Before the ink was even dry on John Tavares’ seven-year, $77-million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders fans were rushing to their calendars to circle one date in particular. On Feb. 28, 2019, Tavares, who some fans felt had spurned the Islanders, was set to return to Long Island. And when the day finally came, boy, did the Islanders faithful let Tavares have it.
But while Tavares’ return to New York was of the rain-down-boos variety, there were others which were much more warm. Take Erik Karlsson’s return to Ottawa on Dec. 1, 2018, for instance. That night, Senators fans saluted the former captain and one of the greatest players in franchise history by giving him an ovation the moment he stepped foot on the ice. He was feted, as he should have been, for what he gave to the organization.
Now, there may not have been any player movements that were quite as monumental as those of Tavares and Karlsson last off-season, but already there are a few players who are in line for a welcome home that could either get awfully heated or see a minutes-long tribute video met with sustained applause and cheering.
Here are five returns to watch for next season:
BLUE JACKETS FANS ANGRY WITH ARTEMI? – Dec. 5, 2019
This will be a tricky one. There doesn’t seem to be all that much ill will between Blue Jackets fans and Panarin, and it’s not as if he left in a fashion that was so dramatic the fanbase will never forgive him. He didn’t demand a trade out of town and Columbus chose to hold onto him through the deadline instead of moving him. That worked out, with the Blue Jackets winning their first playoff round in franchise history.
However, Panarin was given a pretty sizeable offer by Columbus and he turned it down to go to a divisional rival. By the sounds of things, the Blue Jackets’ offer was larger than the one he eventually accepted from the New York Rangers, too. Maybe that’ll be enough for Blue Jackets fans to turn on Panarin. One way or another, though, there’s going to be a reaction.
It won’t be long after Panarin’s return that the Blue Jackets welcome home another former player, either. On Dec. 31, Sergei Bobrovsky will return to Columbus with the Florida Panthers. That return seems as though it is guaranteed to be pleasant, though. The netminder gave the Blue Jackets seven remarkable years.
DUCKS WELCOME PERRY HOME – Jan. 9, 2020
It was a dollars-and-cents decision by the Ducks to buy out Corey Perry. Though he had played 988 games with the franchise and left town as the team's games-played leader, he was carrying an $8.625-million cap hit to contribute fewer than 20 goals and about 50 points per season. It was simply an overpayment that an aging Anaheim squad could no longer afford, particularly if it wanted to start the process of turning over the roster.
That doesn’t mean the Ducks weren’t and aren’t immensely thankful for what Perry did for the organization, though. He won the Hart Trophy, Rocket Richard Trophy and Stanley Cup while in Anaheim, he was a cornerstone of the franchise alongside Ryan Getzlaf and the two formed one of the most dynamic duos in Ducks history, a pair that ranks up there with Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya.
Perry could be a pest during his time in Anaheim and there are those from opposing teams who would have accused him of having a cold heart. It’ll be warmed in early January, though. Count on that.
PAVELSKI RETURNS TO ‘SHARK TANK’ – Jan. 11, 2020
Pavelski’s departure from San Jose wasn’t due to some fractious relationship or a trade demand or anything like that. Instead, it was the sad reality of the salary cap era. With the signing of Erik Karlsson and the need to bring back Timo Meier, the Sharks simply didn’t have the spending room to keep Pavelski in town, particularly not on the kind of three-year, $21-million pact he signed with the Dallas Stars.
It’s because of that, though, that this stands to be one of those outings where there will be substantial onion cutting, so to speak. Once the tribute video runs – you can bet it's going to be a long one, maybe even one that includes the former Sharks captain’s overtime heroics against the Stars in the 2008 post-season – there will be a raucous ovation and there's a chance there won't be a dry eye in the house.
TROUBA MAKES TRIP BACK TO WINNIPEG – Feb. 11, 2020
At the best of times, the Winnipeg faithful can be a tough crowd. So, saying Trouba probably isn’t in for a warm welcome might be a significant understatement. Make no mistake: it has nothing at all to do with Trouba’s on-ice play. Not one bit. During his time with the Jets, Trouba was everything he promised to be when he came to Winnipeg through the University of Michigan. He grew into a steady, top-pairing rearguard who could put points on the board and play a physical brand of hockey that fans loved.
It’s the off-ice stuff, though, that is likely to bring out the boo-birds. The Jets and Trouba had a couple of tough negotiations, which included a holdout by the blueliner ahead of the 2016-17 campaign and arbitration ahead of the 2018-19 season. There are those who felt he didn’t want to be in Winnipeg long term, and that’s not going to sit well with some fans in Manitoba’s capital.
There will be a tribute video, to be sure, but don’t expect fans to let up either before or after Trouba gets thanked by the organization for his time with the Jets.
LEHNER BACK ON THE ISLAND – April 2, 2020
Fans are sometimes quick to forget, and who knows, it could happen that Islanders fans have accepted Semyon Varlamov and are so pleased with his play that they’re indifferent about the departure of now-Chicago Blackhawks netminder Robin Lehner by the time April rolls around. That’s entirely possible.
But at this very moment in time, it feels as though Islanders fans can’t wait to welcome Lehner back with open arms. Not only was he very public about his love for the organization, he made it clear that leaving wasn’t his decision. Add to it that Lehner was a clear fan favorite – just listen to the crowd during his post-game interview after a shutout this past January – and one imagines he’ll receive an incredibly warm welcome no matter when he makes his return.
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