If there’s been a recurring theme to this off-season, it’s been players going home to play where they want to play.
First, you have Brad Richards, the jewel of the free agent class, who’s allegedly looking to play at a destination he likes, as opposed to taking whoever offers the most money. Some rumors have him wanting to return to the Lightning, where he won a Stanley Cup.
Obviously, Richards hasn’t signed anything yet, so he still might go for the big pay day, but the fact that he’s even (possibly) considering not taking the largest contract is kind of interesting.
You also have Jaromir Jagr trying to return to the NHL from the KHL. Jagr is supposedly interested in returning to the Penguins, where he spent the glory days of his career (although Puck Daddy wonders if Jagr will wind up a Red Wing).
I’m not sure at this phase of his career, if Jagr would play for a new team. He very much seems to be a creature of habit, so I’m thinking he’ll either return to a familiar team or a familiar coach.
Finally, the LA Kings’ Ryan Smyth is looking to orchestrate a trade back to the Oilers, where Smyth began his career.
Salary is still very much on the table in these scenarios. No one can say where Richards will sign when free agency officially begins. Jagr could still abort his NHL return if he feels insulted by the contract offers. In fact, you might recall that’s kind of how he wound up leaving the NHL.
And Smyth isn’t in Edmonton right now because contract issues resulted in the Oilers trading the beloved Smyth out of Edmonton, setting him on a cross-country journey from Long Island to Denver to Los Angeles.
But it’s interesting to see players choosing comfort as the key variable in choosing a team. In a capped league, there’s only so much money, so players can use other variables when choosing a team (or in Smyth’s case, trying to choose a trade destination).
And that’s where the Winnipeg Thrashers suddenly have an advantage the Atlanta Thrashers never had. There are players from Winnipeg, and the Winnipeg area, who might be willing to take a discount to play for the Sugarbakers. Atlanta wasn’t producing much NHL talent.
At the end of the day, nothing might come of these players wanting to return home, to wherever they’re comfortable. The Kings and Oilers might not be able to work out a trade. Richards might go for the big pay check. And Jagr might decide that the KHL is his new home.
But for now, it’s very sweet seeing players looking for something other than more money.
Or, to be more precise, maybe looking for something other than money.