When the Anaheim Ducks decided to buy out Corey Perry in June 2019, the benefits were apparent but appeared to be minuscule, both for the team and the player. It also shocked the former Hart Trophy winner.
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“You don’t ever expect to hear that, feel that,” said Perry. “When the words came out of my agent’s mouth, I was taken aback.” (from, “No one gets to see the real him’: When the skates come off, Corey Perry goes from ‘nightmare’ to sentimental,’ The Athletic, 01/17/22)
Perry’s buyout came when the team was transitioning from a perennial playoff contender to a “retooling” organization. Injuries had sapped his mobility and the combination of his large salary and inability to remain healthy, along with the Ducks’ eagerness to integrate some of their younger forwards, left him as the odd man out—and an expensive one at that.
Sure, it’s a business, but Perry probably never expected to be putting on a sweater that didn’t have the webbed-foot ‘D’ (or some other form of the Ducks’ logo) adorned across the front for the rest of his NHL career. He was leaving the only team he’d ever known since being drafted in 2003 and was one of two players at the time—alongside current Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf—to have been drafted by the Ducks and played for them for more than a decade. (Cam Fowler has since joined that group)
Now, almost three seasons later, both parties have benefited from this move.
How Perry Benefitted
One year after the buyout, it appeared that the Ducks had made a mistake. Their young players hadn’t made the jump quite yet, and Perry had made his way to the Stanley Cup Final with his new team, the Dallas Stars. Not only was he now fully recovered from the injuries that hampered the tail-end of his career in Anaheim, but he also played an important role for the Stars on their way to the Cup Final.
Five goals and four assists in 27 playoff games don’t exactly qualify as “lighting it up,” but Perry’s influence goes far beyond the scoresheet, especially at age 34. Both he and fellow veteran Joe Pavelski signed with the Stars with the idea that they could help add some veteran leadership and playoff experience to a team that was looking to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season since the 2007-08 season.
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Turn the page to one season later, and Perry was back in the Stanley Cup Final, this time with the Montreal Canadiens, the team he grew up rooting for. Again, Perry’s playoff experience was on full display as the Canadiens’ Cinderella run to the Cup Final battled through Toronto, cruised past Winnipeg, and two-stepped its way out of Las Vegas.
“His experience and obviously his play, that line has been one of our best lines in the playoffs,” said Canadiens captain Shea Weber prior to their Stanley Cup Semifinals matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights. “They’ve been so heavy and grinding and big for us.”
Though Perry’s teams would fall to the Tampa Bay Lightning both times, it was clear by now that he still had something left to offer. His influence on young players like Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki made the difference during Perry’s back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances, and his playoff resume speaks for itself.
“The Ducks bought him out and everyone thought he was dead, done. He persevered in Dallas and became well-known for his leadership. He went to Montreal and did the same thing.”– Bruce Boudreau, former Ducks head coach (from, ‘From ‘last call’ to final-minute heroics: Sharing favorite stories of Corey Perry’s time with the Ducks’, The Athletic, 01/20/22)
Having had an up-close and personal view of his exploits on the NHL’s biggest stage for the past two seasons, the Lightning inked him to a two-year deal last summer. Stability was something that Perry had been craving since his departure from Anaheim, and signing with the Lightning allowed him to finally have that again.
It took a while for him to get on the board this season, but slow starts aren’t anything new for the 36-year-old. A broken foot delayed his Stars debut during the 2019-20 season, after all. His first goal of the 2021-22 season came 17 games in, but with 23 games played since then, Perry is on pace to score 20 goals in a season for the first time since 2015-16 when he scored 34 for the Ducks, perhaps the turning point in his tenure with the Ducks.
Perry continues to be a valuable contributor, and on a team with as many high-end talents as the Lightning, this can be difficult to achieve. After beginning the season on the fourth line, he’s become a fixture on the third line with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and former Ducks teammate Pat Maroon. Recently, Perry has been getting time with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov on the top line due to injuries. He’s also averaging nearly two minutes of power-play time on ice per game.
“You have a real appreciation for [Perry] and why teams want him on their side and why you’re probably not surprised why teams have advanced far with him on their team,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper during the preseason. If you’re talking about the skill he has in tight, you really get to see that when he’s with you every day.”
How the Ducks Benefitted
It may have taken a bit longer than anticipated, but the Ducks’ young forwards have finally begun to blossom. Max Comtois broke out in 2020-21, and though he struggled thus far in 2021-22, he looks to be on the come-up as of late.
Troy Terry has carried a lot of the buzz in Anaheim this season after a scorching-hot run of form during which he rattled off points in 16 consecutive games. Coincidentally, Perry holds the longest points streak in Ducks history with 19 games.
The 2018-19 season, Perry’s last with the Ducks, marked the first taste of NHL action for not only Comtois but Sam Steel, Isac Lundestrom, and Max Jones, all of whom are now regulars in the Ducks’ current-day lineup. (Jones tore his pectoral muscle in October and is currently on injured reserve)
This group of young players—Comtois, Terry, Steel, Lundestrom, and Jones—experienced growing pains in their new extended roles following that June 2019 buyout. Perry’s contract would have expired following the conclusion of last season. While it’s unlikely that Perry would have taken away many opportunities from Comtois, it’s a little bit easier to have a breakout season when there’s one less player competing against you for playing time.
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It can’t be questioned, though, how much of an influence Perry was for the fresh-faced group who were eventually vying to take his place. You see shades of him in Comtois and Jones in their willingness to go to the net and be disruptors. The occasional greasy goal from Steel is reminiscent of where Perry did his best work. Even the low-key demeanor of Lundestrom–who has quietly put together a solid season of his own–is akin to Perry, who calls himself “a big softie” off the ice.
Perhaps the one who’s been influenced the most out of the bunch has been Terry, who is in the midst of a breakout season. The resemblance is there. He plays the same position as Perry, and both wore the same jersey number during their rookie seasons. Terry also often played behind Perry during the former’s first full season in the NHL.
The series of dazzling dekes that Terry pulled off in 2021-22 en route to a 37-goal campaign and his first-ever All-Star Game appearance harkens back to the days when Perry would pull off similar moves in the same fashion.
When Terry broke his leg while blocking a shot during a game against the Calgary Flames at the tail-end of the 2018-19 regular season, Perry carried him up the stairs to the plane. “He meant a lot to me when I got here,” said Terry. “I’ll never forget that.” (from, “There was shock. Sadness’ — As Corey Perry moves on, those who watched him closely in Anaheim share memories,’ The Athletic, 10/23/19)
Coming Back “Home”
Perry hasn’t had the opportunity to step onto the Honda Center ice since he was bought out in 2019. Though the Stars did make a trip to Southern California during the 2019-20 season, Perry could only be honored from the stands as he was serving a five-game suspension—resulting from his hit to the head of Ryan Ellis during the Winter Classic earlier that month.
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The revised division alignments during the 2020-21 season meant that the Canadiens never crossed the Canada-U.S. border during the regular season, and they certainly weren’t going to meet the 30th-placed Ducks during the playoffs.
Tonight will be the first time Perry will play a game at Honda Center in nearly three years. The rating on the “weirdness” scale will definitely be at the top on a scale of one to 10 as the one affectionately known as “The Worm” and “Saint Perry” around these parts goes through his gameday preparations and warmups, just from the opposite end this time.
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Perry is still missed greatly by Ducks fans and his former Ducks teammates. Friday will allow them to properly honor him once and for all. If he scores, there will likely be a string of boos from the opposing crowd, but you can bet there will be plenty of cheers as well.