is a perfect fit for Predators coach Peter Laviolette’s attacking system.
Nashville, a team that had 96 points last year and 104 points two years ago, is now regarded as arguably the best team in the already brutal Central Division, if not the Western Conference, and a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
“We’re a bunch of guys in here that have the ability to have success on the ice, regardless of what system that we play,” Subban said with a shrug. “We have a lot of game-changers in here — guys who can change the game in one shift, whether it’s with a big hit or a skill play or a strong defensive play. We have a good group of guys here that I think can make a difference, and I just try to complement that the best way I can.”
The trade that sent Subban to Nashville and Shea Weber to Montreal was part of the most seismic half-hour in recent hockey history on June 29, coming right after Edmonton sent Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson, and right before Tampa Bay announced Steven Stamkos had signed a long-term deal to stay with the Lightning.
Subban, the 2013 Norris Trophy winner, has posted at least 51 points in three straight seasons, but fell out of favor in Montreal for still-ambiguous reasons. He was an extremely popular player in Montreal, and beloved in the community for his charitable work; he famously donated $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
He slots right in alongside another Norris candidate, Roman Josi, to form a dynamic and unrivaled top pair for the Predators.
“Interesting trade,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “One guy [Weber] played very well for [Team Canada] at the World Cup, and we saw him a lot. Hard to play against. The other guy [Subban] has the puck a lot, very dangerous, dynamic player. It’s an agile and mobile ‘D’ now. One of the strengths of Nashville is how good their defense is, so they’ll be dangerous.”
The Hawks haven’t seen a whole lot of Subban over the years because he’s been in the Eastern Conference. But they’re well aware of his stellar all-around game.
“Just playing against him, he has a lot of energy and likes to join the offense and has a good shot,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “That’s their first game [Friday], so he’ll probably be pretty pumped up to show the home crowd a good game. So we’ll have to try to keep an eye on him and try not to make him shoot too many pucks.”
Subban, who was deeply entrenched in the historic Canadiens-Bruins rivalry, was excited to get his first taste of the burgeoning Hawks-Predators feud.
“Chicago’s a great team,” he said. “It’s been definitely a growing rivalry in the league and obviously I’ve played in games like this before — Montreal and Boston. But for me, it’s just a start of a new season. I look forward to comparing the rivalries, for sure, from East to West.”