We love to romanticize the idea of a great player spending his whole career with one franchise. But some of the greatest franchise icons have finished their careers with other teams, and it hasn’t tarnished their respective legacies.
There’s been a lot of talk about legacy lately with Daniel Alfredsson signing a one-day deal to retire as an Ottawa Senator, and Martin Brodeur joining the St. Louis Blues after serving as the face of the New Jersey Devils for two decades. It’s odd to see Brodeur with the Bluenote on his jersey and mask, and it was strange to see Daniel Alfredsson skating for the Detroit Red Wings last season. But as hurt as some fans were by the Brodeur and Alfredsson defections, the history books will still remember them for what they accomplished with the franchises they came to represent. We saw that already in Alfredsson’s retirement ceremony in Ottawa on Thursday, and we’ll see it again with Brodeur when he hangs up his pads.
Just consider these other franchise players who finished their careers with other teams. Their legacies remain intact, and their final seasons played elsewhere are little more than trivia question fodder nowadays.
1. Bobby Orr Legendary Boston Bruins defenceman Bobby Orr scored more goals and assists per game than any other blueliner in history. He won eight Norris Trophies, two Art Ross Trophies, three consecutive Hart Trophies, two Conn Smythe Trophies and two Stanley Cups, among many, many other awards during his 10 seasons in Boston. His mid-air 1970 Stanley Cup-winning goal is immortalized forever in hockey history, and there’s a bronze statue of it in front of TD Garden in Boston. Simply put, he was the greatest Boston Bruin player of all time. But he didn’t retire a Bruin, and he left Boston under shady circumstances. Orr’s stellar career was cut short by knee injuries, and he was a shadow of his former self in his final four years in the league. He played an injury-plagued 10 games with Boston in 1975-76, then signed with Chicago the following season after some clandestine shenanigans from his agent, Alan Eagleson. Orr’s departure from Boston was an icky situation made worse by the revelation years later that, unbeknownst to Orr, the Bruins had offered him an ownership stake in an effort to keep him in Boston. Eagleson never told Orr about the ownership offer, and Orr ultimately signed in Chicago. Orr missed the entire 1977-78 season and played only 26 games in a Chicago uniform over three years before his knee problems put him out of the game for good. But more than three decades later, we all remember him for what he did in Boston.
2. Gordie Howe If seeing the face of your franchise play for another team feels strange, imagine how odd it would be to see him playing in another league. That’s what happened when 25-year Detroit Red Wings star Gordie Howe came out of retirement in 1973 to play with his sons in the WHA. It was a shocking move by one of the NHL’s biggest stars, and a huge signing for the Houston Aeros of the upstart WHA. Howe had squabbled with the Red Wings over his contract in his final days in Detroit, and he was dissatisfied with the front office role they gave him after he retired. So when the WHA came calling – and when they offered him a chance to play with his sons at age 44 – Mr. Hockey was eager to start a new chapter in his life, away from Hockeytown. Nevertheless, Howe’s six seasons in the WHA did nothing to tarnish his Detroit legacy. If anything, Howe’s turn in the WHA only added to his reputation as Mr. Hockey. It allowed him to set a record as the oldest player to play the game professionally, and eventually led to his NHL return in 1979. That’s when his Hartford Whalers joined the league during the WHA absorption. Howe played one season with the Hartford Whalers, but he’ll always be a Red Wing in hockey fans’ eyes. And while Howe and the Wings may have parted on awkward terms in the 1970s, there’s no denying he’s still beloved in Detroit. He’s got his own bronze statue outside Joe Louis Arena, and the Red Wings have long supported him through his current health struggles.
3. Mike Modano
He may have been drafted by the Minnesota North Stars, but Mike Modano really became the face of his franchise when it moved to Dallas in 1993. Not only did he lead the Stars on the ice, but he was instrumental in establishing their presence off it as an ambassador for hockey in Texas. The Hall of Famer starred in Dallas for 16 seasons, and helped lead the franchise to its only Stanley Cup win in 1999. He was named captain of the squad in 2003, and holds the franchise record for goals (557), assists (802), points (1,359) and games played (1,459). Those accomplishments were front and center earlier this year when Modano was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Less talked about was his final season, an injury-plagued 40-game turn in a Detroit Red Wings uniform in 2010-11. Modano scored only four goals and 15 points that year. It was an inglorious end for Modano, who had signed in Detroit because he longed for the chance to play for his hometown team. But Modano wrote his legacy with the Dallas Stars, and that’s how he was remembered during his Hall of Fame induction last month.
4. Mats Sundin
He may have been drafted by the Quebec Nordiques, but Mats Sundin would come to be defined by his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sundin arrived in Toronto in 1994 with big shoes to fill. The Leafs had to give up fan favourite Wendel Clark to get him, but Sundin proved himself to be well worth trading for. Sundin set franchise records in goals (420) and points (987) as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and captained the team to one of its greatest periods of sustained playoff success in the last quarter-century. But that playoff success didn’t last forever, and when the Leafs slipped out of post-season contention in 2007-08, they asked their aging captain to help jump-start their rebuild. What followed was an acrimonious few months in Toronto, as GM Cliff Fletcher pushed Sundin to waive his no-trade clause so he could be dealt for prospects to help the Maple Leaf rebuild. Sundin refused and played out the remainder of his contract that season. He then sat out much of the following year to ponder retirement, before finally signing on with the Vancouver Canucks. Sundin would score nine goals and 28 points in 41 regular season games with the Canucks, and added three goals and eight points in the playoffs before finally calling it a career. Despite Sundin’s awkward end in Toronto and his brief stint in Vancouver, the Leafs organization honoured him by raising his No. 13 to the rafters in 2012. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame that same year.
5. Brian Leetch
The smooth-skating and cerebral Brian Leetch won a Stanley Cup in New York and had his No. 2 retired by the Rangers in 2008, but he actually wore two different jerseys following his salad days with the Rangers. The New York Rangers shipped Leetch off to Toronto at the 2004 trade deadline as part of a series of moves to make the team younger. Leetch would go on to help the Maple Leafs to the playoffs in the last season before the lockout, and signed with the Boston Bruins when the NHL returned to action in 2005. But Leetch’s greatest moments came with New York, including his Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy wins in 1994. Leetch isthe second-leading scorer among defencemen in Rangers history, and played more games for the Blueshirts than any other blueliner. Leetch’s best season came in 1991-92, when he scored a 22 goal and 102 points for the Blueshirts. His 106 powerplay goals with Rangers were also tops in team history. Those are the numbers he’s remembered for – not his five-goal, 32-point single season in Boston. Leetch served as the Rangers’ captain from 1997-2000, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.