D Pavel Kubina's long road with the Tampa Bay Lightning was quite a ride
I have to say , it was fun talking on the phone Friday to newly signed Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina. There was no chance excitement in his voice at returning to the Lightning was contrived. And regardless of how the next two seasons go for him on the ice, it will be a pleasure to welcome back one of the legitimately nice guys in the game.
Kubina is a big boy, 6 feet 4, 250 pounds, with a mean streak in front of the net. But I will never forget seeing him almost reduced to tears in April 2003 during a playoff series against the Devils when some New Jersey players accused him of intentionally shooting a puck into the face of Devils defenseman Scott Stevens, who needed 15 stitches to close the wound.
We would find out the next season, with an admission by Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, that it was just gamesmanship, that the Devils knew the play was accidental but were trying to rattle one of Tampa Bay's most important players. But it certainly didn't sound that way at the time, and Kubina, truly a gentle soul, was distraught while sitting at his locker answering reporters' questions that anyone would accuse him of such a thing and that he skated away after the play with a smirk on his face.
Even the next season, when Brodeur admitted he made it all up, Kubina had a hard time accepting the, kind of, apology.
"Playoffs, regular-season, you don't say anything like that about another player," Kubina said at the time.
Kubina was always an interesting character. He was booed by the St. Pete Times Forum crowd during his developmental years. He was mocked by coach John Tortorella for an ill-advised tactic Kubina used for a while where he would sprawl on the ice when beaten on a play. Tortorella called it the "praying mantis."
But Kubina also was one of Tampa Bay's best playoff performers. Former Lightning GM Jay Feaster used to say the best way to judge a player is by how he raises his game when the stakes are highest. There was a terrific picture in the St. Pete Times during the Lightning's 2003 playoff series victory over the Capitals that showed Kubina hunched over and smiling at a fallen Jaromir Jagr, whom Kubina harassed throughout the series.
Kubina was huge during the Stanley Cup season with 17 goals, and though his goals slipped to five in 2005-06, he had a career high 33 assists. GM Steve Yzerman wants all those elements to come to the fore; Kubina's big shot, which, hopefully, will replace Kurtis Foster's big shot, his ability to pass and his rugged presence in front of the net.
It's a $7.7 million investment over two years and judgments will be made in time. For now, though, it is obvious Kubina can't wait to get going.