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Five rentals who went back to where they came from in free agency

A team saying goodbye to a free agent-to-be at the deadline doesn't have to say goodbye forever. Here are past examples of traded players heading back to where they came from in their subsequent free agency.

Thomas Vanek is in an interesting situation heading into Wednesday’s deadline. The veteran winger was bought out ahead of 2016-17 by the Minnesota Wild, and the Red Wings took a flyer on him ahead of the campaign, inking him to a one-year, $2.6-million contract. He has taken that deal, turned in a stellar 15-goal, 38-point performance in 47 games and made himself one of the most intriguing potential additions at the trade deadline.

The thing is, though, that Vanek has seemingly found his stride again in Detroit and that could be reason enough for him to want to stick around. Unfortunately, without any form of trade protection, it seems as though he could be good as gone by the time we reach Wednesday’s deadline. 

However, if Vanek really sees himself as a Red Wing in the future, there’s nothing stopping the 33-year-old from deciding he wants to call Detroit home and talking contract with the Red Wings come the off-season as he’ll become a free agent once again on July 1. If we make two assumptions — the first that Vanek is traded, the second that the money works out and he comes back to Detroit for 2017-18 — it would make Vanek one of the rare players to be dealt away at the deadline only to come right back to his former team. He wouldn’t be the first player to do so, though, nor would any other unrestricted free agent-to-be who ends up back with his former team.

Here are five players who’ve been the very definition of a rental, sent off to one team only to come right back to where they were before the deadline to start the following campaign:

Keith Tkachuk — Traded to Thrashers, signs with Blues

Acquiring Tkachuk at the 2007 trade deadline, in exchange for Glen Metropolit, 2007 first- and third-round picks and a second-rounder in 2008, is arguably the biggest trade the franchise made while still in Atlanta.

It paid dividends for the Thrashers as they headed into the post-season for the first time in history. Over the course of his 18 regular season games in Atlanta, Tkachuk scored seven goals and 15 points. The playoff run wouldn’t be nearly as successful, however. Tkachuk kept scoring, collecting a goal and three points, but the Thrashers were swept by the New York Rangers.

When the off-season rolled around, Tkachuk was right back in St. Louis, however. He signed a two-year, $8-million deal with the Blues, and remained with the organization through to the 2009-10 campaign. That Tkachuk didn’t stick around in Atlanta did save the Thrashers a 2008 first-round pick, though, as one would have been owed to the Blues if Tkachuk re-signed in Atlanta. That was the third-overall selection, used to pick Zach Bogosian.

Matt Moulson — Traded to Wild, signs with Sabres

Moulson was in the midst of a second-consecutive down season after three-straight 30-goal years when he was shipped off to Minnesota at the 2014 deadline to add some scoring punch to the playoff-bound Wild. In order to land the winger, as well as Cody McCormick, Minnesota paid a steep price, sending Torrey Mitchell, a 2014 second-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick to Buffalo.

He managed to provide the offense the Wild were looking for, though. Through 20 games with Minnesota to end 2013-14, Moulson scored six goals and 13 points and then pitched in another goal and three points in 10 playoff games as the Wild made it to the second round.

Moulson’s stay was short-lived, however. Traded to Minnesota on March 5, 2014, he was back in Buffalo by July 1, inking a five-year, $25-million with the Sabres. Oddly enough, Moulson was joined back in Buffalo by McCormick, who also headed back to the Sabres as soon as free agency opened. He signed a three-year, $4.5 million deal to return.

Antoine Vermette — Traded to Blackhawks, signs with Coyotes

Chicago made a splash at the deadline in 2015 by going out and acquiring Vermette. The move was made to bolster the depth down the middle, and the hope was he could be a difference maker both offensively and defensively for the Blackhawks. For much of his time in Chicago, that wasn’t quite the case, and his biggest use through the 20 regular season games he played was as a faceoff man. 

He picked the right time to come alive, though. In Game 3 of the Western final, Vermette scored the game winner, and then he became a hero with the winners in Games 1 and 5 of the Stanley Cup final. His send off was hoisting the Stanley Cup. Little more than two weeks later he inked a two-year, $7.5-million deal to return to Arizona.

The return to the Coyotes didn’t quite work out for Vermette. After potting 17 goals and 38 points in 2015-16, Arizona bought him out and he has since landed with the Anaheim Ducks. Arizona does still have Nick Merkley from the trade with the Blackhawks, however. He was acquired using the first-round selection, 30th overall, given to the Coyotes in exchange for Vermette. Merkley’s considered one of the better prospects in Arizona’s system.

Zbynek Michalek — Traded to Blues, signs with Coyotes

Michalek was the kind of player that teams were looking for specifically to fill a role as a depth defenseman for the post-season run, and one of his biggest attributes was his ability and willingness to block shots. Turns out he also had a bit of offense in his stick when he ended up in St. Louis, though. After the Blues acquired Michalek — at the cost of prospect Maxim Letunov — he wound up potting two goals and four points in 15 games.

Michalek fell out of favor come the post-season, however. The Blues wound up ousted from the post-season in six games at the hands of the Minnesota Wild, and Michalek didn’t find the score sheet once and watched his ice time dwindle from nearly 19 minutes in Game 1 to a combined 25:34 in the final two outings of the series.

The disappointing end to Michalek’s season isn’t near as troubling as his current turn in Arizona has gone. He signed back with the Coyotes on a two-year, $6.4-million contract on July 1 and watched his ice time drop by more than four minutes per game from 2014-15 to 2015-16. Worse yet, he hasn’t seen a single second of NHL ice time this season.

Roman Polak — Traded to Sharks, signs with Maple Leafs

Toronto was chock full off players on expiring deals for the sole purpose of stockpiling draft picks. It was a clever move and Polak was part of that plan. He had 25 games of playoff experience, had played on the Blues teams who were competitive in the Western Conference and possessed the physicality some teams love come the post-season. 

He interested the Sharks enough that they coughed up two second-round picks, along with Raffi Torres, for a package of Polak and Nick Spaling. Polak was an every-gamer for the Sharks, and while no one would confuse his 15:45 average ice time in the post-season with him being a top contributor, the fact of the matter is he was relied upon for bottom-pairing minutes on the Western Conference champion and a team that came within two wins of the Stanley Cup.

Polak ended up back in Toronto, signing a one-year, $2.25-million contract. He wouldn’t exactly be called trade bait this time around, however. Set to become a UFA, he’s skating two fewer minutes per game than he did in 2015-16. His trade last season was useful, though. The 2017 second-round pick was shipped to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Brian Boyle, Toronto’s biggest acquisition thus far at the current deadline.

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