Way back at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, the Montreal Canadiens used their 43rd overall pick to select a dynamic defensemen from the Belleville Bulls. Tuesday, 15 years later, Pernell Karl Subban announced his retirement from professional hockey, leaving the game perhaps earlier than most would have expected.
When I saw the news, I knew I had to write something. I didn’t know what, or how to approach it at all, so I figure the best thing for me to do is to address this directly to the man of the hour.
I can’t speak for all Habs fans, but I hope to convey how much you mean to many of us.
I started writing for Habs Eyes on the Prize back in 2012. I’ve been a Habs fan since birth, but the disappointment of the 2000s had caused my passion to fade somewhat. They let my childhood hero, Saku Koivu, just walk out the door. I needed new heroes, or that passion I’ve had since I could walk may have faded even more.
Filling Koivu’s massive shoes was no easy task, but yourself and Carey Price somehow managed to do it.
I suppose it all started during that magical 2010 playoff run. I saw hope in what you were able to accomplish, having played just two regular season games, yet still becoming a legitimate contributor on a team that had no business doing what it did. I saw the future of my team in you.
Carey hadn’t yet ascended to his rightful place, but I believed that he would. That belief, and seeing you become an impact player in what wasn’t even your rookie season... I was all-in once again. I believed that great things were to come.
And the two of you did not disappoint in the slightest.
You inspired me to start writing about the team that I love. In my first season, you went out and won the Norris Trophy after a lockout threatened to take that season from us entirely. We didn’t get far in the playoffs that year, but I don’t think I had ever felt that level of excitement about what the team might be able to accomplish, and what you had already accomplished.
And with Carey on the come up, some of the most exciting times I’ve had as a Habs fan were authored by the two of you. Every triple-low-five, and every game we had no business winning that ended with one, brought me closer to those days where I’d pretend I was Saku Koivu in my driveway. I was a little too old at this point to pretend to be anyone in the driveway, but with the sheer anticipation of something great happening every time you touched the puck, it would have been you.
And of course, every playoff series was more thrilling than the last, and some of the most exciting moments in Canadiens history came courtesy of a certain number 76. Who else could have unleashed a ferocious clapper in game one of a playoff series against the Boston Bruins?
And who else could have authored a moment like this in that very same series? A moment that countless Habs fans still go back to when they need that feeling of elation?
If I were to post every highlight, it would take our readers all day to scroll through the endless list of electrifying plays that you provided during your time here. I can’t recall a player during my lifetime that brought every fan in the Bell Centre to their feet as you could. We needed that. I needed that.
I still believe that if Carey hadn’t been injured in the 2014 playoffs, I’d have seen the two of you lift the Stanley Cup. We’ll never know for sure, but I can say with conviction that I believed in that team more than I had any team in a long time. You were a massive part of that.
Of course there were ups and downs. Chants of “We want P.K.” rained down from the Bell Centre faithful in the 2014 pre-season as you were away from the team without a contract. We didn’t know when we’d see you again. It didn’t sound like the negotiations were going well, and the fans were letting management know that we wanted you back.
At the eleventh hour, the deal was announced. An eight-year contract, solidifying that you’d be a part of this team for the foreseeable future. I was thrilled, and I was stunned by the generosity of your $10 million commitment to the Montreal Children’s hospital thereafter. After everything you’d done on the ice, you were able to parlay that into a significant impact for the city away from it.
I flew into what can only be described as an unhinged rage when the team traded you to Nashville. Looking back now, maybe that trade worked out for everyone involved, but at that moment, there was no desire to even try and understand it on my part. It was like watching them walk Koivu out the door all over again, and I couldn’t stand it.
But you stuck with your commitment to the hospital. You remained an important figure in Montreal. When you returned to the Bell Centre, it was to a standing ovation. Your continued devotion to the city of Montreal taught me that players may come and go, but their legacy lies in what they leave behind. The way you carried yourself in the wake of that trade helped me come to terms with it.
I always believed that maybe you’d come back one day. Now, I know that it won’t be as a player, but the city still loves you, and will never forget all of your contributions on and off the ice. I hope you know that neither the trade, nor your retirement could ever erase what you gave us.
I hope you know that you inspired a generation of Habs fans, nay a generation of hockey fans. You inspired me, I am immeasurably grateful for the memories that you left for us here in Montreal, and the lasting impact you’ve had on the city that I love.
Thank you. For all of it.