Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Which team can build the best lineup of players who left and came back?

It’s rerun season in the TV world. Or at least it would be, if people still watched network broadcasts instead of streaming everything. Ask your parents about it, kids. Man, I need to work on my timely references.

It’s supposed to be rerun season in the hockey world too, because there’s very little that NHL teams love more than bringing back former players from days gone by. If a guy was a star for you earlier in his career, or at least a solid player, or at least had a pulse, then you bring him back for another stint later on. The familiarity probably helps, and it’s easier to sell a new acquisition to fans if they already love and/or vaguely remember him.

Or at least, that’s usually been how it works. This year, not so much, as we haven’t seen many reruns among the headlines transactions. I kind of miss them. So today, we’re going to celebrate what might be a dying trend, as we see which team can build the best lineup of guys who had two or more stints for them.

But first, a few ground rules™:

– We’re building six-man rosters, meaning three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. Beyond that, position doesn’t matter.

– You get credit for everything a player did while he was on your team. Note that that doesn’t mean he has to have been good in both stints; a guy who was a superstar his first time around and a broken-down shell in the second is a great pick, because you’re getting him at his best. But a guy who did all his best work elsewhere isn’t a great option.

– This is the important one. To be counted as a returning player, a guy has to have played at least a game for the team in each separate stint, and played for some other NHL team in between. That means we’re not counting cases where a player may have been traded away and then quickly reacquired (like these weird deals), or guys who returned after being traded away as prospects, or stints in Europe/the WHA/the minors/war/retirement. Coming back as a coach or a scout or whatever obviously doesn’t count. And we’re certainly not counting cases where a player signed a one-day contract to “retire as a member of (whoever)”, because nobody above the age of five thinks those announcements matter.

We’ll start where we normally do for these things, with a few swings at the rich history of the Original Six teams.

New York Rangers

Man, I really thought this sort of thing would be made for the Rangers. After all, they spend decades chasing after other teams’ aging stars, so why not bring back a few of their own? And they did with arguably their biggest name ever, as Mark Messier leads our team. He’s got decent depth to help him up front, with Alexei Kovalev and Petr Nedved on his wings and Ron Duguay and Orland Kurtenbach available for depth. That’s a very solid start.

But the backend kind of falls apart. The best defencemen I can find are two guys you’ve never heard of. And in goal, I’m not sure there are any options at all apart from Doug Soetaert, who was decent but hardly a star. I might be missing a name or two somewhere, but unless it’s more than a few, the Rangers can’t ice a solid top-to-bottom roster.

Forwards: Mark Messier, Alexei Kovalev, Petr Nedved

Defensemen: Joe Cooper, Mike McMahon

Goalies: Doug Soetaert

Consider the Rangers a warning – this will be tougher than it sounds. But that’s fine, because it’s August and we’ve got nothing better to do. Let’s try another Original Six entry…

Toronto Maple Leafs

I didn’t come up with this whole concept just so I could put together a Leafs team with Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark, but I won’t pretend that I’m not thrilled it happened. Wendel had three separate stints in Toronto, which is weird because he never played for any other teams. Meanwhile, Gilmour just sneaks onto the roster thanks to playing the last few shifts of his career as a Maple Leafs before blowing out his knee in 2003.

From there, we can build a blueline out of a couple of well-known named from the Stanley Cup years (with some help from Carl Brewer’s 20-game comeback at the age of 41). I’m going with Curtis Joseph over Mike Palmateer in goal, although both are worthy options. And for my last forward spot, I’ll go with an old-time Hall-of-Famer in sniper Babe Dye, who led the early NHL in goals four times. He’s a great pick, but comes at the expense of three of the most entertaining Maple Leafs ever in Stumpy Thomas, Tie Domi and Eddie Shack.

Forwards: Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Babe Dye

Defensemen: Bob Baun, Carl Brewer

Goalies: Curtis Joseph

We’ll move to the expansion era teams, but stay in the Norris Division…

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