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PHT Q&A: P.K. Subban on state of NHL, video game cheating

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If you follow P.K. Subban on social media then you’re aware that he’s kept up a pretty busy off-season. He hung out with LeBron James at the NBA playoffs, took a Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports class at Harvard University with fellow athletes Kaka, Lindsey Vonn and Zdeno Chara, worked as a commentator for NBC Sports during the Stanley Cup Final, met up with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, spent time in Las Vegas for the NHL Awards, posed for the cover of Sports Illustrated and traveled around Europe.

Oh, and he did a media tour after being named the cover athlete for EA Sports’ NHL 19 video game.

It’s been a busy summer for Subban, but that’s just how the Nashville Predators defenseman likes it.

“I just do my thing. I don’t really know what a low-key off-season. I just do my own thing,” he told Pro Hockey Talk recently. “I don’t ever go into an off-season being like Oh, I’m going to do this or do this. I share a lot of my off-season on social media, so people can be in-tune with what I’m doing. But that’s for your fans, right? They want to know what you’re doing. They want to know what you’re up to, so I share all my stuff on social media.

“I don’t share it so that TSN or NBC or ESPN picks it up, but they do, and people love to talk about what I’m doing in my off-season. It’s great and so far it’s been a very, very enjoyable one.”

We caught up with Subban recently to talk about (allegedly) cheating at video games while playing against his brothers, the state of the NHL and more.

Enjoy.

PHT: What made you want to participate in the class at Harvard this summer?

SUBBAN: “First of all, you have to have the time to do it and this was an off-season where I had the time to be able to go and take the course. It’s been mentioned to me a few times by other athletes and other people in the business and entertainment worlds that this would be a great course for you to take if you’re interested in wanting to learn more about business, sports and entertainment. It was something I had on my radar but was hoping I wasn’t able to do it until the end of my career, meaning that I’d be in long playoff runs every year. But this year our playoff run ended a little shorter and I had time to register for the class. I did it late and am very thankful that they allowed me to still be in it. It was a great experience; I learned a lot. And it was fun to be around other successful people in their line of work.”

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PHT: How jealous are [your brothers] Malcolm and Jordan of you having the NHL 19 cover?

SUBBAN: “I don’t know about them being jealous. I think they’re very happy and they’re very supportive of me being on the cover. I know they love to play video games, probably a little bit more than I do, but I know that for them it’s probably a little surreal just like it is for me. I still have to pinch myself every now and then when I see the cover. It is a pretty cool honor to do that. I know that they’re very excited to see me on the cover and hopefully one day they’ll both get their opportunity to be on the cover of the EA Sports game. It’s not an easy thing to do but I think for them that’s definitely a goal in their minds is to one day be on the cover and I think that’s well in their crosshairs to accomplish it, for sure.”

PHT: The NHL posted a video last month of Malcolm talking about how you were a bit of a cheater when you guys played video games growing up — something about using your toe to reset the console. True?

SUBBAN: “Well, first of all let’s put this out here — it’s all alleged, right? There’s no video proof. Everything’s alleged as far as I’m concerned. I’m in no position to confirm or deny anything, really. I don’t have to. But I will say this — if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying, I guess, when it comes to video games. Put it this way — I do whatever it takes to win when it comes to my brothers and video games and I always won. That’s all the information we need to know is who won it for the day. Nobody wants to know how it happened, just know the result.”

PHT: Who are the big gamers on the Predators?

SUBBAN: “Tony Bitetto’s a big gamer. [Roman] Josi plays video games. He thinks he’s really good at it but he’s mediocre. Ryan Hartman’s in; Nick Bonino’s really good, kind of a smart guy in terms of hockey and it translates well to video games; Yannick Weber plays a little bit. Ryan Ellis is like an undercover gamer. I didn’t really know how good he was until towards the end of the year when guys were telling me… Kevin Fiala, another guy who thinks he’s unreal at video games but he really isn’t. Filip Forsberg’s good.

“We’re a tight group. I’m not even a big video game guy, but because I love my teammates so much I’ll get involved whenever they ask me. I think they just like the theatrics on the headphones that I bring to our group game nights. I think they like it when I’m yelling and screaming when I’m dying [in Fortnite].”

PHT: Since your video game cheating history is alleged, who are the biggest sore losers on the Predators when it comes to gaming?

SUBBAN: “Nobody really gets too rattled about it. I think when we play cards guys get a little bit more upset. But in video games guys don’t really get rattled. It’s pretty fun. It’s like little bragging rights but video games is just to kill time for us on those long plane rides for us when you don’t want to read or play cards anymore. We’re a pretty chill group when it comes to that.”

PHT: NHL 19 has a mode where users can play some pond hockey. Give me your best story playing outside with your brothers growing up?

SUBBAN: “Just playing on the backyard rink, not so much a pond, but our backyard rink that my dad used to put in every winter. Malcolm would always been the one to go in net, so it’s fitting that he transitioned to a goaltender. But he would be the one always willing to go in net and Jordan and I would be playing against him and it would like pass-and-play and we’d try to fool Malcolm. He was pretty good back then and obviously he’s really good now being a full-time NHLer now.”

PHT: The game also has over 200 NHL legends in it. I’m giving you the chance to be reincarnated to come back as a current or former player. Who are you choosing?

SUBBAN: “That’s a great question but it really comes down to two players. Anyone who picks anyone other than Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr… Maybe as a defenseman I’d probably come back as Bobby Orr, but when you think about it Wayne Gretzky being probably the best player of all-time, I guess you’d probably want to come back as him… There hasn’t been a player to do it like he has. So definitely would take Wayne.”

PHT: Finally, I’m granting you power to be NHL commissioner. What would you change about the game as it is today?

SUBBAN: “I think we make changes as we go. I don’t necessarily think that we need to change a lot of things about our game. If you look at our game, the NHL, compared to other pro sports, we’re probably the only sport right now that’s on the up and up consistently from year to year. We’ve continued to grow, maybe not at the pace in terms of revenue from what the other sports are going.

“Maybe that doesn’t please everybody but we are continuing to grow and I think that hockey has so much room for growth. That’s the exciting thing about the NHL and where it’s at now is that I don’t even think the NHL’s tapped into how they can compete with the other professional sports. I’m very excited to be a part of the NHL and be a part of that growth.

“The changes that are going to come are going to come organically. I don’t think there’s anything that pops out in my mind like Oh, my God we’ve got to change this. I think the game’s exciting and it’s continuing to get better every year. Fans are enjoying it, that’s why they continue to show up and that’s why we’re able to put teams in markets like Las Vegas and there’s rumors of other markets that may be coming in. The interest wouldn’t be there unless the game wasn’t continuing to trend in the right direction.

“I’m satisfied with where it’s at now but I’m also very optimistic and excited about the future and where the game can be in five, 10, 15, 20 years. It’s all good.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Strong debut for Duchene as Blue Jackets dominate Senators

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On Friday morning Matt Duchene took a short walk down the hall from the home locker room in Ottawa, leaving behind the remnants of the Senators roster, and joined his new team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, in the visiting locker room to prepare to be in the lineup later in the day.

For the Blue Jackets, it was a sign that they are trying to push all of their chips to the center of the table and attempt to go all in with what they have this season, perhaps trying to take advantage of what little time they have left with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky before they hit unrestricted free agency this summer.

For the Senators, it was a continuation of their scorched earth rebuild that is only likely to continue in the coming days with the inevitable trades of Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel.

On Friday night, both teams played as one might expect given all of the circumstances as the Blue Jackets rolled to a 3-0 win and, for the time being, returned back to a playoff position in the Eastern Conference.

It was not really a competitive game, either, as the Blue Jackets doubled up the Senators on the shot chart, scored a shorthanded goal, and just completely dominated a young, overmatched lineup.

The Senators, who have already scratched Stone and Dzingel for precautionary reasons in an effort to protect their most valuable trade assets, have been stripped of almost all of their most dangerous offensive weapons over the past year and are a shell of the team that was in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final not even two full years ago. The result in the short-term has been a skeleton roster that has been shutout twice over the past 24 hours and has been outscored by a 7-0 margin during those two games.

Overall it was a successful debut for Duchene with his new team, even if it did not result in him recording a point on the stat sheet.

He spent the night playing on the team’s top line alongside Panarin and Cam Atkinson, while his 19:12 of ice-time was third among Blue Jackets’ forwards. He recorded five total shot attempts, three of which were on goal, while Blue Jackets also held a commanding 16-8 shot attempt advantage and a 12-4 scoring chance advantage when Duchene was on the ice during 5-on-5 play.

Next up for the Blue Jackets will be Duchene’s home debut on Saturday night against the San Jose Sharks. He seems ready for what is ahead of him, telling Brian Hedger of the Columbus-Dispatch on Friday that the Cannon used to celebrate Blue Jackets’ goals “scares the sh*t out of me every time.”

Related: Blue Jackets power up for playoffs by adding Matt Duchene

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Penguins ready to enjoy Stadium Series, but focus is on two points

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

PHILADELPHIA — For a number of the Penguins, they can claim “outdoor game veteran” status. Twelve of them have played in at least one Winter Classic or Stadium Series game, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way with four experiences outside.

But Saturday’s Stadium Series meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers will be a business trip for the Penguins, as is most outdoor games for the road team. There are fewer family members around and not as big of a demand for tickets as it was two years ago when these teams played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. 

The Penguins’ can’t be too concerned with the pomp and circumstance that comes with being involved in an outdoor game. There are two big points on the line as they find themselves tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets on 71 points and relegated to the second Eastern Conference wild card spot due to a tiebreaker.

“We have to approach it the same way we approach every game right now,” said defenseman Kris Letang, who’s played in two outdoor games. “We have 21 games left. Every one of them are really important.”

“This team especially, they’ve had plenty of big games in their time,” said forward Nick Bjugstad, who will be an outdoor game first-timer on Saturday. “You can’t just really look at it as such a big spectacle. Obviously, enjoy the moment, enjoy being lucky enough to be able to play an outdoor game in front of all these people, but at the same time it’s just the same mentality of every game, and the same focus that you should approach. The adrenaline will be going pretty good with all these fans, especially in Philly. I’m sure they’ll be nice and rowdy for us. It’ll be pretty fun.”

After a 4-0 trouncing by the San Jose Sharks Thursday night at home, the Penguins are eager to get back out there and erase the memory of that defeat. The loss put them at 4-5-1 in their last 10 games and flirting with the notion of a playoff-less spring for the first time since the 2005-06 season, Crosby’s rookie year.

The Penguins are aware of their current situation in the standings and head coach Mike Sullivan sees it as an opportunity for his team to embrace. The players certainly understand every game is a chance to clean up the finer details, which could help them in the consistency department going forward.

“We just have to find ourselves. Last game was not our best and we all know it,” said Patric Hornqvist. “I think this is a great opportunity for us to actually have some fun and embrace this atmosphere. [If we] make sure we do the little things right we’re going to come out on the right side.”

MORE 2019 STADIUM SERIES:
Why Scott Gordon chose Elliott over Hart for Stadium Series start
Rain could be an issue for Penguins-Flyers Stadium Series game
Scott Hartnell Q&A

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on-site in Philadelphia alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Why Scott Gordon chose Elliott over Hart for Stadium Series start

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

PHILADELPHIA — Through Scott Gordon’s four-minute explanation as to why Brian Elliott will start Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the Pittsburgh Penguins over Carter Hart you could feel how tough of a decision it was for him.

Having coached Hart at AHL Lehigh Valley until both were promoted on the same day back in December following the firing of Dave Hakstol, Gordon has seen Hart’s growth as a professional on two levels now. 

Since the recall of Hart and “interim” tag put on Gordon, the Flyers have taken 35 out of a possible 60 points to put themselves just in a bit of a race for an Eastern Conference wild card spot. Those postseason hopes, however, took a big hit this week with back-to-back losses to Tampa Bay and Montreal this week, leaving them seven points back with 21 games to go.

Hart had to be pulled in both games with Elliott impressing the head coach in relief.

“The hard part [is] if I had to go with my heart, 100 percent, the easy decision is to pick Carter,” Gordon said Friday after the Flyers’ practice at Lincoln Financial Field. “I think the world of him. I’ve been so impressed with how he’s been able to come up here and play, and it really bothered me to have to make the final decision as to not playing him. Two weeks ago it was looking like that was going to be the decision.”

Hart was disappointed, but understood Gordon’s choice of playing Elliott.

“For sure, you want to play. You want to play every game,” Hart said. “Right now, even though it’s an outdoor game, it’s a crucial two points for us. The last two games I haven’t been at my best and Brian’s done a good job coming in relief both times. It is what it is, you can’t control that. What you can control is how you respond to it. 

“It’s disappointing, but you’ve got to approach it the right way and can’t let it set you back. You’ve just got to come back ready to work and we’ve got a lot of hockey coming up and that’s where the focus is at.”

When Gordon broke the news to Hart on Friday, he made sure to emphasize just how valuable the 20-year-old netminder has been to the Flyers. He was called up during a rough time in the season and carrying the expectations that he was the franchise’s “goalie of the future.” He’s exceeded those expectations so far and has played himself into the Calder Trophy conversation while helping the team make a late-season charge at the playoffs.

Gordon wanted to choose Hart as Saturday’s starter, but approached the decision as if it were any other regular season game. If any of his goalies were pulled two games in a row he was going to switch it up for that third game. Outdoor game or not, he was making his choice in the best interest of the team at the moment.

“This game on Saturday, we’re looking at Moose [Elliott] the way he played the last two games, he’s played really well, and if he’s able to get us a win [Saturday], when it’s all said and done it’s about what’s going to get us into the playoffs and that would be the first step,” Gordon said. “Does he give us the best chance? Based on performance right now, yeah. If we base it on performance from a week ago or last Sunday, we’re probably talking about Carter. Right now, given the way it’s gone, I just felt like I wanted to give our team the best chance for Saturday to win.”

(You could ponder the thought that this is a way for the Flyers to showcase a healthy Elliott before Monday’s NHL trade deadline.)

Elliott found out he was starting just before the Flyers took to the ice late Friday afternoon. He had missed two months due to a lower-body injury and worked himself back, which included a brief AHL stint.

After how the last two games went, the 33-year-old Elliott wasn’t sure what Gordon’s decision would ultimately be. He would have been happy just to play a backup role and sit on the bench. Now he’ll be between the pipes in front of 70,000 fans under the lights.

“Going back and getting a chance to play these last two games and feeling good about it and feeling good about my game, I know it was a tough decision to make,” Elliott said. “[Hart] was a big part of getting this team to this situation that we’re in and chasing a playoff spot right now. It’s a tough decision. I don’t envy that has to make it.

“For me, you just have to put all those things to the side and try to enjoy the moment and go out there and try to be the best for the guys in front of you.”

MORE 2019 STADIUM SERIES:
Penguins ready to enjoy Stadium Series, but focus is on two points
Rain could be an issue for Penguins-Flyers Stadium Series game
Scott Hartnell Q&A

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on-site in Philadelphia alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Senators ask fans to be ‘patient’ after Duchene trade

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Sometimes, making the right decision hurts. Especially in the moment.

All things considered, the Ottawa Senators essentially “pulled off the Band-Aid” by trading Matt Duchene on Friday. It stings, but if the team is being honest, it was the best move. (Getting a pretty nice bucket of assets for their troubles is the Neosporin of that analogy.)

While their trade partners the Columbus Blue Jackets feast their eyes on a veritable buffet of additional choices at the deadline, the Senators also eye more moves, but they’re basically cleaning up a mess.

You can tell that the organization is bracing for angst from fans, and understandably so.

“All we’re asking for is our fans to be patient,” Dorion said after the trade, according to TSN’s Ian Mendes.

With Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel healthy-scratched (not just Duchene) during Thursday’s eventual loss to the Devils, many wondered if all three might be gone. Dorion seems to label that as “… To be continued.”

Trading Dzingel would make some sense, but the Stone question is especially tough.

On one hand, Stone would be very much on an island if he was one of the few holdovers from this rebuild. After all, last year’s Senators struggled with Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman still in the fold, and this year’s team was in last place with Duchene and Stone up to this point. A “happy” last-place team can only be so happy.

Considering the haul Duchene landed, and the possibility that Artemi Panarin might be off the market depending on what Columbus chooses to do, Stone would fetch quite the bounty if Ottawa decides they have to trade him. And they pretty much have zero choice if he’s walking to free agency.

But there are some perks to keeping him.

For one thing, while the Senators are amassing some nice assets between picks and prospects, there’s a strong chance that they won’t unearth anyone better than Mark Stone. He’s a legitimately elite two-way winger, and at 26, he could still be useful if Ottawa’s rebuild isn’t too prolonged. (At 28, Duchene had to go, whether the Sens really wanted to let him go or not.)

If reviled Senators owner Eugene Melnyk’s plan to eventually spend to the cap actually ends up forecasting a brighter future – instead of being another gaffe, or maybe alongside being another gaffe – then it’s conceivable that Stone could be the veteran shepherding a bevy of young players.

From a sheer PR standpoint, Stone would at least give Senators fans something to glom onto, beyond the speculative mystery of “potential.” They could give Stone the “C,” pay him handsomely, and try to keep that locker room as happy as possible.

A lot of work to do, and more suffering ahead

People become intoxicated by the intangible ideas of potential, but the Senators face a steep uphill battle to actually mold all that clay into something competitive.

With or without a Stone trade, Ottawa’s piled up some picks, especially if certain conditions are met. They’ll have a first-rounder from Columbus in 2019, and could have another in 2020 if CBJ re-signs Duchene. They’re most likely receiving the Sharks 2020 first-rounder, and could receive more depending upon what happens with Karlsson. There are picks in other rounds, too, whether they’re extras or ones that replaced other Sens picks. (They’ve made a lot of moves lately, basically.)

The pain part bubbles up again with picks, of course. By deciding to keep their 2018 first-rounder and drafting Brady Tkachuk, the Senators gifted the Colorado Avalanche this year’s first-rounder. Depending upon how the draft lottery goes, the Avalanche could end up landing Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko from the fruits of the trade that sent Duchene to Ottawa. Yeah, ouch.

Even with all of those picks, the Senators might not land someone as great as Stone, or even as good as Duchene.

That said, there are already some building blocks in place. Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot are the headliners as far as young players already getting NHL reps go. Ottawa also has some interesting pieces in its system, including Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton.

The Senators have to get a lot of things right, or a few things really right to wade through the darkness: developing those prospects, bringing along Chabot/Tkachuk, and making the right draft calls. Getting more picks means more throws at the dart board, and if Dorion really plays his cards right, he might get the last laugh.

Every indication is that the sounds you hear from Ottawa won’t often be laughs next season, but rather groans of agony. Things might get worse before they get better, which is saying a lot for a team that’s suffered such lows as the Sens have recently.

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Look, it could have been worse. The Duchene acquisition didn’t work out, but at least Ottawa landed a nice trade package for him.

Is it best to keep or trade Stone? That’s really tough to say. Barring a major upset, it’s unlikely that they’ll be any good next season even with the elite winger.

In other words, the Senators are going to need their fans to be really patient.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.