ANAHEIM, Calif. – When P.K. Subban planted the Tennessee Titans’ sword as the team’s ’12th Man’ on the field at Nissan Stadium, took off his shirt and twirled at their game last Sunday, Hal Gill was transported back to their time together with the Montreal Canadiens.
“He goes in the locker room and he’s doing the dance and he wants to be seen and he has the three low fives and bow and arrows and celebrations and whatever it is after scoring a goal,” said Gill, who also played parts of two seasons with the Nashville Predators. “P.K. brings his own little side show with him. P.K.’s sizzle … he calls it sizzle.”
Subban brings the sizzle to San Jose to face the Sharks in a key Western Conference battle on Saturday night (10:30 ET) in the Yahoo Sports Free NHL Live Stream of the Day. Head here to watch it live!
After the Canadiens traded Subban to the Predators last summer for Shea Weber, there were rumors and that Subban’s ‘sizzle’ act had worn thin in their locker room. Subban later told Sports Illustrated he believed the deal was a personality trade and wasn’t as much about hockey.
Throughout his career, Weber had been the type of stoic ‘logo on the front is more important than the name on the back’ personality that hockey culture tends to praise.
He had set that tone in Nashville’s locker room for a lot of years, and adding him to Montreal’s, while subtracting Subban’s showmanship, was seen as a positive. Adding Subban’s ‘larger than life’ persona to the Predators’ room that had been dominated by Weber for so long was seen as a much bigger adjustment for Nashville.
But so far, the Predators have embraced their newest superstar and he has helped his teammates better understand how to enjoy their own celebrities as hockey stars in Nashville.
“I mean, I think it is a big difference in personalities. It’s like polar opposite. (P.K.) is a character and he’s himself every single day. He shows his emotions and he’s energetic and brings a ton of energy to the locker room,” Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “He has been great. It didn’t take a long time for him to fit in or anything. I feel like hopefully we have made him able to feel at home in our locker room. He seems really comfortable and he has been playing well, which is the most important thing. Off the ice too that’s really important. He can feel at home with us and in the locker room, but it’s good. It has been a good start so far.”
It’s hard to get more than just snippets of how NHL teammates interact with one another in a locker room or away from the rink. The occasional all-access show helps fill in a few blanks, but ultimately the public rarely get a big window.
Personalities within a team can come together or clash and if teammates don’t get along, it’s hard for them to enjoy their jobs. According to those who embraced him, Subban brought energy and fun to the locker room no matter the circumstance.
“I thought he handled things great in the sense of things weren’t going so well in Montreal in the timespan I was there, but he was always positive and always maintained a positive attitude and never was the guy who came to the rink and you didn’t want to see him there because you thought ‘oh this guy is going to be negative, this guy is going to complain.’ He’s never like that,” said Victor Bartley, who played with both Weber in Nashville and Subban for a brief period in Montreal.
“That’s one of Subby’s greatest assets is he creates energy and creates positivity around him and that just filters on through the team and that just makes players want to come to the rink and want to be happy knowing you have that kind of atmosphere to come to.”
Some of the perceived issues with Subban may not have been his fault but more involved the mix of players in the room. The Canadiens never really replaced the veteran voice of former captain Brian Gionta after 2013-14, which couldn’t have harmed team chemistry for Subban.
“It didn’t fit in Montreal because I don’t think they had the leadership they needed to handle a player like (Subban),” Gill said. “There needs to be some steady guidance and I think Brian Gionta was great. He’s kind of a quiet guy who kind of just kept everyone in line and everyone knew Gio was in charge and P.K. knew that. When they didn’t re-sign him or traded a guy like (Josh) Gorges, that kind of – the game got away from him and there was no steady vision in the locker room. So I think that’s where P.K. went wrong but I don’t think that’s necessarily P.K.’s fault. I think that was a team problem.”
This is in part why Weber has seemed to fit better in Montreal so far for the unbeaten Canadiens. They needed to inject his specific type of even-keeled personality into the group, especially after last season’s tumult where they crashed after starting the season 9-0-0.
“They have electric players and what they needed was a leader and Shea goes in there and Shea is … with all due respect to (captain Max) Pacioretty I think Shea goes in there and leads that team,” Gill said. “He’s not the captain but I think everyone in that locker room knows who’s boss and I think he’s the guy who runs that team, which is exactly what that team needed.”
Nashville’s room has a group led by captain Mike Fisher and Rinne, both long-time Predators who understand the ins and outs of the franchise’s personality. This has enabled them to easily add Subban without creating any transitional issues that could have come with losing Weber.
“Fish is our captain and he has a lot of respect but I feel like he’s very much like Webby and has the same foundation to lead the team or be the leader of the team,” Rinne said. “I think it’s a confident thing that makes everybody comfortable when you have a guy like that as your leader.”
The city of Nashville, which has turned into a major international entertainment hub over the last few years, and the Predators allow Subban to be Subban and not worry about major consequences. He can sing Johnny Cash at a local bar and not have people wonder about why he isn’t training or thinking all about hockey at that particular moment. He can create a viral moment at a Titans game and be praised in the room for building a stronger bridge between the two organizations, instead of the act being seen as self-promotion.
“Stuff like that, it can only help. I think that’s great. It’s great for the fans, it’s great for both of our organizations, the Titans and Preds that we have somebody who can do that and is willing to do that and enjoys it and that’s great,” Rinne said. “He’s big on social media. He’s really big in charities and just has that outgoing personality. I think we all encourage him to be himself and he can do his thing and it doesn’t bother anybody. It has been good.”
Weber went to his fair share of sporting events and took part in many local charitable endeavors, but he never really advertised his presence or his philanthropy. Subban does, and this has given his teammates a different perspective on how to get involved with public opportunities in Nashville.
“He just has a lot of energy and is always smiling and definitely brings a smile to the other guys too,” Nashville defenseman Roman Josi said.
If Nashville doesn’t have success with Subban then his act could wear thin and a lot the positivity and good will built up since the trade could be forgotten. But initially he has put some fears to rest that he could negatively impact the Predators’ off-ice chemistry. His attitude isn’t necessarily better or worse than Weber’s. He’s just different and the Preds are OK with this.
“I think sometimes people for whatever reason, different market, different people can be understood in different ways,” Fisher said. “I think a lot of it’s unfortunate but all I was concerned about was getting to know him as a teammate and he’s a good person and that’s all that matters.”
You can watch the Predators and Sharks here for free via a Yahoo Sports live stream beginning at 10:30 p.m. ET. (Note: The stream is only available in the U.S.)
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