Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Comeback kids: Eight NHL stars who came home

The most surprising move from last week’s trade deadline was the deal that sent Roberto Luongo and his supposedly untradable contract to the Florida Panthers in exchange for goalie Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias.

Beyond being a massive shakeup for the Canucks, the trade marks a homecoming for Luongo. While he was drafted and played his rookie season with the New York Islanders, he first established himself as an NHL star over the course of five seasons as a Panther. Now, eight years after the trade that sent him to Vancouver, he finds himself back in Florida, where he’ll presumably finish his career.

That puts him in some pretty good company. More than a few NHL stars have eventually found their way back to teams where they’d made their names to spend their final seasons. Sometimes it worked out great. Sometimes it didn’t.

What does the future hold for Luongo? It’s hard to say, but we can draw some clues from the stories of these eight examples from the NHL history books of stars returning home.

Let’s Never Speak of This Again: Mark Messier and the New York Rangers

First Time Through: Messier was already a star after a decade (and five Cups) in Edmonton, but it was the trade to the Rangers on the eve of the 1991-92 season that transformed him into a league icon. He won the Hart Trophy as MVP in his first season in New York. By 1994, he’d won something even more important.

By the time he reached free agency in 1997, he was pretty much unanimously viewed as the greatest leader in hockey, if not all of sports, and was assumed to be a Ranger for life.

How He Left: The Rangers showed a surprising lack of urgency in retaining their 36-year-old captain, and the Canucks put on a full-court press to lure Messier out of New York and reunite him with coach Mike Keenan. They got their man, signing Messier to a shocking five-year deal that paid him $6 million a season.

Upon arriving in Vancouver, Messier was immediately handed the captaincy at the expense of the popular Trevor Linden. He was also given his trademark no. 11, even though it had been considered unofficially retired since Canucks player Wayne Maki had died of cancer in 1974. Then Messier led the team to a grand total of zero playoff appearances in three seasons.

The Return: Messier’s disastrous stint in Vancouver was cut short when the Canucks bought him out (a move that led to a multimillion-dollar legal battle, which Messier finally won in 2012). The Rangers re-signed him and gave him back the captaincy, at which point he guaranteed he’d lead the team back to the playoffs. He did not, though he did play reasonably effectively for four more years.

The Legacy: Canucks fans hate him. Rangers fans just pretend the whole thing never happened.

A Captain Comes Home: Trevor Linden and the Vancouver Canucks

First Time Through: Linden was the second-overall pick in the 1988 draft, and made his Canucks debut that year as an 18-year-old. He’d spend a decade in Vancouver, earning a reputation as a workhorse and regular 30-goal scorer. In 1991, the 21-year-old became the youngest captain in franchise history, and in 1994 he led the team to within one game of a Stanley Cup.

How He Left: So like I was saying, Canucks fans really, really hate Mark Messier.

After handing his captaincy over the Messier in 1997, Linden lasted just a few more months before a feud with Keenan made his departure inevitable. In February, he was traded to the Islanders for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe, and a draft pick.

That was actually a pretty decent haul, as Bertuzzi and McCabe both developed into All-Stars. After giving up that much to get him, the Islanders got one full season out of Linden before flipping him to the Canadiens for a draft pick that turned out to be Branislav Mezei because, hey, Mike Milbury. Linden lasted less than a year in Montreal before another trade sent him to Washington.

The Return: In November, 2001, the Capitals dealt Linden back to Vancouver for draft picks. He’d play six more years as a Canuck before retiring in 2008 as the franchise’s all-time leader in games played. His final game in Vancouver featured a lengthy standing ovation, after which Flames captain Jarome Iginla led his team over to shake Linden’s hand in a show of respect.

The Legacy: Seriously, tell the next Canucks fan you see that you think Mark Messier was a better leader than Trevor Linden. You’ll be on fire before you hit the floor.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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