Over the last few years, the Detroit Red Wings and their fans have learned a harsh truth about the business of professional sports: anyone can be for sale. Whether a player is a fan-favorite or a hometown hero, the nature of a rebuild is moving out pieces from today to create a better team for tomorrow. In other words, don’t get attached.
However, goodbyes don’t have to last forever. Just in the last couple of years, we’ve seen the likes of Thomas Vanek and Valtteri Filppula return to the Red Wings after exiting the organization for varying reasons. To some extent, familiarity with a franchise can be a key reason why a player eventually rejoins that club.
If/when they do return, it isn’t always in the same capacity that they were in when they left. The business of hockey isn’t restricted to just the rink; there are multiple ways that a former player can return and greatly impact their former club – just look at who the Red Wings’ general manager is!
Who could be the next Filppula or Steve Yzerman? Let’s find out:
The 31-year-old winger played 481 regular-season games (as well as 35 playoff games) with the Red Wings until he was traded to the San Jose Sharks as part of the 2019 trade deadline. Following a run to the Western Conference Final with the Sharks, Nyquist signed a four-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. In his first season in Columbus, he recorded 42 points in 70 games.
Prior to the trade to San Jose, Nyquist had become something of a fan-favorite due to his play on the ice as well as his likable demeanor off of it. He also won brownie points for his part in leading the Grand Rapids Griffins – the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate – to their first-ever Calder Cup championship in 2013. There was once a time that he and Tomas Tatar – who now plays with the Montreal Canadiens – represented the next wave of Red Wings.
With three seasons left on his deal with the Blue Jackets, it doesn’t appear that “Goose” will break loose from Columbus anytime soon. However, by the time he could be on the move, the Red Wings hope to be on the upswing, led by the prospects they are accumulating today. When that day comes, Nyquist could be the exact kind of veteran presence the Red Wings could use to fill-out a young roster. It sure would be cool to see him finish his career where he started it.
Although Abdelkader’s buy-out is going to be on the Red Wings’ books for the next six(!) seasons, the Muskegon-native could easily find his way back to the organization that he idolized as a kid. The 33-year-old hasn’t nailed-down his next step following the buy-out, so anything is on the table – even a contract with another team. However, the Red Wings could provide a next step that doesn’t involve the physical risks that a game of hockey presents.
Having played college hockey with the Michigan State Spartans as well as minor-league hockey with the Griffins, Abdelkader is incredibly well-versed in Michigan’s hockey scene. He’s the hometown kid who went to play for the hometown team. He did it through hard work; he was never a flashy player, so he had to learn how to do the dirty work and create space for his teammates. That experience could be valuable to the many prospects the Red Wings have in the system.
Abdelkader could join the likes of Jiri Fischer and Shawn Horcoff on the player development side of things. He was an extra forward during the Red Wings’ 2008 Stanley Cup run and an alternate captain with the Red Wings as they began their descent into the NHL’s basement. He has seen what it takes to win, and he has seen what happens when the wheels fall off. Even though his impact on the ice became non-existent, his knowledge of the game and what it takes could still be a valuable asset for the Red Wings.
In 2008, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup. That team was led by head coach Mike Babcock, as well as an assistant that would be hired by the Sharks as their head coach that summer. That coach was Todd McClellan, and since then he has built one heck of a resumé.
McClellan was often listed as one of the hottest up-and-coming coaches during the first half of the last decade. He spent seven seasons in San Jose, leading the Sharks to the Western Conference Final in 2011, and compiling 311 regular-season victories along with 30 more in the playoffs. After he was let go by the Sharks, he was snatched up by the Edmonton Oilers before he led Team North America to a surprising third-place finish during the World Cup of Hockey.
McLellan was behind the bench during the Oilers’ most-successful season in the Connor McDavid-era. That was the 2016-17 season when the Oilers came within a single victory of making the Western Conference Final. A couple of rocky seasons followed, and he was eventually dismissed from his position.
Today, McLellan has made his way back to California and is the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings. His first season behind the bench in LA saw the Kings finish with 64 points through 70 games, and their struggles were rewarded with the second pick in the 2020 draft. The hope is that McClellan can be the man that turns their prospects into players and then turns those players into a championship-caliber team.
Should the Kings, led by GM Rob Blake, decide to go in a different direction down the line, the Red Wings could seize the opportunity to reunite with a coach that helped lead them to their last championship. Of course, all of this could end up being moot if current head coach Jeff Blashill shows that he can be the long-term answer behind the bench.
It’s not “Goodbye,” it’s “See You Later”
Inevitably, there will be even more players and coaches that are currently with the Red Wings that will have to change their address. It’s the nature of professional sports, but that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. However, as the Red Wings’ current GM is evidence of, a reunion is never out of the question.
Individuals within the game of hockey tend to keep a special place in their hearts for the places that led them to where they are today. A return is never out of the question – all that it takes is the right opportunity. That’s how a “goodbye” becomes a “welcome back.”
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.