CHICAGO — In hockey’s court of public opinion, P.K. Subban is preparing his on-ice rebuttal.
Described by some as damaged goods following a season where he played games while barely able to lift his foot in the air, the newest New Jersey Devil intends to deliver the next statement in this ongoing conversation.
What, you forgot about the real P.K.?
"I feel like, man, I get banged up a couple times and everybody’s ready to write me off," Subban told Sportsnet.
"I hear a lot of people talking about me losing a step or not being the same player and it’s like ‘I don’t know, man. It’s not too long ago I was up for a Norris [Trophy], so …’
"I feel like I’ll be right back where I need to be. All I’ve got to do is stay on the ice and I’m confident in that."
Subban is thrilled about the draft-day trade that brought him to New Jersey and the prospect of playing a more prime-time role than he had on the defensively stacked Nashville Predators.
He’s also ready to put a challenging 2018-19 campaign behind him — a season defined by the mysterious back injury that kept him off skates for six weeks in November and December, and dragged his production back to levels not seen since his early days as a NHL player in Montreal.
"When you miss a quarter of the season, I don’t care who you are, it’s really tough to come back in this NHL and be a dominant player," Subban said during the recent NHL/NHLPA player media tour.
"Last year it was a nerve injury. It’s a nerve. It’s not muscular, it’s not structural, it’s not a disc. It’s a nerve. You don’t control that, you know? You’ve got to literally wait for it to cool down and to this day we still don’t know how it got irritated. But that’s what it was.
"I literally had drop foot from a nerve that was like pinched and I came back from that and played. Like I couldn’t lift my foot at one moment. To think about that, coming back from that, playing part of the season and then playing in the playoffs, I mean I probably shouldn’t have.
"I’m proud of the fact that I worked hard to come back and play and now I feel great."
The Devils bought low on Subban — well as low as you can buy on a $9-million star who finished third in Norris Trophy voting 15 months ago. They got him for two second-round draft picks and two young defencemen with modest upside (Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies), which will look like a steal if he returns to full health and top form as a play-driver who soaks up tough minutes.
Unlike the June 2016 trade that sent Subban from Montreal to Nashville, this one didn’t sting.
He knew he was a likely target given the Predators’ desire to redistribute their cap allocation and spend more on forwards. He also felt good about his contributions during a three-year run with the organization that included a trip to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final and a Presidents’ Trophy in 2018.
"It was just a great time for me," said Subban.
"I really felt that aside from winning the Cup that I fulfilled almost everything that I probably wanted to do there, you know? Come in, be a part of the team, kind of fill my role, maybe bring some spice to the team and to the organization, and I really felt we did that."
When Predators general manager David Poile phoned Subban to inform him of the trade, the two shared a nice trip down memory lane together. They reflected on the defenceman’s time in Nashville and brought a cordial ending to their business relationship.
If there was any hint of impatience, it came from Subban’s end of the line. He enjoyed the conversation, but it delayed the news of where he’d been dealt.
"When I heard New Jersey I literally jumped over the counter. Like almost right over the counter," said Subban. "I was really excited and they’ve got such good young players. I’m an energy guy and it’s great to be able to feed off of other young guys’ energy. Coming to the rink and watching them.
"It’s going to be great to see (No. 1 overall pick) Jack Hughes’s eyes every night light up before a game and excited to play. I’m excited for that."
That Energizer Bunny enthusiasm is part of what attracted Subban to the Devils in the first place. In addition to highlighting his abilities as a player, general manager Ray Shero pointed to Subban’s value as someone who ups the entertainment value around the team when offering his rationale for the move.
It all hinges on what version of P.K. they get.
Taken as a whole, he’s been durable throughout a 10-year career that included a 273-game Ironman streak with the Canadiens. However, Subban dealt with a herniated disc in his back during his first season in Nashville and then had the nerve issue last year.
He believes it’s been remedied with rest, rehab and his work in the gym.
This has been a big summer for Subban with the trade and his engagement to partner Lindsey Vonn — the pair made a cameo during the men’s final at the U.S. Open on Sunday night — and he’s ready now to start answering critics with training camp opening later this week.
Someone has to keep her in line! Congrats to both of these guys! #beastmode @DaniilMedwed @RafaelNadal https://t.co/dd2mG3FHPV
— P.K. Subban (@PKSubban1) September 9, 2019
"It’s a part of it," said Subban. "As your career goes on, I guess that’s the normal part is people try to pick your game apart. I guess you could say I’m used to it — people have been doing that my whole career, you know? Whether I’m having a good season or a bad season, there always seems to be people that want to pick it apart."
To the doubters, he’s got a message.
"I think legacy’s really, really important," said Subban.
"You know, I’m 30 years old, and hope to play another eight to 10 years in the league."