Kubina big on earning his keep

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

Towering defenceman Pavel Kubina spent the past several days scouring sites such as the posh streets of Yorkville for a place to live.

Armed with a four-year, $20-million US contract courtesy of the Maple Leafs, he can afford to go condo hunting in such swank neighbourhoods.

But with big bucks come even bigger expectations, especially here in the so-called centre of the hockey universe where fans demand a top-flight show for all that dough.

"You always feel pressure," said Kubina, 29, who skated with his new teammates for the first time yesterday. "But it's a great challenge and a new life. I was in Tampa for 10 years and I don't think the pressure there was ever like here."

Not even after his Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004? Surely he and his teammates must have felt the heat to repeat.

"Tampa Bay was, say, football first, then nothing else, and then hockey," Kubina said. "In fact in Tampa I was a little jealous about football. You saw the sports, TV, front pages, it was always football, then hockey."

Only after the Lightning captured the Cup did Kubina notice his team finally -- albeit momentarily -- had usurped the NFL Buccaneers in terms of importance among the local sports fans.

"I think we actually made the front page when we won," Kubina said.

While some critics around the league thought Leafs general manager John Ferguson significantly overpaid for the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder, the addition of Kubina solidified a blue line that already included Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle.

With Kubina and fellow newcomer Hal Gill looking to chew up valuable ice time, McCabe and Kaberle no longer will be counted on to play almost half of each game.

"Tomas has been a big help," Kubina said of Kaberle. "I've known Kabby a long time. I've played lots of tournaments with him for the Czech Republic. He's a friend and a great defenceman.

"Kaberle and McCabe are two of the best defencemen in the league. I know every time I played them they would play 30 minutes, even more. They always played well.

HELP OUT

"I'm just here to help out."

And provide some inspiration, too. After all, he is the only member of the 2006-07 Leafs to have earned a Stanley Cup ring.

"I didn't know that," Kubina said with a chuckle. "Hopefully I can bring some luck here."


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