James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Fisher: Predators fans are going to love Subban

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) P.K. Subban already has belted out “Folsom Prison Blues” at Tootsie’s, a famous tonk. He visited the local children’s hospital before training camp opened. Then he scored a goal in each of his first two preseason games with his new team.

In Nashville, that’s called knowing how to make an entrance.

Subban’s passion may not have gone over well with coaches and management with the Montreal Canadiens. His new teammates with the Nashville Predators see the defenseman as a perfect fit in Music City – a town built on entertainment and filled with fans who want a great show from a franchise now expected to go further than ever before in chasing the Stanley Cup.

“Fans are going to love him, there’s no question,” Predators captain Mike Fisher said. “And our fans are very passionate. They’re loyal. They’re forgiving, too, even through the ups and downs. … It’s not going to be long before he’s a lot of people’s favorite player.”

Montreal and Nashville stunned the NHL on June 29 when the teams swapped star defensemen straight up, sending Predators captain Shea Weber north for the 2013 Norris Trophy winner. Talk surfaced of personality conflicts with the organization and inside the Canadiens’ locker room, and Subban tried to make it clear he loved Montreal, both the atmosphere and media in a town that loves its storied hockey team.

“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of people who have microphones and pens and paper and I can’t challenge every person that has made an opinion of me based on `facts,”‘ Subban said. “So for me, I’d rather just let my play do the talking, and I look forward to being a big part of this team moving forward. … I’ve always been one to let my actions do my talking for me.”

Subban is busy making friends in his new locker room and learning his way around Nashville, a switch for a guy used to being the one who welcomes new players.

“It’s an exciting time for me at 27 years old with no family or any children or anything like that,” Subban said. “It’s like you get a bunch of new brothers right? So it’s fun.”

The Predators prefer to make their own minds up about Subban rather than listen to rumors. Fisher said it’s easy to hear a lot of things about players, and he believes Subban will fit in nicely.

“Everyone knows he’s an outgoing guy that brings passion to the game and sometimes the game of hockey that’s a little bit laid back it’s something new, but I think it’s a good thing,” Fisher said.

Forward James Neal has had dinner with Subban and sees someone both passionate about hockey and his fans. Subban’s comfort handling both the media and social media has been quickly noticed.

“He’s going to be good for our team,” Neal said.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne was shocked by the trade sending his close friend Weber to Montreal.

“But all of a sudden you realize you’re going to get P.K., all the potential and all the talent he brings,” Rinne said. “He’s going to bring a lot of different elements to our team and also the attention on him. He’s very electric and a very exciting player to watch on the ice and off the ice. He’s going to bring a different element to our team. It’s good for the city of Nashville, the organization.”

Nashville fans got a great look at Subban during the NHL All-Star weekend in January. Subban slipped on a wig to imitate Jaromir Jagr for lots of laughs during the breakaway challenge and ended up winning the event decided by Twitter .

This franchise went seven games in back-to-back series last spring in the postseason, and general manager David Poile saw Subban as the perfect combination of skating and speed for coach Peter Laviolette’s attacking offense. The trade was criticized in Montreal with the Predators getting the younger player. Poile thinks that speaks more to just how popular Subban was throughout Quebec.

“We’ve seen in the short time P.K.’s been here … he makes a lot of touches and he gets a lot of publicity,” Poile said. “People gravitate to him because he’s a hockey player, yes, but he has more going on his life and he has some really good purposes in his life.”

The Predators sold out a franchise-record 35 games last season, though the need to sell tickets never fades. Subban is more than happy to help sell the sport of hockey in his new winter home.

“At the end of the day, it’s sports entertainment, and we have to perform to keep fans in the seats and what they pay helps put food on our tables,” Subban said. “The more people we can engage and bring into the game, the better our game is going to be.”

A perfect fit indeed.

AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Playing for Blues excites Yakupov, who doesn’t ‘know what winning is’

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Nail Yakupov and the St. Louis Blues said some interesting things about how he might fit with his new team, but let’s skip to the fun stuff first.

Specifically, let’s consider the potential bulletin board material that promotes the Blues while downgrading the Edmonton Oilers. Again, the fun stuff.

“This is first time I’ve played on really, really good team,” Yakupov said, according to Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I think it’s awesome, I don’t know what winning is.”

That last part line? Yeah, that’s magnificent, especially if the Blues take on the Edmonton Oilers in a 2017 postseason series.

(Aside: that grumbling you might have heard likely came from members of the Sarnia Sting. Not cool, Yak.)

Beyond that talk, it was pretty typical post-trade-spin, even if those assessments may some day ring true:

“He’s got the skill to compliment our group, and the game is trending to younger and faster players,” GM Doug Armstrong noted.

Want more? The Blues shared Yakupov’s full conference call:

Oilers bolster defense with Kris Russell signing

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Update: The Edmonton Oilers confirmed that Kris Russell was signed for one year. The financial terms were not disclosed.

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It looks like Kris Russell is headed back to Alberta.

After years playing for the Calgary Flames (and then a brief stop in Dallas), the defenseman is expected to sign a one-year, $3.1 million contract with the Edmonton Oilers, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Friedman reports that the Oilers might not make the move official until Saturday or later.

If this goes through, it would complete today’s actions, as Edmonton would essentially be trading Nail Yakupov (who was shipped to the Blues) for Russell. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun notes that the Oilers didn’t retain any of Yakupov’s $2.5 million, so that money could essentially go to Russell.

Then again, it might actually go into signing Kris Versteeg and/or Eric Gryba from their PTOs, according to the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson.

To some, the Oilers essentially moved Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov out of town for Adam Larsson and Kris Russell.

Of course, Edmonton also added Jesse Puljujärvi and Milan Lucic to the mix, along with possibly those veteran PTOs, so such a viewpoint might be too simplistic.

Many really will look at it that way, however, and the bottom line is that it will be really interesting to see how things shake out for everyone involved, including Russell.

Trade: Blues nab Nail Yakupov for very little

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Nail Yakupov has been traded to a team in the Central Division, but it won’t be the Chicago Blackhawks.

Nope, instead, the St. Louis Blues landed the first pick of the 2012 NHL Draft on Friday.

Blues receive: Nail Yakupov

Oilers receive: Prospect Zach Pochiro and a conditional draft pick.

The conditional draft pick begins as a 2017 third-round pick. The Oilers confirmed that the third-round pick would turn into a 2018 second-rounder if Yakupov scores at least 15 goals.

On Pochiro: The 22-year-old forward was the 112th pick of the 2013 NHL Draft. He played in one AHL game last season, spending most of 2015-16 in the ECHL (scoring 26 points in 44 contests with the gloriously named Quad City Mallards).

Cap considerations for Blues: Yakupov is under contract for one year with a $2.5 million cap hit. He’s scheduled to become an RFA after 2016-17.

Fox Sports Midwest’s Andy Strickland believes Yakupov may even find his way onto the Blues’ top line. The Blues have stated that they hope to get more aggressive this coming season, and while that focus was largely on their transition game, it doesn’t hurt to add more offensive pop to that mix.

The best news, clearly, is that he’ll open the door for the return of “N64.”

It’s rumored that the Oilers might sign Kris Russell as well today, as Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes.

Sidney Crosby keeps piling up unanimous honors

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Sidney Crosby is on top of the hockey world right now.

TSN’s top 50 players list provides the latest example. Crosby wasn’t just the No. 1 choice for the network’s list; he was the unanimous choice.

It’s quite the impressive honor, but far from unusual as Crosby brings in an astounding mix of personal and team accolades.

The fun began when Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins roared through the 2016 postseason to win a Stanley Cup. In the process, Crosby earned Conn Smythe honors.

Moving on, Crosby was the – again that word – unanimous choice for World Cup of Hockey MVP after Canada stomped through the tournament. TSN notes the unquestioned greatness he’s enjoyed lately, between their poll and the polling from the World Cup:

He was the unanimous choice – 10 of 10 – for World Cup MVP. One day later, Crosby was the unanimous choice in our poll, making him 30 for 30 in the space of 24 hours.

Yeah, that’s pretty convincing.

Even after facing him in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, Logan Couture couldn’t help but lavish Crosby with praise after the World Cup.

“He really is the best player in the world,” Couture said, via the CBC. “It’s fun just to be able to watch him every day.”

Couture is just one of many people around the sport who can’t help but be awed by No. 87.

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Crosby’s 2015-16 season stands as quite the testament to how perceptions can change. Earlier in the season, he was struggling to score and saw the Penguins fire their head coach.

In retrospect, Mike Sullivan’s system gelled far better with what Crosby & Co. needed to do to succeed, and the results came.

Injuries and other issues remind us that it isn’t always easy for Crosby. Right now, though, there’s very little disagreement about where the superstar stands.

(Until we see the comments, maybe.)