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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.

Penguins make it official with Jack Johnson; bring back Matt Cullen

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Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford announced two free agent signings on Sunday afternoon — one that was expected, and one that kind of came out of nowhere.

First, the Penguins made it official and signed defenseman Jack Johnson to a five-year contract that will pay him $16.25 million. News of that potential signing first broke last week and it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that pen was going to be put to paper on that deal.

Along with that news, the Penguins also announced that veteran center Matt Cullen is returning to the team after spending the 2017-18 season as a member of the Minnesota Wild. Cullen was an important depth player on the Penguins’ Stanley Cup winning teams in 2016 and 2017 before leaving as a free agent prior to last season. The Penguins reportedly attempted to re-acquire him via trade throughout the season but were never able to make it work. His contract is a one-year deal worth $650,000.

The addition that is going to get the most attention here is Johnson because that is a pretty significant investment in a player whose career has been … let’s say … polarizing. You either love his combination of size and the skating ability he had earlier in his career that helped make him such a prized prospect entering the league, or you absolutely hate the objective evidence his NHL career has produced.

He is coming off of a brutal season in Columbus that saw him end the year as a healthy scratch. He will also turn 32 years old this season and the Penguins are taking a might big gamble that they can “fix” what has ailed him.

Financially speaking, the $3.25 million salary cap hit might not be bad if it was on a shorter-term deal. But a five-year commitment is a lot for a player you’re trying to repair, and it’s certainly debatable as to whether or not there is anything there to salvage when it comes to his play on the ice.

The defense of the signing all revolves around Johnson getting into a better situation (he talked on Sunday about wanting to join a winning environment) and the ability of the Penguins’ coaching staff, led by defense coach Sergei Gonchar, being able to help him the same way they helped improve Justin Schultz and Jamie Oleksiak in previous years (Rutherford said he would always put his money on Gonchar).

The problem is those aren’t exactly perfect parallels to look at.

In the case of Schultz and Oleksiak, the Penguins were dealing with young players in their mid-20s that were stuck in bad situations, they gave up minimal assets to acquire, and were able to help put them into more favorable situations and get a little more production out of them. And in Oleksiak’s case the jury is still very much out on how much he really has improved because it’s still such a small body of work in Pittsburgh.

With Johnson, he is 32 years old, has probably already started to lose a step from where he was when he younger, and has a decade long track record to show just what type of player he is. The results are not encouraging.

Just about every team Johnson has played for has performed worse — significantly worse — from a goals and shots perspective with Johnson on the versus him off of the ice. Observe the difference in shot attempts (CF%) and goal differential (GF%).

That is not an encouraging trend.

Now, one of two things will happen: They will either play Johnson in a top-four role and bump one of Olli Maatta or Justin Schultz down to the third pair, or they will play Johnson in that third-pair role alongside Jamie Oleksiak. Both options present their share of problems. With the former, you’re playing what is probably an inferior player over a better play (is Johnson better than either Maatta or Schultz? I am not sold on that).

With the latter, it just means you committed five years and all of your newfound salary cap space to a third-pairing defenseman when you probably could have gotten the same (or maybe even better) play for less.

It just seems like a big investment to make in a player you’re hoping can improve a decade-long trend of play and that you’re simply hoping for the best on.

The Cullen signing is an interesting one, only because it does not seem immediately clear where he will play or how he will be used.

The Penguins already have four centers under contract with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Derick Brassard, and Riley Sheahan in place. It seems likely, if not inevitable, that one of Brassard, Sheahan, or Cullen will see significant time on the wing.

Cullen, a long-time favorite of Rutherford, was great for the Penguins in a fourth-line role before signing with Minnesota. His departure (along with the free agent departure of Nick Bonino) resulted in the in-season trades to acquire Brassard and Sheahan.

Cullen ended up scoring 11 goals for the Wild this past season.

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.

USA tops Canada to claim bronze at hockey worlds

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — The United States topped Canada 4-1 to claim the bronze medal at the world ice hockey championship on Sunday.

Chris Kreider led the U.S. with two goals.

Forward Nick Bonino scored the winner on a rebound during a power play in the final period. Anders Lee and Kreider added empty-net insurance goals to give the U.S. its third bronze in six years.

”It’s important for the team but it’s also important for USA Hockey,” U.S. captain Patrick Kane said. ”Now, we can build up off this level and try to keep being better and better.”

Kane had an assist in the game to finish the tournament with 20 points for eight goals and 12 assists, the first player to do so since 2008.

”Obviously I’m here to produce and try to create offense and make plays out there,” Kane said. ”Overall, I’m happy … it was a fun tournament and a great experience for me and I hope it will help me with my career going forward too.”

Canada had to settle for a disappointing fourth-place finish.

”We wanted to win gold,” Canada forward Bo Horvat said. ”We wanted to be in the final. It’s not a result we wanted. But we have to take the positives from this experience and bring it to next year.”

Kreider scored the go-ahead goal for the U.S. in the second period, capitalizing on a mistake by Canada captain Connor McDavid.

Canada answered with a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot that went in between the pads of goaltender Keith Kinkaid.

Sweden plays Switzerland for gold later Sunday.

Captained by McDavid, the NHL scoring leader, Canada was considered a contender for gold.

Chasing its third title in four years, Canada suffered losses in the preliminary round to the U.S. and Finland and was stunned by Switzerland 3-2 in the semifinals.

The U.S. had a great start to the tournament with six straight wins. It knocked out the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals but was trashed 6-0 by Sweden in the semis.

Kane leads U.S. into semis, Canada knocks out Russia

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HERNING, Denmark (AP) — Captain Patrick Kane scored two goals to lift the United States to a 3-2 win over the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals of the ice hockey world championship on Thursday while Canada beat Russia 5-4 in overtime.

Switzerland pulled off a surprise by eliminating Finland 3-2 and defending champion Sweden edged out Latvia 3-2.

Kane claimed the third-period winner to take the outright lead in the scoring table on 19 points, a U.S. record, with eight goals and 11 assists and set up a semifinal against Sweden on Saturday.

”It’s my job to produce,” Kane said. ”It’s always nice to contribute offensively.”

The U.S. is looking for its first medal since picking up bronze in 2015.

”We came here to put ourselves in a position to try to win the gold,” Kane said. “We’re on the right path.”

The U.S. took control with a couple of goals in the span of 1:43 midway through the first period in Herning.

Kane beat goaltender Pavel Francouz from the right circle before Nick Bonino fed Cam Atkinson in front of the net to stretch the lead with a backhand shot.

The Czechs hit back in the second period. Michal Repik reduced the advantage on a slap shot and Martin Necas netted the tying goal on a power play.

”It’s a pity,” Czech forward Tomas Plekanec said. ”We created enough chances to win.”

In Copenhagen, Ryan O'Reilly scored 4:57 into overtime to knock out Russia while captain Connor McDavid had three assists, including on the winning goal.

Hunting its third title in four years, Canada will face Switzerland in the semis.

”Canada are a great team, they always are,” defenseman Roman Josi said after his Switzerland team beat Finland for the first time since 1972.

Defenseman Colton Parayko blasted a slap shot past goaltender Igor Shestyorkin on a power play to give Canada a 1-0 lead in the first period before Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doubled the advantage on another power play.

But Alexander Barabanov and Ilya Mikheyev scored in the second period to tie the game.

Kyle Turris made it 3-2 to Canada in the third before Sergei Andronov leveled. Pierre-Luc Dubois put Canada ahead again but Russia answered with a goal from Artyom Anisimov.

Finland looked to be heading for victory after Markus Nutivaara‘s first-period goal, but Switzerland rallied with goals from Enzo Corvi, Joel Vermin and Gregory Hofmann in less than four minutes midway through the second.

”We didn’t start the way we wanted but we reacted in the second period and played very well from then on,” Josi said.

Mikko Rantanen cut the deficit to one goal in the third period.

”This wasn’t what we were looking for,” Finland captain Mikael Granlund said. ”They had the momentum in the second period and we were not able to turn it around.”

Sweden, which won all seven of its preliminary round games, beat Latvia thanks to goals from Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Teodors Blugers and Rudolfs Balcers replied.

Mike Fisher will not play Game 7 for Predators

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The Nashville Predators announced on Thursday afternoon that center Mike Fisher will not be in the lineup for Game 7 of their series against the Winnipeg Jets. The team has him listed as “day-to-day” with a lower-body injury.

The 37-year-old Fisher came out of retirement late in the regular season and played in 16 games for the Predators, scoring two goals and adding two assists.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

He appeared in each of the team’s first 12 playoff games, scoring one goal while playing just a little under 12 minutes per night. He played just 2:58 in the Predators’ Game 6 win in Winnipeg before exiting the game after the first period with the injury.

His only goal in the series came in the Predators’ Game 3 loss in Winnipeg.

Given Fisher’s workload and role this postseason it is not a totally damaging blow to the Predators’ chances in Game 7, especially given that they already have Ryan Johansen, Kyle Turris, and Nick Bonino playing down the middle, but it does create a hole on the team’s fourth line.

More Jets-Predators

Jets, Predators set the stage for what should be incredible Game 7

Jets, Predators lean heavily on Rinne-Hellebuyck

Home ice hasn’t been huge advantage for Jets, Predators

Predators haven’t found answer for Jets’ quick-strike offense

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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.