"Home is where the heart is," declares the traditional idiom, and P.K. Subban is ready to vouch for it.
The Nashville Predators defenseman, who was traded from perhaps the epicenter of hockey in Montreal to Music City on June 29, 2016, has found more than just a place to rest his head in one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. He's also found a city to love, and as the old saying says - a new home.
"I love it. I love it," said Subban of Nashville. "It's different. It's different from Toronto, where I'm from, it's different from Montreal where I played for six years. I just love it. My friends like it. They like it too much, I can't keep them out of the city."
Of course also implied in the principal of being able to find a home in new places is leaving former cities that feel like hometowns.
That's the challenge that faces Subban this week as he returns to city that drafted and developed him and became his first "second home" for the opening six years of his career. From 2010 to last year, the 27-year-old defenseman put down roots in Montreal which still feel freshly unearthed after being dealt away from a city where he donated $10 million to the Montreal Children's Hospital, won a Norris Trophy and skated as one of the Canadiens' most popular players. Now it's become a former second home that he'll only be able to pay brief visits to.
Video: P.K. Subban speaks on emotional return to Montreal
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to go back to the hospital," Subban said. "That was the first thing we circled on my calendar when I came to Nashville is when would be the first time we'd be back in Montreal and when would be the next time I'd be able to see the kids, doctors and nurses and the parents and families that are there. To show the commitment and the support that I made, it's important to me, but it's important to the city, to my team and my family."
An NHL defenseman who is often known equally for his work away from the rink as his dynamic plays on the ice, Subban has focused on bringing several of the charity elements he established in Montreal to Nashville as well. In December, the debut of the Subban Sleigh marked one example of giving to children in need in Subban's new home, while also maintaining a relationship with patients at the Montreal Children's Hospital.
Subban said he thinks players, "have to have a balance" in maintaining the relationship between hockey and life, and for him it's meant investing heavily in his current stop, whether that's Toronto, Montreal or Nashville. Still, the matter of coming to - and fitting into - a new team with lofty championship aspirations was step No. 1 for Subban starting in July, and he wanted to make it clear that was his focus.
"The first thing that I wanted to do after the trade - obviously I felt so many emotions - but the No. 1 thing that was the most important to me was my teammates, the coaching staff and the organization, that they knew that I was embracing the opportunity to come and play here in Nashville," Subban said. "Everything after that has just been no short of amazing, just from the fan base, the community."
Missing 16 games across December and January with an upper-body injury put a halt in Subban's acclimation to Nashville's defense, which thinks it has the talent to be the No. 1 unit in the League. Since returning to the ice from the club's mandatory five-day break on Feb. 18, however, things are starting to look more like how he envisioned they would prior to the campaign.
A recent four-game assist streak and goal against the Calgary Flames have helped the Predators to a 5-1-1 stretch coming out of the break. More importantly, Subban et al, have the Nashville defense heating up leading into their playoff push. Roman Josi paces all NHL defenseman with 16 points in the month of February, while Subban is fourth with 12.
"I think that we've been great. I think that we're continuing to learn about each other - I know I am because I'm new into the fold," Subban said. "I think what makes our D corps so great and so dangerous, we have six, seven, eight guys that can play and can interchange. We can change based on other teams and our system and what we want to do… I think you'd be hardpressed to find a D corps in the League that has as much skill as ours has."
Currently in third place in the Central Division, the Preds are clawing for points during the final six weeks of the season and that's the easiest thing to focus on, said Subban. If he lets his thoughts dwell too much on the emotions of returning to a former home, the importance of victory and two points fade to the background. And that's not something anyone in the Nashville lineup wants.
"The feelings going back, [I'm] excited, we're a solid hockey team right now," Subban said. "We're in a position where we want to get the ball rolling. We've already started that, it's going to be a big game. It will be an emotional one and people are going to talk about the trade, but those two points, those are going to be two very, very important points for both teams. I think that will add to the game as well and making it fun to watch, but for me personally, I'm just going to go into it with an open mind and take everything in stride, but enjoy it.
"I gave everything that I had for those six years when I played [in Montreal]. From being drafted in 2007 and doing everything that I could to make the team, wearing the jersey with pride, respecting the fans and the legacy of the Montreal Canadiens and the history. The relationships with Jean Beliveau and his beautiful wife, Madame Beliveau, and to have those things, you really have to cherish those friendships for a lifetime."
Subban said "anyone that's important to me or cares about me" will be in attendance at the Bell Centre on March 2 for his return. And that's what makes the day so unique. The blueliner will visit the children's hospital while he's there, he'll receive the Meritorious Service Decorations from the Governor General of Canada honoring his charitable efforts and he'll play a hockey game. But that won't make Montreal home again. The host city of the Habs will always be a former hometown, because Subban's home is now in a new place. It's in a new city, with a new team and a new fan base.
That's where his heart is after all.
"I'm just excited. I think our team is playing some great hockey of late and that's where the focus is," Subban said. "I really enjoy Nashville and now our team is really starting to click, so it's been great."