The One That Got Away: 10 Players Whose Former Teams Would Love to Get Them Back
Every year there are dozens of trades and waiver-wire acquisitions in the NHL. Perhaps not as many as we would like come deadline day, but still plenty of activity.
Add to that the yearly frenzy to sign free agents on July 1, and there is significant roster movement in the NHL.
Here is a look at 10 players who changed teams in the past year and who would be in a position to help their former team this year... if they hadn't been shipped out of town. Hindsight is 20-20 after all.
Hands up if your team could use a versatile center who can also play wing, who can put up a point per game (three goals, six assists in nine games) and play both sides of special teams? Oh, and he makes less than a million a year as well.
Yeah, I thought so.
Twenty-nine teams passed on Brendan Morrison this last summer. The former Washington Capital was cut loose as a free agent on July 1, and went the whole summer without a serious offer.
The BC native then accepted a tryout contact with the Vancouver Canucks and performed well through the preseason. But there just wasn't room on Vancouver's roster to fit him in.
*The tryout was more about GM Mike Gillis honouring a Canucks alumni by letting him showcase his talents in the preseason than it was about him seriously making the Canucks, who were set with Henrik Sedin (reigning Art Ross/Hart winner), Ryan Kesler (Selke nominee) and Manny Malhotra (one of the best faceoff men in the league) at center. He did the same thing with Dave Scatchard the year before.
But still, even if you rule out Vancouver, 29 teams had a chance to pick up Morrison after scouting him in the preseason, and only the Calgary Flames came knocking on his door.
At the time of this article, Morrison is in the top 30 for scoring in the NHL, and who couldn't use that on their team? Especially at his cap hit?
This move is almost enough to excuse some of Sutter's other eccentricities this summer.
The Red Wings let this Finnish forward go on Feb. 6 in exchange for a questionable defenseman (Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, currently playing in Europe) and a fifth-round pick. Usually, you don't see Detroit come out on the bad side of a trade. But this is one that could haunt them.
Leino exploded in the 2009-2010 playoffs for the Flyers, putting up 21 points in 19 playoff games. To start off the 2010-2011 regular season, he has six points in nine games.
This is a trade the Red Wings probably wouldn't mind a mulligan on.
This one is puzzling.
Grabner is a speedy sniper, but one who plays a perimeter game and needs more NHL experience. Still, he did score 11 points (five goals, six assists) for the Vancouver Canucks last season, and would have scored more if a pre-game soccer mishap hadn't caused him to suffer a broken ankle.
Florida GM Dave Tallon traded Keith Ballard for Steve Bernier and Grabner (a few other spare parts were involved), but then in a head-scratching move, Tallon put Grabner on waivers after a lackluster training camp. Why trade for a player, then waive him?
The Islanders promptly snatched him up, and Grabner has a pair of goals to date playing in New York.
The Panthers are currently 14th in the East and Grabner could have helped them, either on the ice or as as trading chip.
As part of their annual shuffling of the deck chairs, the San Jose Sharks again tried to change their fate by tinkering with their depth lines, rather than the obvious problems. They let Manny Malhotra go as a UFA and he promptly signed with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1.
Malhotra was one of the best faceoff men in the NHL last season and he has continued that trend so far this year. Logan Couture leads the Sharks with 59-percent, good for 14th in the NHL. Malhotra leads the NHL with a staggering 66.2-percent.
Playing a puck possession game, wouldn't the Sharks have been better off keeping Malhotra in the fold? Especially given that he went to another rival in the West.
I'm going to continue picking on the Sharks for one more slide.
During the offseason, they parted ways with their longtime starting goaltender, Evgeni Nabokov. The Sharks replaced him with the tandem of Antero Niitymaki and Antti Niemi.
Nabokov was the Sharks franchise leader in wins and shutouts, and he was the second goalie in NHL history to record three consecutive 40-plus win seasons. Last year, he was 44-16-10 before being shown the door by the Sharks.
Currently Nabokov is playing in the KHL and the Sharks are 4-3-1 to start the season, good for 11th in the West. They are sitting at 17th in the NHL with 2.88 goals-against per game.
Perhaps goaltending wasn't the weak point that needed to be addressed?
One the NHL's better shut-down defensemen, Mitchell saw his season end last year after a hit from Evgeni Malkin ran his head into the boards. Or maybe he didn't see it, because he spent the next six months struggling with post-concussion symptoms, including light sensitivity. But you get the idea.
Unfortunately for Mitchell, the concussion couldn't have come at a worse time career-wise, as he was entering free agency. There weren't a lot of teams interested due to the concussion, but the San Jose Sharks, Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks were all interested.
However, those three teams only offered one-year contracts, hedging their bets about Mitchell's health. The Los Angeles Kings offered a multi-year deal.
The Kings now have Mitchell patrolling the blue line and backing up Drew Doughty. Any of the other three teams involved could have used Mitchell so far this season.
The Sharks need help on the blue line, period. The Canucks are again ravaged with injuries (Salo, Ballard, Hamhuis, Alberts) and the Capitals don't have a big-name defenseman that actually knows what to do in his own zone (I love Mike Green in my hockey pool, but he is a defenseman in name only).
Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 31 by his former GM, Brian Burke, Giguere quickly improved the goaltending depth in Toronto.
A former Stanley Cup winner in Anaheim, as well as the only active player to have received the Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) award as a player on the losing team, Giguere had been dethroned as Anaheim's starter by Jonas Hiller, and then was shipped out of town.
So far this season, Giguere is 4-1-1 with a 2.30 GAA, and Hiller is 3-4 with a 3.26 GAA. The Ducks are 25th in the NHL standings and the Maple Leafs are at 11th currently.
Salary-cap issues aside, I know which goalie has looked better this year.
The Atlanta Thrashers declined to accept McArthur's salary-arbitration award, and he subsequently signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Scoring six goals in his first nine games, including five in his first four games, McArthur has become a fan favorite in Toronto this October.
What adds insult to injury for Atlanta fans is that the Thrashers actually traded for McArthur, sending third-and-fourth-round picks to Buffalo on March 3.
And now McArthur is in a position to help his new team pass his old team in the hunt for a playoff spot in the East.
Sheldon Souray is still a part of the Edmonton Oilers organization, but only in a technical sense.
After a disaster of a season in 2009-2010, Souray spoke out publicly against the organization and demanded a trade.
When no trade-partner was found, he then again publicly stated he would be willing to join the Oilers in training camp. Awfully big of him to humble himself to honor his contract, wasn't it? Maybe he was taking PR tips from Dany Heatley.
The Oilers weren't amused, and waived Souray. Again, there were no takers for a malcontent with a history of injury problems and a large cap hit, despite his skills.
Currently Souray is toiling in the AHL and it is doubtful he will ever return to the NHL, given his cap hit.
So this one counts as one that got away from the Oilers, as they are denied both Souray's talents on ice or whatever assets they could have gotten in a trade for him.
*You could also consider Wade Redden and the New York Rangers as a similar story.
This last slide is a case where a team was actually better off letting a player get away.
Ilya Kovalchuk is a great sniper. But he was demanding Alex Ovechkin money, so Atlanta traded him to the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 4, picking up a serviceable defenseman (Johnny Oduya), a good rookie forward (Niclas Bergfors) and a talented prospect in Patrice Cormier, as well as a first-round pick.
New Jersey on the other hand was bounced from the first round of the playoffs (again). And then the Devils proceeded to bore the rest of the hockey world with the Kovalchuk contract saga.
Eventually Kovalchuk was signed, the Devils were fined for violating the CBA, and all was well.
Except that due to salary cap problems caused by his new contract, Kovalchuk has a lot of space on the bench to himself, because the Devils can't dress a full lineup (And the Devils are looking at more fines/sanctions from the NHL for violating the CBA).
Kovalchuk has three goals and three assists in nine games, is the proud owner of a minus-four rating, and has been a healthy scratch.
The Thrashers are 10th in the East and rebuilding nicely, the Devils are 15th and spinning their wheels. In this case, the Thrashers won by getting rid of Kovalchuk.
*The LA Kings were also involved in the Kovalchuk saga as his other UFA suitor, and they walked away from his contract demands. The Kings are the top team in the NHL standings, so maybe they won by letting him go too.