Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Five star UFA homecomings

Most of the dust has settled on the first few days of free agency, and a handful of themes have emerged. Fiscal sanity is one, as teams mostly stayed away from the sort of long-term mega-deals that almost always turn out to be mistakes. As always, much of the focus was on veteran defensemen. And the UFAs were largely overshadowed by the extensions being signed by players like Carey Price, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and (any minute now) Connor McDavid.

And then there was the heartwarming storyline that emerged on day one: homecomings. Not only did players like Joe Thornton and T.J. Oshie stay with their current teams, but plenty of guys returned to franchise they'd previously starred with. That list included names like Justin Williams, Mike Cammalleri, Scott Hartnell and Patrick Sharp.

Bringing back a familiar face makes for a nice storyline, and it's almost always an easy sell for fans. But the NHL has a long history of players using free agency to return to a former team, and results have been mixed. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's a reminder that breakups happen for a reason.

So today, let's look back at five Hall of Fame stars who chose to return to their former team via free agency, and how those deals worked out for both sides.

Mark Messier, Rangers

The exit: After winning the Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994, you’d think that Messier would have been able to write his own ticket in New York. But his relationship with the Rangers' front office was always contentious, including a post-Cup holdout in 1994 that reportedly had the team thinking about trading him.

He ended up sticking around, but when free agency arrived in 1997, Messier kept his options open. Despite being widely expected to return to New York, he eventually bolted for the Canucks.

The return: It's fair to say that the Messier era did not go well in Vancouver; the whole thing was a PR disaster form Day 1, with the Rangers' great seeming to do everything short of tear the "C" off Trevor Linden's jersey and shove him onto an ice floe. By the time Messier had been bought out after three disappointing seasons, he stood as one of the most hated Canucks ever.

Meanwhile, the Rangers hadn't made the playoffs since Messier's exit. There wasn't much suspense over where he'd wind up, and he eventually signed a two-year deal, at which point he was immediately handed back the captaincy.

The result: Mixed. Messier had an impressive 67 points in his return to New York despite turning 40 during the season, and he managed to play three more seasons after that. But he never got the Rangers back to the postseason, meaning one of the greatest winners in the sport's history went his last seven seasons without appearing in a single playoff game.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

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