NEWARK, N.J. -- P.K. Subban will return to Nashville when the New Jersey Devils play his former team, the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, MSG+, FS-TN, NHL.TV). It will be the defenseman's first trip back to a city he used to call home, one that is still benefiting from his community outreach endeavors.
Subban, who was traded to the Devils on June 22, started the Blueline Buddies program in the 2017-18 season, his second of three with the Predators. The initiative brought together a member of the Metro Nashville Police Department and their guest with a mentor or representative from a local organization and an underprivileged youth to watch a game, have dinner and get autographs.
The program was an instant hit, so important for the Predators that they have continued it this season even though Subban is playing for another team. Predators captain Roman Josi, and alternate captains Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis are now the player representatives in the Blueline Buddies program.
"The biggest sign of respect is them continuing to do the Blueline Buddies Program after I left," said Subban, who has brought the same program to New Jersey this season. "Other than [Predators general manager] David [Poile], I really thank Roman Josi for that. It's not just Roman, I think they rotate the players who do it, but it's overwhelming and I'm so thankful for that because usually I have my initiatives that I do and I do them, but to see other players and an organization embrace it, it's awesome."
Josi credited Subban for having a significant impact on the Predators and certainly in the community, adding it will be weird to play against him.
"We had a lot of success with him on the team," Josi said "He was a big part of the organization and the community. He did a lot of work in the community. We're still doing the Blueline Buddies that he started, which is really cool. Obviously with the success we had going to the [Stanley Cup Final in 2017] and winning a Presidents' Trophy, he was a huge part of that. He definitely meant a lot."
Subban, who was traded to the Predators from the Montreal Canadiens on June 29, 2016, discussed his return to Nashville, the Devils' coaching change, and his game in a wide-ranging conversation with NHL.com prior to New Jersey's game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Prudential Center on Friday:
You said Thursday that going back to Nashville is not the same as when you went back to Montreal for the first time after the Canadiens traded you to Nashville. Why not?
"No, because Montreal, I was excited to go back and then I was just also like, 'Man, it's going to be so, so emotional.' With Nashville, it'll be emotional, but I think it'll be more fun than anything, because I had such a great relationship with all my teammates. The way I left was positive. It wasn't like negative where they're like, 'He didn't come in and do his job.' I mean, we almost won the Stanley Cup there. It's going to be fun going back and I'll be happy to see my teammates.
"I have the most respect for David Poile. I don't know man, in my hockey career I've met so many people and he almost stands alone in terms of how he's treated me and treated my family, the advice that he's given me, the way he handled me from when I came in on the trade and even through all those injuries. I almost went through the only moment in my career where I had injuries in Nashville and it was tough, you know. It was tough for them and there's a lot of pressure on them, but we worked through it and I'm just happy that I could leave there on good terms and keep it positive."
Were you there in the city of Nashville long enough to feel like you could call it home and it felt like home even for a little bit?
"Oh yeah, I still have my house there. My house is still there at The Governors Club and, to be honest with you, I don't know if I'll sell it. That'll be a collective decision between [fiancee] Lindsey [Vonn] and I if we want to do that, but I still have my house there and I loved my time there. I love playing there. It is a place that I consider home because I have so many friends there. I made so many friends in a short period of time and they'll all be coming to watch my game Saturday so I'm excited about that."
Some of those friends are from the Blueline Buddies program. Will some of them be there, the people that you personally know?
"I've spoken to the team and for me, I'm already so happy that they've continued the program, so I don't want to be picky in terms of what they do, but I know that we're going to do something before the game I think with Roman. I'm just excited that they've continued the program and whoever is there, whoever is showing support to me I'm going to be very happy. I don't know. I don't know what to really expect going Saturday, but my time there was great."
Speaking of what to expect, how do you think the fans will react?
"I don't concern myself with it, but I think it should be positive. I usually don't put too much into that but my years there were pretty good years. We had good teams and we went on good runs. I was happy to be a part of that run the first year when we almost won the Cup and I think the fans appreciate that. They have great fans there, man. Playing in front of those fans for those years was a lot of fun. Obviously, winning more hockey games and losing is fun, but playing there, it's a great hockey town and I think hockey's going to be front and center there for a very long time."
This season has not gone as you expected it to go to date. What's your reaction to that now that the coach is fired, you have no points in 15 games. How do you wrap your arms around that?
"As a team we knew that there was going to be a learning curve. I mean you could see that from the first five or six games, there's going to be a lot for us to learn. And we should have won way more games than we have right now. I think everyone in the League knows that. I think what has been tough is trying to keep that same energy, that same swagger that we had starting the season. It's a tough thing to do because it weighs on you when you don't win games. I think now it's just trying to play a certain way to give our team a chance to win games. I'm not worried about my points. I mean, is this a contract year for me? Was I expected to come in and put up 70 points?
"The reality is is our team didn't make the playoffs last year so we're trying to get to the playoffs. I try to contribute where I can. I think we've tried a lot of different things. I've played with every single defenseman on our roster. I've been kind of getting the tail-end part of the power play. First of all, if you want to generate numbers a lot of it comes from playing on the power play, but we have great players. We have a lot of young players that need to develop that are getting those opportunities. I just want to support the team in winning hockey games. That's my mindset and it hasn't happened yet, but I'm thinking that our team is going to turn this season around. I really believe we have an opportunity to do that."
Video: NJD@CAR: Subban tips home his 100th NHL goal for lead
What is your relationship like with Alain Nasreddine, who replaced Jon Hynes as coach?
"Great. I have a great relationship with [Nasreddine] and [Hynes]. I really liked [Hynes] as a person, as a coach. We have a lot of friends in common. I know a lot of his history. He's going to get another shot in the NHL. But with [Nasreddine], I have a great relationship with him. His door is always open. He did a really good job running the 'D' so I'm just trying to play as hard as I can for him and make his job easy."
This game in Nashville, is it one of those that you looked at before the season and it was immediately circled as a bigger game? As a veteran, do you still do that?
"Yeah, I knew that in December I was going go there. It's just circled because it's nice. I knew it was on a back-to-back. It always seems that my first time going back is on a back-to-back. So it's on a back-to-back but it's nice that we get to stay over Saturday night so it's not just a quick dose. I get to see some of my teammates and friends in town and celebrate with them. I have a great relationship with a lot of those players there and I'm excited to go back."
NHL.com correspondent Robby Stanley contributed to this story