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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.”

EA Sports

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.”

————

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’ big defense spending continues with Oleksiak

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Perhaps it’s fitting that the Pittsburgh Penguins put a bow on big defense spending by re-signing Jamie Oleksiak, one of the largest humans you’ll see roaming a blueline.

The team announced that they signed the 25-year-old to a three-year contract that will carry a $2,137,500 cap hit. He’s generally listed at 6-foot-7, which is just a couple inches shorter than Zdeno Chara.

(It only seems fair that he was frequently called upon to drop the mitts once he arrived from Dallas then, right?)

In a vacuum, it’s an inoffensive contract, although some will grimace a bit at giving three years to a potential depth defenseman. Your overall opinion of the big blueliner will vary depending upon how you value what he brings to the table. His size is valued by many, and he didn’t take on too much water from a possession standpoint.

There’s little denying that he enjoyed something of a career rejuvenation in Pittsburgh, echoing Trevor Daley and Justin Schultz, even though his gritty style makes him quite different from those fleet-footed defensemen. After averaging just 15 minutes per game with the Stars, Oleksiak’s ice time shot up to an average of 17:24 in 41 contests with Pittsburgh.

That ice time plummeted during the postseason, as he only logged an average of 13:43 per contest.

We’ve seen teams get burned by handing an extension to a defenseman who thrived during a brief audition, such as Brendan Smith‘s disastrous turn with the Rangers, although the Penguins didn’t shell out as large of a cap hit here.

The larger concern might be that the Penguins could be guilty of a mistake a lot of contenders fall victim of: locking up a lot of depth players when it might be wiser to allow more room to scour the market for cheaper options in the bottom of the order. On the other hand, maybe Oleksiak will end up being another successful reclamation project in Pittsburgh?

Either way, the Penguins are locked in with quite a few defensemen, so substantial commitments abound.

It’s a pricey group, too. Via Cap Friendly’s estimates, the Penguins are spending almost $27M on seven defensemen: Oleksiak, Schultz, Kris Letang, Jack Johnson, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta, and Chad Ruhwedel.

For some, that’s the price of doing business for a team not far removed from back-to-back Stanley Cup victories.

Others will blanche at the thought that, at times, the Penguins overcome this group, rather than being propped up by it. Those critics surely won’t be over the moon about some of their recent commitments, especially oft-criticized Jack Johnson carrying a $3.25M cap hit mere months after the Blue Jackets couldn’t give him away during the trade deadline.

There are some red flags going on with that unit, and maybe the Oleksiak signing will be looked upon as a mistake.

Ultimately, it’s not the sort of decision that will derail the Penguins’ hopes for contending now and in the future. The worry, though, is that the mistakes might start to really pile up for the Pens. After all, flexibility can be crucial in the modern NHL, and GM Jim Rutherford risks painting himself into a corner.

(Then again, the Blackhawks reminded us today that you can often foist your cap problems on other teams, so maybe none of this is all that big of a concern?)

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.

Oilers risk repeating terrible trade history with Lucic

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NHL teams should stick to certain unwritten rules.

Don’t let the Washington Capitals’ power play send a pass to Alex Ovechkin in “his office.” Maybe skip blocking Zdeno Chara‘s slapper in an exhibition game. Avoid smelling Brad Marchand‘s breath. Giving a goalie a “snow shower” is just rude.

At this point, the Edmonton Oilers might just want to institute a “Don’t let Peter Chiarelli make a trade” rule. At least not any tide-turning trades.

There are plenty of rumblings about the Oilers possibly trading Milan Lucic after his first two rough years in Edmonton, with some back-and-forth about whether Lucic requested such a trade or not. Even the biggest Oilers apologist who admit that Lucic’s contract (a signing bonus-heavy deal that includes a $6 million cap hit through 2022-23) is … bad. The problem is that any reasonable hockey person knows that. Even some of the unreasonable ones probably get that message.

With that wide notion noted, it’s unavoidable to point out the elephant in the room: is there any reason to believe that the Oilers would win a trade involving Lucic?

The Ten Percent Rule

There are serious worries that the Oilers aren’t learning lessons from their mistakes, so allow me to suggest an amended rule: Chiarelli should never trade a forward coming off of a season with less than a 10-percent shooting percentage. It would apply a magic wand to some of the franchise’s most jarring (or funny, if you’re not an Oilers fan) mistakes. Consider that:

  • After generating at least a 10.4 shooting percentage for his first four seasons, Taylor Hall dipped below double digits during his last two campaigns in Edmonton. Despite icy puck luck (9.1 percent) in 2015-16, Hall still scored 26 goals and 65 points. Lucic scored six fewer goals in 2015-16 (20 in 81 games) with the Kings despite a 16.1 shooting percentage. As much as the Hall – Adam Larsson trade was about improving Edmonton’s defense, there was also the side argument that the Oilers were opening up money to sign Lucic.

Oops.

  • That Jordan Eberle trade is frequently cited, and rightfully so.

Eberle consistently put up robust shooting percentages with the Oilers … except during his final season, when he scored 20 goals via 208 shots on goal (9.6 percent). The right-handed shooter rebounded to his typical form with the Islanders while Ryan Strome predictably produced middling results for Edmonton.

Part of the argument for trading Eberle was saving on the cap, but Edmonton ended up with a ton of wasted space during the disastrous 2017-18 season, only highlighting a point:

Sometimes it’s not about if you trade a player, but when.

The Oilers could have given Eberle some time to get his game (and shooting percentage) back on track, almost certainly opening the door for a better return than Strome.

Cruelly, Chiarelli could learn something from Garth Snow, the former Islanders GM who swindled him on the Eberle deal (and most dramatically, sending Edmonton Griffin Reinhart for the picks that would become Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier).

One of Snow’s last great moves was sending Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames for a set of futures that included Calgary’s 2018 first-round pick.

As you may recall, Hamonic was rumored to want a trade for family/personal reasons dating back to 2015, but he stuck with the Islanders longer than some expected. Snow traded Hamonic when the time was right for the Islanders, and he received a return that looked great then and now resembles a robbery.

Lucic’s stock couldn’t be much lower considering his tough start with Edmonton, particularly scoring a pathetic 10 goals on 147 SOG (6.8 shooting percentage) over a full 2017-18 season. Before that, Lucic consistently shot at a rate that was about as efficient as Eberle’s before he was traded. Lucic scored between 18-24 goals during the four seasons from 2013-14 to 2016-17, never seeing his shooting percentage dip below 12.8 percent for a full campaign.

So, the Oilers could experience the worst of both worlds if they trade Lucic this summer. After buying high after he rode high percentages, they might trade him when his value is at its absolute lowest.

Now, it’s fair to remark that the Oilers should at least poke around to try to get rid of an absolutely horrid contract. They might just find someone to dupe.

(Hey, the Toronto Maple Leafs are probably still snickering about the trade that netted them useful assets for Dion Phaneuf, and they somehow managed to do it without retaining salary.)

Don’t sell low, again

If the only way to move Lucic is to take on a different mistake (see: the exchange of problems that was the trade that got Phaneuf out of Ottawa), then the Oilers owe it to themselves to mitigate the damage. Whether it comes down to pairing him with Connor McDavid, lining him up with Leon Draisaitl, or trying to find advantageous matchups lower in the lineup, Edmonton can pump up Lucic’s value.

The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow provided some interesting insight (sub required) on how the Oilers might be misusing Lucic, for one thing, but Edmonton may just enjoy better results from Lucic getting more bounces in 2018-19.

An NHL GM can make his team marinate in a mistake by “doubling down,” such as exasperating a bad trade with a foolish contract extension. That said, an executive can also blunder by flipping from that stubborn script: you can overreact to a mistake. Such a risk gets scarier if the organization diagnoses the symptoms, but not the cause for disorders of the roster.

When in doubt, the Oilers must ask a painful question: “Do we really expect Chia to get it right this time?”

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Kempny trade pays off for Caps; Chara goes back to school

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Capitals’ acquisition of Michal Kempny flew under the radar when it went down, but it might become one of the best value trades in NHL history. (TSN.ca)

• Health Canada has recalled a bunch of Ottawa Senators onesies because they were deemed a choking risk. The jokes could write themselves. (Ottawa Citizen)

• Amanda Kessel has signed a contract with the Metropolitan Riveters of the NWHL. (The Ice Garden)

Zdeno Chara, P.K. Subban and a few other athletes took a week-long class at Harvard. (NHL.com/Bruins)

• The Rat Trick argues that Vincent Trocheck should be the next captain of the Florida Panthers. (The Rat Trick)

• NHL referee Garrett Rank qualified for the semi-final of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball golf championship. (Raleigh News & Observer)

• Sportsnet’s Stephen Brunt takes a deeper look at the complicated legacy of former LA Kings owner Bruce McNally. (Sportsnet)

• Sean McIndoe gives fans of the other 29 teams a reason to cheer for Vegas or Washington. (Sportsnet)

• Devils GM Ray Shero provides an update on his off-season plans. He’s already begun thinking about signing Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier to extensions, and he hasn’t had any contact with Ilya Kovalchuk. (NHL.com)

• On Monday, we linked to Part 1 of a series of articles pertaining to Joe Vitale’s battles with concussions. Here’s Part 2 of that series. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now)

• Up top, check out the highlights from Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Bruins address Marchand licking, future plans

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The Boston Bruins’ brass addressed the media on a wide range of issues Wednesday. If you want to keep your humor Brad Marchand-topical, you might call it an appetizer for the offseason.

After at least one lick/personal bubble-bursting moment in each round of their 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs run (Leo Komarov and Ryan Callahan ranking among his … run-ins), Marchand eventually got a talking-to. Management addressed as much today, and they generally kept it from getting too salty.

“Brad should be contrite,” Cam Neely said (see around the minute mark). “ … He’s gotten to the point now where his game on the ice – without the antics – should speak for itself.”

You know it’s a serious headache – not just a punchline and strange routine – when Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs needs to weigh in. His comments give the impression that Marchand doesn’t have much of a margin of error.

More teaching, less licking

As refreshing as it is to discuss “Zen and the Art of Licking,” some might view it as empty calorie content.

Luckily, the Bruins also shed some light on how they view the 2017-18 season (mostly positive, especially when it comes to integrating young talent, while the ending was bittersweet) and how they might approach free agency and the summer. If you’re the type who shuddered at the idea of targeting a Rick Nash upgrade in free agency – and the comments indicate that quite a few people did – then you’d probably be glad to hear some of the reactions.

Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs spoke highly of players who could make a future impact on the B’s (“from Providence and Europe”), so Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy might be tasked with much of the “teaching” Cam Neely spoke of today.

Backup plan

Curiously, as NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty points out, the Bruins might make the backup goalie position an area they’re aiming for improvement with.

There are a few factors to consider in that regard.

For one thing, Anton Khudobin‘s $1.2 million contract expires. The 32-year-old played well enough at times – finishing with a nice-for-backup .913 save percentage – to drum up some minor goalie controversies (depending upon who you asked during 2017-18) when Tuukka Rask struggled. The Bruins are committed to Rask at $7M through 2020-21, yet they might want to at least attempt to get a No. 2 who could moonlight as a No. 1.

Beyond perusing trade opportunities, free agency, or even bringing back Khudobin, you wonder how long of a look the Bruins might give Zane McIntyre as Rask’s backup in 2018-19. After all, McIntyre’s already 25, and could be feeling a little restless (after a dominant AHL season in 2016-17, his numbers were solid but a bit more modest last season).

Other considerations, and a warning

There were discussions of other possible tweaks, such as possibly adding more size at the left D position behind Zdeno Chara. Even then, you wonder how deeply they’ll probe in that area; after all, Torey Krug had a strong season and Matt Grzelcyk came along nicely.

Broadly speaking, it sounds like the Bruins will lean more toward “improving from within” instead of pursuing more established players. Considering the way GM Don Sweeney’s been drafting and the team’s been developing lately, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Then again, perhaps some bolder opportunities might surface? As promising as some of the future pieces in Boston seem to be, the B’s must also realize that the window could start to close on their core. Zdeno Chara’s in the clearest battle with Father Time at 41, but sometimes the aging curve can dilute the dominance of guys like Patrice Bergeron (32) and Brad Marchand (30) with troubling speed. Considering how frightening Bergeron and Marchand were on most nights alongside young stud David Pastrnak, a slip – even from “elite” to merely “quite good” – could alter Boston’s trajectory, or force them to lean on younger talent even more.

***

So, there are some factors to juggle, but can you really blame management for feeling so optimistic compared to the mixed feelings that were likely on display during last year’s pressers regarding the team’s outlook?

Jacobs himself spoke of the Bruins being spry in keeping up with league trends, and justifiably so. If the NHL’s smartest teams continue this rapid evolution, then Boston must remain just as nimble this summer. At least if they want to maintain their status as a revitalized heavy-hitter in the NHL.

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Conference Finals schedule, TV info
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NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.