NEWARK, N.J. — It was a spectacle befitting of a superstar.
It also went against the traditional hockey grain — a press conference of grandeur that old boss Lou Lamoriello never would have authorized.
But times have changed in New Jersey.
And the Devils have never had a player of P.K. Subban’s stature before.
(Ilya Kovalchuk was a superstar in his own right, but he bolted and isn’t exactly beloved here anymore).
So on Thursday, the name on the back of the jersey mattered most — not the name on the front.
In front of a thousand or so fans — with his No. 76 plastered on the Prudential Center jumbotron — Subban was presented with a Ric Flair robe and began doing the popular wrestler’s catchphrase “Woo!” much to the delight of those in attendance.
“This is unreal,” said Subban, who has more Twitter followers (1.1 million) than his new team (730k). “The only way I can repay you all is by hoisting up the Stanley Cup. So buckle up, let’s go.”
The Devils are hopeful that the offseason additions of Subban, No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes and veteran Wayne Simmons — along with Taylor Hall, assuming he sticks around amidst questions about his future and is healthy — can vault them back into contention following a disappointing 2018-19 campaign in which they were one of the worst teams in the NHL.
Devils owner Josh Harris only added to the intrigue, saying: “We’re not done yet. (GM) Ray (Shero) is wheeling and dealing.”
As for Subban, the 30-year-old defenseman who has three years and $27 million remaining on his contract, well, he’s eager to get started.
“I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a training camp since my first one,” said Subban, who is in a high-profile relationship with Lindsey Vonn. “I want to live up to the expectations they have for me on and off the ice.”
To that end, Subban’s impact could go far beyond his CORSI rating and into the diverse community that resides in Newark.
“Let’s touch as many people as we can,” said Subban, who has been part of several philanthropic endeavors in both Montreal and Nashville.
Even so, Subban is going to have to deliver on the ice, where he’ll serve on the right side of New Jersey’s top d-pairing and be expected to put up significant numbers from the point on the power play.
“P.K. really gets the style of play we want to play,” Devils coach John Hynes said. “His game, his competitiveness and his size are really important for us.”
Under Lamoriello, the Devils morphed into a team-first, defense-first juggernaut, winning three Stanley Cups and sending Nos. 3 (Ken Daneyko), 4 (Scott Stevens), 27 (Scott Niedermayer) and 30 (Martin Brodeur) to the rafters.
But Lou is running the show on Long Island now, and the Devils have filled their social media accounts in recent days with content featuring Subban, Vonn and their dog Lucy.
Soon, though, the pressure will mount.
The hated rival New York Rangers improved their roster as well, bringing superstar free agent Artemi Panarin and No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko into the fold.
“People mention New York a lot, but I don’t play for New York, I play for Jersey,” Subban said.
P.K. Subban said all the right things on Thursday, winning his press conference and likely some new fans in the process.
Now comes the hard part — being a consistent, brand-name performer who ultimately dominates in the playoffs and ends all the chatter that he may be in decline.
Not just a brand name.
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