PK. Subban receives medal, expects 'fun atmosphere' back in Montreal
No one expected P.K. Subban to slide quietly into town for his first game against the Montreal Canadiens, but what a splash the flashy defenceman made on Wednesday.
It started with receiving a medal from the governor general of Canada for his charity work and continued with a packed news conference at the Bell Centre.
"It's a privilege to play in the NHL and it's a privilege to be a player who is traded out of Montreal and still have this type of support," the Nashville Predators rearguard said. "Talk to a lot of guys who have been traded, I don't think they would be standing up here doing a press conference when they come back.
"So I'm very honoured and happy to know that, in the Mecca of hockey, fans still support me and are behind me."
How much they remain on Subban's side will be seen Thursday night when Subban plays his first game against the team he played for from 2009 to last June 29, when he was dealt to Nashville for Shea Weber in a straight-up trade of all-star defenceman.
Canadiens who are traded away are often booed on their return, but it may be different for Subban.
"I don't think it's fair to try to anticipate how you're going to feel," he sad. "You wait for the moment and take it in.
"My focus will be on the two points, but obviously I look forward to playing in a building and in front of fans that I played in for so long. Some big games and some fun games. Probably the thing I look forward to most is hopefully seeing Madame Beliveau there.
Subban was a favourite of Elise Beliveau, the widow of Canadiens great Jean Beliveau who still attends many games.
The trade was a stunning move by general manager Marc Bergevin, who was looking to change up a team that collapsed after goalie Carey Price was injured early in the 2015-16 campaign.
Subban was already a fan favourite for his skill and flair on the ice and his bubbly personality, but his popularity went through the roof in September, 2015 when he made a pledge to raise $10 million over seven years for the Montreal Children's Hospital, mainly for a program called P.K.'s Helping Hand to support families of sick kids.
It was believed to be the biggest charitable commitment ever made by a Canadian athlete and it was the reason gov. gen. David Johnston was in the hospital's packed P.K. Subban Atrium to pin the Meritorious Service Cross on the player's chest. Subban's parents and two sisters, as well as many friends and fans, were on hand to share the moment.
"It was pretty spectacular," he said. "It was the highest honour I've ever had in my life, so it's pretty special."
This from a member of Canada's 2014 Olympic gold medal team and the 2013 winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenceman.
He was also the Canadiens highest-paid player, having been given an eight-year US$72 million deal ahead of the 2014-15 season.
Subban took the high road on all the controversy surrounding the trade. He had kind words for former coach Michel Therrien, who some felt stifled his free-wheeling style with an overly defensive system of play and benched him when risky moves went awry.
But he also had praise for Predators coach Peter Laviolette, who told Subban in their first phone call to be himself on and off the ice.
"When you're in the top two defence pairings and you're one of the highest paid players you always feel you should get some sort of leash to do the things that make you the player that you are," he said. "Ultimately, you have to play within a system, but there's a reason I made it to the NHL.
"There's a certain thing that I bring to the game that allows me to be the player I am, so you can't lose that. That's the thing about a good coach. You have 22 guys and you have to understand that there's 22 different people and you have to allow them to excel within their skill set. I think Lavvy has a really positive attitude."
The trade is still hotly debated among Montreal fans, some who feel the team will regret losing the younger, quicker Subban and others glad to get the bigger and well-respected Weber.
Subban missed the first meeting with Montreal on Jan. 3 in Nashville with an upper body injury. Weber scored a goal before his former home fans in the 2-1 Canadiens win, which was mainly marked by the booing of former Predator Alexander Radulov on his return to his former home.
So far, the 31-year-old Weber holds a slight edge with 14 goals, 37 points and a plus-9 in 64 games for Montreal, while 27-year-old Subban has eight goals, 30 points and is minus-6 in 47 games as a Predator.
But Subban only got his game going after returning from his injury in late January. He has 12 points in the last 10 games, in which Nashville went 6-3-1.
The Canadiens struggled through February, when they didn't win a game in regulation time. But they are 4-2-0 since Claude Julien replaced Therrien, and are coming off three straight overtime wins.
Subban admits it took some time to get over being traded and getting used to a new team, but now he loves Nashville and playing for the Predators. But the Toronto native will always have a soft spot for the team and city he started his NHL career in.
"I'm an optimistic-type of guy and when life throws me a curveball or a sinker or a fastball, I'm swinging at it," he said. "I think your attitude is the most important thing."
His lone regret was not helping Montreal win a Stanley Cup, he said.