There’s No Place Like Home: Pacific Division Homecomings

There’s No Place Like Home: Pacific Division Homecomings
Christopher Hair

Thursday night had some games of important note. The Florida Panthers traveled to former Southeast Division opponent Winnipeg to take on the Jets with both teams in heated battles for the final playoff spot in each conference. The Predators look for a second straight win as they travel to San Jose to take on the Sharks, who need a win for their flickering playoff hopes. The defending Stanley Cup Champion L.A. Kings make their way to Vancouver in a battle for division positioning. There is another western conference matchup on Thursday, a game with little playoff importance but a nice story: the Chicago Blackhawks visiting Glendale for the only time this season to take on the Arizona Coyotes. This game will center around Antoine Vermette‘s desert homecoming.

Vermette was traded just before the NHL Trade Deadline on February 28th. The Coyotes sent him to Chicago for the Hawks’ 2015 1st round pick and defenseman Klas Dahlbeck. Chicago needed a forward after Patrick Kane’s unfortunate injury and the Coyotes were active sellers looking to move an unrestricted free agent. Both teams got what they needed from this trade, if not what they wanted.

In a perfect world, the Coyotes are competing for the playoffs and Antoine Vermette is part of the engine that is driving them towards that goal. He was a fan favorite and the MVP of a 2014 Coyote team that just missed the playoffs. He was a major cog of the only Coyote team to win a playoff series since the franchise moved from Winnipeg, helping the 2012 version of the Yotes reach the Western Conference Finals. He should be in the process of signing a contract extension to stay longer in the Valley of the Sun, but this isn’t a perfect world. This is the real world and reality finally set in on the Coyotes as a franchise and so Vermette was traded.

Antoine Vermette isn’t exactly synonymous with the Coyote franchise. He has actually played more games with both the Ottawa Senators and the Columbus Blue Jackets. He scored 53 goals and 111 points in 215 games with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes, but his two way game and his face-off dominance endeared him to the fanbase. Keith Yandle arguably was more important to the team and the franchise, but somehow Vermette’s absence stings a little more. Partly because Yandle has been trade bait for years. But Vermette could have, and with a different season, would have been retained.

He isn’t the only player to leave the Coyotes via trade because the team around him wasn’t good. Keith Tkachuk was traded at the 2001 trade deadline. Daniel Briere was dealt at the 2013 deadline (along with a pick that became Andrej Sekera) for Chris Gratton. Teppo Numminen was traded in the summer of 2013 to Dallas as the Coyotes entered a stretch of futility that saw them miss the playoffs for six straight seasons.

The Coyotes struggled after trading Teppo Numminen.

Unlike these other players, Vermette played the Coyotes fairly quickly after the trade in the arena he used to call home. Tkachuk returned to Phoenix as a Blue in December of 2001 and was held scoreless. It took Briere almost six years to return to the desert and it was with his second team after the trade. He was with the Flyers in a 3-1 loss on November 21, 2009, adding no points. Numminen returned with the Stars on January 31st, 2004, but couldn’t score, like the others.

From a historic perspective, the odds weren’t with Vermette having a good night against the Coyotes in Gila River Arena. But that is just for returning Coyotes. What about looking at notable returns for players from the other teams in the Pacific Division over the last 15 seasons?

This is a breakdown of the performance of at one significant player that was traded from each of the current Pacific Division teams since the year 2000. To clarify, I am not suggesting that Antoine Vermette is at the same level as some of the players on this list, but that he was a significant player for whatever reason for the franchise like these other players.

Player Team Played For Games Played Points Trade Date Return Date Points in Return Result
Teemu Selanne Anaheim 394 482 03/05/01 04/08/01 1 A W
Jarome Iginla Calgary 1219 1095 03/28/13 12/10/13^ 0 P W
Ryan Smyth Edmonton 770 549 02/27/07 10/23/07^ 0 P W
Rob Blake Los Angeles 662 429 02/21/01 01/26/02 2 A W
Owen Nolan San Jose 568 451 03/05/03 11/15/03 0 P Tie
Ryan Kesler Vancouver 696 393 06/27/14 11/20/14 0 P W
Jeff Friesen* San Jose 512 350 03/05/01 03/29/01 1 A L

None of these players scored a goal in their first game back in their old stomping grounds. Surprisingly, Rob Blake leads the list in points, getting two assists in his return to Hollywood.

It’s surprising because he is a defenseman on a list with some impressive scoring forwards. Also of interest is the record, with the returning player getting the conquering hero tribute with a 5-1-1 record. The only loss belongs to Jeff Friesen, whom I included because he was the Sharks’ first major player and because he and Selanne were the main components of the trade involving each other.

Vermette continued this fine tradition. He didn’t score in his return to the Valley, but the Blackhawks won and Vermette was given a grand reception. While it is a bit odd to see him in the number 80 sweater, Coyotes fans can take some semblance of comfort in another fact.

Teemu Selanne, Ryan Smyth and Rob Blake all returned at a future point to their former franchises. Owen Nolan and Friesen became vagabonds of sorts. The books haven’t yet closed on either Jarome Iginla or Ryan Kesler, although the likelihood of the former Canuck being welcomed back into the fold are remote.

* – Traded from San Jose to Anaheim in deal for Temmu Selanne.

^ – Returned with a different team than he was traded to.

Christopher Hair

Christopher Hair has been an avid hockey fan for 20 years. He grew up on the Hollywood Kings of the late 80’s and early 90’s with Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Kelly Hrudey, and Luc Robitaille. Growing up in Glendale, Arizona he is living proof that hockey fans can be made and come from the desert. He is also an editor for Five for Howling.

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