A few days ago in New York, even though the NHL's player media tour was winding down and other people's energy levels were ebbing fast, there was no mistaking the loud, almost theatrical arrival of the Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban at the league's midtown headquarters. Teammate Max Pacioretty was sitting in a boardroom doing an interview as Subban zoomed by and pounded a loud hello on the glass with his fists. Ten minutes later, with Subban passing by the other way, he offered the same greeting to the Los Angeles Kings' Justin Williams.
Later, Subban, 25, is asked who would play him when Hollywood eventually makes his life story, and he has a ready answer: "Deion Sanders. Because, number one, I get mistaken for Deion Sanders more than any other person in the world; number two, I think there's a lot of similarities between how he played football and how I play hockey; and number three, he played for my favourite team in the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys. So I'm a huge fan."
This is Subban in a nutshell – hockey's version of Prime Time, a larger-than-life personality who was asked in 2013 to sign a two-year, $5.75-million bridge contract to prove his worth to the Canadiens, because they had questions about how good he might eventually be.
Subban responded with two exceptional years in which he won a Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman and earned a spot on Canada's 2014 men's Olympic team. And he made many of the key plays that helped the Canadiens advance to the third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring.
Now the NHL's third-highest-paid player by salary-cap charge ($9-million per season) and an alternate captain for the first time with the Habs, Subban seems to have an instinctive understanding of what it takes for a player in 2014 to be a salesman. It hasn't always played well among his teammates, but that is changing, according to Pacioretty, who said he has a greater appreciation than ever before of Subban's positive impact on the team's dressing-room culture.
"What I realized this year is, you can't have 25 robots on your team and have the right chemistry in the room," said Pacioretty. "It's important to have different personalities. It's important to have people like P.K. and people like [Andrei] Markov – who is the exact opposite – and people in between, because you can feed off each other and balance off each other.
"In terms of chemistry and team bonding, it's been really helpful to see [Subban]grow as a person and obviously maturing. We got drafted the same year, so I've been around him a lot. He's definitely a lot different person now."
Of the seven Canadian-based NHL teams, the Habs likely have the greatest chance to contend for the Stanley Cup in the near future. They made it to the semi-finals last year, upsetting the heavily favoured Boston Bruins, and typically, long playoff runs raise expectations, sometimes to unreasonable heights.
"Listen, I'm a realist," Subban said about the team's prospects for 2014-15. "First of all, let's slow everything down. We don't have to win the Stanley Cup in one day, one week, one month, one interview. Let's build. We took a big step last year, that's okay. Now let's take the next step. What's that next step? Well, we want to get to the Stanley Cup final, but everybody else does too.
"So to me, the most important thing is to build a strong relationship as a team amongst each other … to support the goal of winning a Stanley Cup. It may not happen this year, it may not happen next year, but it might happen, we don't know. All you can do is prepare yourself the best way you can."
Occasionally, the demands of playing in a Canadian city can overwhelm some players, and they want out (see Ottawa: Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley). Subban, by contrast, clearly revels in playing for Montreal, with its history and old-world charm, and the rabid fan base is one reason he was willing to sign that eight-year contract extension.
"There hasn't been a shift when I haven't put out 100-per-cent," said Subban. "Just leaving it all on the ice, I do it every game, and the fans appreciate that. They appreciate hard work – and when I say hard work, I'm not saying pretending to work hard. I'm talking about laying it on the line every single shift. If you do that, they will love you and they will embrace you, no matter what."
So don't expect much to change in how Subban carries himself. Things are working out just fine.
"My dad has a saying," confided Subban. "'Be yourself, because everyone else is taken.' That's how I live my life. I'm not trying to be someone I'm not. I'm not trying to become something I'm not. I stay true to who I am."