MONTREAL—It’s a classy gesture that, in the end, should offer closure to P.K. Subban and Montreal Canadiens fans.
Let’s start with Subban, who will be honoured at the Bell Centre on Thursday. The last time he received the type of reception he’s in store for was his first time back in the building as a member of the team he was unceremoniously traded to in June of 2016.
It was on March 2, 2017, that Subban stood on the blue line, in Nashville Predators gold and blue, with tears streaming down his face as Canadiens fans gave him a rousing ovation. With the wound of his shocking trade for Shea Weber still clearly feeling as fresh for him as it did eight months prior, and with the Montreal fans cheering for him one last time before invoking the time-honoured tradition of booing an opposing former Canadien every time he touches the puck, he couldn’t contain his emotions.
If the 33-year-old arrived in Montreal with unresolved feelings this time — and it seems he did, considering the interview he gave just nine days ago on the Pivot Podcast — he should finally be at peace after Thursday’s festivities.
If not for Canadiens owner Geoff Molson’s immediate response to an inquiry from Chantal Machabee upon Subban’s retirement via Instagram this past September, that wouldn’t be possible.
The vice president of communications said Wednesday that the owner and CEO of the Canadiens received an email from her asking if anything should be planned to acknowledge Subban’s electrifying and entertaining career with the club. He immediately called her, saying he was 100 per cent on board — and even suggesting to honour Subban and former defence partner Andrei Markov together.
Markov, who’s coaching in the KHL, wouldn’t be able to accommodate. So, the onus shifted exclusively to Subban, with the day that would mark the Predators’ only visit to Montreal this season becoming a logical choice for the occasion.
“We are thrilled to welcome P.K. back to his first NHL home this January,” said Molson via press release on Dec. 19.
It was an olive branch extended by Molson, to be held by both Subban and Canadiens fans.
“We look forward to giving our fans a chance to celebrate his career and the impact he had — and continues to have — on the Montreal community,” Molson said. “Whether it’s kids on local minor hockey teams choosing to wear No. 76, or the number of fans we see on any given night at the Bell Centre who still proudly wear their Subban jerseys, you don’t have to go far to understand the influence P.K. had on the popularity of the sport in Quebec.”
With the statement — and more importantly, with Thursday’s gesture — he squashed whatever perception there may have been about him holding ill will towards the player who collected 63 goals and 278 points in 434 regular-season games in addition to 38 points in 55 playoff games in his team’s uniform.
Molson may have intervened to give Subban an eight-year, $72 million contract after then-general manager Marc Bergevin took the player through an arbitration hearing in August of 2014. But he also signed off on Bergevin trading the former Norris Trophy winner, who was in his prime, one-for-one for a player four years his senior.
Bergevin insisted the opportunity to acquire Weber (then an Olympic champion and long-serving, iconic captain of the Predators) was too good to resist.
But that did little to influence public — and Subban’s — perception that the Canadiens had grown tired of Subban’s interest in building his own brand and decided to cut ties when they could, before the player’s no-trade clause would kick in the following summer.
“The tradition with Montreal is any star players that had big names, that got bigger than the team, they traded them,” Subban said on the Pivot Podcast. “So, what happened to me wasn’t any different than the history.”
It was something he didn’t want to say when we did an exclusive interview with him following the trade but something he was clearly feeling at the time.
Molson and the rest of the Canadiens apparently being caught off guard by Subban’s incredible $10 million pledge to the Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation in September of 2015 only fed public perception that the trade was more about moving Subban out than bringing Weber in. They all endorsed Subban’s unprecedented donation afterwards, but none of them were in attendance at the hospital on the day it was made.
Now, this day puts all of that in the past, with Molson offering Subban an opportunity to be celebrated in the same way former captain Saku Koivu was two months after Koivu’s retirement in 2014.
Neither signed one-day contracts to retire as Canadiens, and it’s not expected either will have their jerseys retired.
But, like Koivu, Subban has a chance to say thank you to the Canadiens and their fans and receive thanks in return.
Like Koivu, he’ll be celebrated for his stirring career with the team and his benevolence both during and after his time in Montreal.
Subban played 211 games with the Predators and played an integral role in helping them reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. With injuries accumulated and performance dipping, he played 189 less remarkable games with the New Jersey Devils from 2019-22, leading to his retirement from professional hockey back in September.
The Toronto native spearheaded incredible charitable initiatives while playing for those teams, earning multiple King Clancy Memorial Trophy nominations before finally winning the award in 2022.
But he’ll always be remembered for what he gave to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, which has an atrium bearing his name. And he’ll always be thought of as a Montreal Canadien first.
That is what’s sure to make Thursday’s reunion memorable.
It will be special for Canadiens fans, and certainly for Subban.
“In Montreal, there was never a night off,” Subban told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “You didn’t have a choice, because the crowd gave you that energy when you didn’t have it. They gave you the belief, maybe, when you didn’t believe that you were still in the game.
“They brought the best out of me, more so than any other opponent that I had or anybody that I played against. They held me accountable, and they really had my back and supported me.”