Sports fans admire loyalty. Most commit to their teams for a lifetime, and expect the same from the players they root for. Great players in all sports, from Tim Duncan, to Derek Jeter, to Larry Fitzgerald, to Nicklas Lidstrom, have stuck with one team for the entirety of their respective careers.
Unfortunately, remaining with one franchise is rare for athletes these days, especially with the allure of exorbitant free agent contracts and championship contention. Oh, and don’t forget about trades.
When it comes to the NHL, there are several players we associate with one team. Bobby Orr on the Boston Bruins, Mike Modano on the Dallas Stars, Mats Sundin on the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Martin Brodeur on the New Jersey Devils. These Hall-of-Famers became legends for these franchises. Surely, they would never play anywhere else, right? Wrong. They all switched teams at some point in their career.
Some trades or free agent signings are memorable. We all remember Gretzky making the move to Los Angeles. We all remember Brett Hull signing with the Dallas Stars. Everyone remembers the one-sided trade that sent Jaromir Jagr to Washington. But then, there are some that make you go 'Oh, yeah!' Orr in Chicago? Sundin in Vancouver? Brodeur in St. Louis? Huh?
It sounds strange, but countless players leave their longtime franchises, and end up on some random teams, teams that make you think, ‘What? When did he play there?!”
Here are 15 such instances:
15 Donald Brashear - New York Rangers
The Rangers made many regrettable free agent signings during the 2000s. Bobby Holik immediately comes to mind, as does Wade Redden. Who can forget Scott Gomez, or Chris Drury? The list goes on.
After a tough first round playoff series exit to the Washington Capitals in spring 2009, Blueshirts GM Glen Sather decided the team needed more toughness. Ranger fans would’ve taken anyone. Well, anyone except for Capitals’ enforcer Donald Brashear. See, during that playoff series, Brashear delivered a vicious blindside elbow to the head of Rangers forward Blair Betts. Betts suffered a broken orbital bone, and Brashear earned a six-game suspension.
So what did Sather do that offseason? He signed the 38-year-old Brashear to a two-year, $2.8 million contract. Fans were furious, and showed their displeasure by booing Brashear at a preseason meet-and-greet event. Brashear never clicked in New York, registering zero goals and one assist in 36 games. The Rangers waived Brashear that February.
14 Matt Moulson - Los Angeles Kings
Many recognize Moulson for his productive years with the Islanders, on John Tavares’ left wing. After signing with the Islanders in 2009, he registered three straight 30-goal seasons. Yet, he began his NHL career with the Los Angeles Kings. Why would a big market team like that let a promising young scorer walk away in free agency?
Well, it turns out Moulson never found his stride in Los Angeles. He spent three years on the West Coast, playing mostly with the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings’ AHL affiliate. The Ontario native skated in just 29 games at the NHL level for the club. He scored six goals and 10 points in those games before he was sent down again. Fortunately, he came into his own in New York, and signed a long-term contract with the Buffalo Sabres in 2014. Safe to say he, too, probably forgot about his days in L.A.
13 Scott Gomez - San Jose Sharks & Florida Panthers
The speedy center played his best years in New Jersey, slotted on a line with Patrik Elias and Brian Gionta. He put up a career-high 84 points during the 2005-06 season, and 60 points the season after. The New York Rangers signed Gomez to a lucrative seven-year contract in 2007, but traded him two years later in a deal that brought future captain Ryan McDonagh to Broadway.
Since then, Gomez bounced around between the Canadiens, Sharks, Blues, Panthers, Devils (again) and Senators. Wait, the Blues? The Panthers? If it sounds crazy, don’t worry. Gomez’s anemic production validates the confusion.
Gomez joined the Sharks for the 2012-13 season, scoring two goals and 15 points in 39 games. The following year, he registered a near-identical two goals and 12 points in 46 games for Florida. Those numbers are a far cry from those in his New Jersey heyday.
12 Brett Hull - Arizona (Phoenix) Coyotes
Brett Hull was one of the greatest snipers in the history of the National Hockey League. Everybody remembers him for his patented one-timer on one knee and people always envision him in his St. Louis Blues uniform or his Dallas Stars uniform. Heck, you may even remember his great years with the Red Wings toward the tail end of his career. However, even the more knowledgeable NHL fans have probably forgotten about his short-lived tenure in Arizona with the Coyotes. By this point in his career, Hull had slowed down significantly.
At 41 years old, Hull took a two-year deal with the Coyotes, rather than make a return to Dallas. Unfortunately, Hull's first year on the deal was wiped out by the 2004-05 lockout. By the time Hull came back for the 2005-06 season the game had sped up way too much for him. After five games and only recording one assist, Hull decided he was no longer capable of playing at his accustomed level and decided to hang 'em up. A rather unceremonious way to end an amazing career.
11 Sheldon Souray - Dallas Stars & Anaheim Ducks
Souray played for several teams in his 13-year NHL career, yet he is perhaps best known for his time in Montreal and Edmonton. The heavy-shooting defenseman scored 23 goals and 53 points during the 2008-09 season, and set the unofficial record for the hardest recorded shot at the Oilers' skills competition that year.
Things soured for Souray the following season, as concussion issues and trade requests fractured his relationship with team management. In 2011, Edmonton bought out the final year of Souray’s five-year contract, and the Alberta native signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Stars, potting six goals and 21 points in yet another injury-shortened campaign.
Souray then signed a three-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks, but would only play 44 games for the club. He went back on injured reserve in January 2014 with shoulder and wrist ailments. He finally announced his retirement in June 2015, making his Ducks’ tenure an oft-forgotten final chapter of his NHL career.
10 Mats Sundin - Vancouver Canucks
Sundin will forever be remembered as a Maple Leaf. He spent 14 years in Toronto, served 11 seasons as the team’s captain, and set team records for goals (420) and points (987).
However, as the Leafs fell out of playoff contention towards the end of the 2007-2008 season, team management floated Sundin’s name at the February trade deadline, hoping to acquire young talent. Sundin famously stated he had no intention of leaving the team at the time.
Despite lucrative contract offers from the Canadiens, Canucks, Rangers and Leafs, Sundin refused to commit to a team for the start of the 2008-09 season. That December, Sundin signed a one-year, $8.6 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
Ironically, Sundin scored the game-winning shootout goal for the Canucks in his return to Toronto in February 2009. Fans honored the Swede with a video tribute, but the optic of Sundin in another sweater was definitely strange. Sundin retired at season’s end after playing 41 regular season games for the Canucks.
9 Olaf Kolzig - Tampa Bay Lightning
Originally a Capitals’ first-round draft pick, Kolzig spent 14 years as the backstop in Washington, and notably led the team to the Stanley Cup Final in 1998. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2000 with 41 wins and five shutouts. By 2008, however, Cristobal Huet passed the aging Kolzig on the Caps’ depth chart. Kolzig didn’t start in any of the team’s seven playoff games that season, and made it known that he didn’t intend to return to the team after a first round exit to the Flyers.
Kolzig signed with the division rival Lightning in July 2008 on a one-year deal, but his Tampa tenure was short and abrupt. A biceps injury suffered in January sidelined Kolzig for the rest of the 2008-09 season, and he announced his retirement from the NHL that September. After more than 300 wins in over 700 games played in a Capitals sweater, Kolzig won just two of his eight starts in Tampa Bay.
8 Guy Lafleur - New York Rangers
As the Montreal Canadiens’ all-time scoring leader, Guy Lafleur won three Art Ross Trophies and two Hart Trophies as league MVP. He scored at least 50 goals and 100 points in six straight seasons from 1974-1980. The five-time Stanley Cup champion retired after the 1985 season, but returned in 1988 to play one season for the New York Rangers.
Yes, Lafleur was no stranger to large media markets, but his Rangers tenure seemed anomalous given his historic success with Montreal. Lafleur was almost 40 years old at that point, and scored just 18 goals in 67 games, the lowest total of his career. Despite his diminished production, he helped the Rangers to a first-place finish in the Patrick Division.
He left New York after a first round playoff sweep, and finished his career with the Quebec Nordiques before a second and final retirement in 1991.
7 Jaromir Jagr - Boston Bruins
Jagr is another Hall-of-Famer with his fair share of Rangers team scoring records. The ageless Czech forward led the Florida Panthers in scoring with 66 points last season. The 44-year-old is best known for his time in Pittsburgh and New York, but has played for eight teams over his 20+ year career.
In July 2012, Jagr signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Dallas Stars. Despite solid production (14 goals and 26 points in 34 games), the Stars traded the 13-time All-Star to the Boston Bruins in April 2013. Jagr played 11 regular season games in Beantown, tallying just two goals. He went goalless during the team’s run to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, and signed with the Devils that offseason. His time in Boston remains the shortest and least productive of his legendary career.
6 Mark Messier - Vancouver Canucks
Messier remains the only player in NHL history to captain two teams to the Stanley Cup. He did it in 1990 with Edmonton after Gretzky’s departure to L.A., and again in 1994 with New York, as he slayed the dragon and ended the team’s 54-year championship drought. I still consider Mess the most important player in Rangers history, and I’m sure many Blueshirt fans agree. Messier played 10 seasons in New York, and retired a Ranger in 2004 at age 43.
Many fans would love to forget Messier’s three-year run with the Vancouver Canucks. Messier signed with Vancouver in 1997 after a contract impasse resulted his departure from New York. He put up 60 points in his first full season with the team, his worst total since his rookie year.
He returned to New York in 2000, and notched a respectable 67 points in 82 games. Despite never reaching the playoffs again, Ranger fans were ecstatic that “The Captain” had come home.
5 Trevor Linden - Washington Capitals
The beloved Canucks captain left Vancouver on acrimonious terms. Before the 1997-98 season, Linden relinquished the captaincy to new arrival Mark Messier out of respect. He later expressed regret for the gesture, as his relationship with the team suffered.
After Canucks head coach Mike Keenan publicly blamed Linden following a 5-1 loss to St. Louis, the team shipped the forward to the Islanders for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe and a third-round draft pick in 1998. Linden played less than two years with the Islanders, but finished second on the team in points during his one full season in New York.
In 1999, the Islanders traded Linden to Montreal for a first round draft pick. Linden was traded again in 2000 to the Washington Capitals. He played just 28 games for the Caps before yet another trade reunited him with the Canucks in November 2001. Linden rightfully remained a Canuck for the remainder of his career.
4 Brian Leetch - Toronto Maple Leafs
Ranger fans like myself consider Leetch the greatest defenseman in team history. The sleek-skating playmaker spent 18 seasons in New York, setting numerous team records, including most assists, goals, and points by a defenseman. Leetch led the Rangers with 34 points during their magical 1994 run to the Stanley Cup, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
Consider then, how shocked the fanbase (and Leetch himself) was when GM Glen Sather shipped the beloved Ranger to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2003. I remember going to my first ever Ranger game at Madison Square Garden that season, and hearing chants of “We want Leetch back!”
After just 15 games in a Toronto uniform, Leetch finished his career with, of all teams, the Boston Bruins. Leetch only spent two of his 18 NHL seasons away from the Big Apple, but still holds a special place in the hearts of Ranger fans. Former Rangers captain Mark Messier called him “The Greatest Ranger of All Time” at Leetch’s jersey retirement ceremony in 2008.
3 Bobby Orr - Chicago Blackhawks
If Leetch is considered the greatest defenseman in Rangers’ history, then Bobby Orr can surely lay claim to greatest defenseman in NHL history. The eight-time Norris Trophy winner played 10 seasons for the Boston Bruins, winning two Stanley Cups, three consecutive Hart trophies, and two Art Ross trophies.
Orr became the first player to record 100 assists in one season, as well as the first defenseman to score 30 goals in one season (his career high was 46 in 1974-75).
However, Orr suffered through the 1975-76 season with knee ailments, leading to several surgeries. The Bruins were hesitant to commit to the impending free agent long-term.
After an injury-riddled 10-game season, Orr signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. He played just 26 games with the club before knee issues forced him to retire at age 31. Perhaps no player accomplished so much for one team in so short a time than Orr, which makes his time with the Hawks, and his early retirement, all the more unfair to the game of hockey.
2 Martin Brodeur - St. Louis Blues
Just as Orr’s name is synonymous with the Boston Bruins, Brodeur’s is immediately associated with the New Jersey Devils, and for good reason. The Montreal native owns pretty much every NHL record for goaltenders, including wins (691), shutouts (125), and games played (1,266). The four-time Vezina trophy winner, widely considered the greatest goalie of all time, guided the Devils to three Stanley Cups during his 21-year run with the team.
When Brodeur decided to test the free agent market in 2014, I figured no team would take a chance on the 42-year-old netminder. As great as he was, injuries and father time were taking their toll. However, in December 2014, Brodeur signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the St. Louis Blues after starter Brian Elliott went down with an injury. The 10-time All-Star appeared in just seven games for the Blues before he announced his retirement in January.
1 Wayne Gretzky - St. Louis Blues
You knew it had to come down to The Great One, right? As the eternal face of the NHL, he is almost always relevant in NHL conversation. When you first think of Gretzky, you probably picture him as an Oiler, shattering nearly every offensive record and winning five Stanley Cups. Maybe you think him as a Los Angeles King, where he forever revitalized interest in hockey in the United States. Perhaps you think of his final seasons as a New York Ranger, playing in one of the biggest cities on Earth.
Those are all fair assumptions. However, we cannot forget the February 1996 trade that sent Gretzky to the St. Louis Blues.
Yes. I was surprised too.
Gretzky tallied 21 points in 18 games for St. Louis. The team managed to make it to the Western Conference semifinals before bowing out to the Detroit Red Wings in seven games. Oh, and Steve Yzerman’s famous series-clinching goal? It came off a Gretzky turnover, putting an exclamation point on his forgettable tenure in St. Louis.