No , these are not Lou Lamoriello’s Devils.
The red carpet was brought out in concert with all of the pomp and circumstance that this formerly buttoned-up organization could muster to introduce its new star, P.K. Subban, at Prudential Center on Thursday afternoon. It was a spectacle that included a drum line preceding Subban’s smoke-machine entrance into an arena populated with a couple hundred screaming fans, and a Ric Flair robe presented to Subban with his No. 76 emblazoned on the back while everyone screamed, “Woo!”
And the celebrity goes beyond the electric defenseman obtained in a trade with the Predators at the draft just short of a month ago. It goes to his oft-mentioned girlfriend, retired Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, who was brought up by managing partner Josh Harris at almost first mention during an earlier press conference.
“Let’s face it — P.K., and we’re lucky enough to adopt Lindsey also, they’re major stars,” Harris said. “I think that it’s welcome here in New Jersey, it’s welcome in our culture, and I think it elevates our organization. I’m very excited about it. I think it’s a win-win on all sides, and we’re lucky enough to have someone who’s very good at it, embraces it and connects with fans.
“We’re trying, as much as we can, roll that out in an effective way.”
What the Devils are trying to do is reinvigorate a fan base that has been beleaguered not just by missing the playoffs in six of the past seven years, but by sliding into irrelevance. Maybe taking Nico Hischier with the No. 1-overall pick in 2017 brought a slight buzz, as did Taylor Hall winning the Hart Trophy in 2018.
But taking Jack Hughes with another top pick last month, then obtaining Subban for what was essential a song — unheralded young defensemen Steven Santini and Jeremy Davies, as well as two second-round picks — woke everyone up. General manager Ray Shero also traded for Blackhawks defenseman John Hayden and signed rugged forward Wayne Simmonds. Harris added that the absent Shero “wasn’t done” and that he was still “wheeling and dealing.”
But it still comes back to Subban, who has a rare panache that most around hockey lack, even if at 30 years old he is coming off the worst statistical season of his career. But he has been embraced by this club since the trade happened, and he spent that past week being showered with praise by the fans and organization.
“Just a lot of love,” Subban said. “It’s very, very difficult, in my opinion, to craft that type of culture in an organization, from everybody.”
Subban started his career in Montreal, in front of the most fickle fan base in all of sports, and his personality eventually wore thin. The trade to Nashville never resulted in the expected Stanley Cup, and the $9 million salary-cap hit that he carries for the next three seasons made him an obvious choice for them to move and clear some much-needed space.
But in both stops, Subban was a staple of the community, giving his time and money with stupendous generosity. It’s something he plans to do in New Jersey, once he and Vonn get settled in the suburbs.
So no, there doesn’t seem to be any plan for them to live in Manhattan and assault Madison Avenue with new marketing opportunities. Of course, they will come. But right off the bat, Subban wanted to make sure it was clear that he cares about hockey, looking up at the Devils’ Stanley Cup banners from 1995, 2000 and 2003 — “legit banners,” he said with longing — and make his intentions here known.
“People mention New York a lot, and I don’t play for New York, I play for New Jersey,” Subban said. “So that’s where my focus is, on New Jersey and what I can do to help this organization and help this city.”
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