Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The 10 types of player/team reunions, and how often they work

Last week, we celebrated Valentines Day by encouraging you to break up. When things aren’t working out for a player on your favorite team, sometimes it’s best to just say goodbye, even if that means all sorts of ugly drama.

But there’s another side to that coin. Sometimes, two sides go their separate ways and then realize that they shouldn’t have. Often, that just leads to regret. But every now and then, everyone can swallow their pride and get back together.

That happens fairly often in the NHL. We saw it last week, when the Senators reacquired Ryan Dzingel. And we apparently came close to a much bigger example, with reports that the Penguins had given serious consideration to a reunion with Marc-Andre Fleury.

That one feels a little too perfect, and it might seem like it would inevitably work out great for everyone involved. But that’s now always how these things go, and getting back with an ex isn’t always the smartest move. Sometimes, it’s best to leave the memories alone.

So today, let’s sort through some complicated feelings about reconciliation by looking back through NHL history at some of the times that a star player has returned to familiar territory. We’ll divide them into 10 different categories, and see if some have better outcomes than others. (Spoiler alert: They do.)

The Final Bow

We’ll start with one of the most common reunions. In this case, a player spends a big chunk of their career establishing themselves as a star with a team. For whatever reason, they end up leaving, and maybe have success elsewhere. But then time catches up, and they find themselves at the tail end of their career, with maybe another season or two left in the tank.

They’re not a star like they once were, at least in any real sense beyond name value, but they can still contribute something. With the clock ticking on their career and (often) dwindling options for where to land next, they head back to the scene of their greatest success for what will probably be one last run. Not to win a Cup, since the team is bad, but just to close the door in a way that feels right.

Notable examples: Glenn Anderson in Edmonton, Curtis Joseph in Toronto, Rob Blake in Los Angeles, Kevin Lowe in Edmonton

If you’re not a fan of those teams, you might not even remember any of those comebacks. But that’s kind of the point – they’re for the player and the fan base, and nobody else even needs to know.

How it usually ends: They don’t put up great numbers, because they just can’t anymore, and the team isn’t very good. But nobody really cares, because sometimes it’s just nice to have a familiar face back in the fold.

Unfinished Business

A modified version of the The Final Bow, this category is another that sees a player return to a former team late in his career. But this time, while the player may not be the star he was in his prime, he’s returning to a contender. This isn’t about a bad team getting some sympathy PR by bringing back a familiar name. Instead, it’s a good team with Stanley Cup aspirations bringing back a name from the past as, they hope, one of the final pieces of a championship puzzle.

Notable examples: Doug Gilmour in Toronto, Dave Andreychuk in Buffalo, Justin Williams in Carolina, Sandis Ozolinsh in San Jose, Dominik Hasek in Detroit, Denis Savard in Chicago, Rick Tocchet in Phialdelphia

Also, Michal Handzus in Chicago at the 2013 deadline, although I’m not sure he really counts since he’d only played a few games there the first time.

How it usually ends: There are a wide range of outcomes here. Hasek and Handzus won Cups, albeit in diminished roles. Williams helped the Hurricanes get back to the playoffs, and they had a nice run. At the other end of the spectrum, Gilmour blew out in knee in his first game back with the Leafs and never played again. In between, you just hope the returning player will occasionally show you a few flashes of what they were in their prime, and maybe help you win a key game or two.

Unfinished Business, except it’s the Devils

Yeah, they get their own category.

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