BROSSARD, Que.— We expected P.K. Subban’s return to Montreal to be nothing short of dramatic.
That he arrived here on trade deadline day—during the NHL’s busiest hours of the season—and kicked things off with a visit to the Montreal Children’s Hospital to receive an award from Canada’s Governor General in recognition of his $10 million pledge last season, was fitting.
Some things will never change.
Subban’s time in Montreal was dramatic from beginning to end, with much tumult in between. There was a contract holdout and a Norris-Trophy win within a six-month span in 2013 and a calamitous arbitration process in August of 2014, which was put to bed when owner Geoff Molson made Subban the highest-paid Canadien in franchise history.
Of course, it’s that much more dramatic that Subban is writing it after being absent from the 2-1 win Montreal earned in Nashville on Jan. 3, with Weber and former Predator Alexander Radulov combining on both goals for the Canadiens. A herniated disc in the 27-year-old’s back deprived him of the opportunity to add his sizzle to that occasion.
Things have changed considerably since then.
Since his return to action on Jan. 20, Subban has scored a goal, added 12 assists and helped what was a frustrated Predators group to an 11-5-2 record to push them into third place in the hotly-contested Central Division.
Meanwhile the Atlantic Division-leading Canadiens sputtered through the end of January before bottoming out in February with a 5-7-1 record, which was marked by the team’s failure to collect a regulation-time win.
As a result, Subban’s first game against his former club will not involve his former coach Michel Therrien, who was fired by the Canadiens on Valentine’s Day.
It has been a commonly held opinion in hockey circles and around Montreal that Subban was a distraction, a cancer in the Canadiens room and the biggest problem in star goaltender Carey Price’s 70-game absence last season, the recent issues with the team and Therrien’s removal from the bench has undone some of that.
If anything, the theory advanced by Subban’s fans and even by his former Canadiens teammate Dale Weise, who said in October he thought his friend had become a scapegoat, has only gained traction over the last number of weeks.
“They were looking for an excuse and I think he was the guy who could easily be targeted as a distraction,” Weise said then.
That Subban comes to Montreal with the opportunity to play a big game on Thursday and make it that much clearer he wasn’t the problem, is a juicy narrative to bite into.
There are other elements that make Subban’s return a show-stopper.
There’s the reception he’ll get from the Bell Centre faithful, most of whom habitually rose from their seats and chanted “P.K., P.K., P.K.” every time he made a tantalizing rush up the ice as a member of their team.
It’s likely those people will drown out the ones who intend to boo him every time he touches the puck. That will be a dynamic at play, no doubt.
Another thing to watch for is the tribute the Canadiens will pay to Subban, who represented the organization with passion and pride since the day he was drafted 43rd overall in 2007 and immersed himself in the community in a way that went well beyond his financial commitment to the hospital. They have something planned, which a team representative suggested “will be very tasteful.”
But nothing will be more appealing than finally seeing Subban and Weber play against each other—each one of them vying for the spotlight in a game played 245 days after they were traded for one another.
That’s a long build up for what promises to be a dramatic event.