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The good, bad, and ugly of hockey homecomings

Dec 13, 2023; Denver, Colorado, USA; Buffalo Sabres defenseman Erik Johnson (6) waves to the Colorado Avalanche fans during the first period at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Arguably one of the greatest traditions in the NHL is teams recognizing the greats of their organization who moved on from the team. Sometimes, this is done out of necessity to make space for the future of the organization, or things just simply didn’t work out long-term, and players moved on to further their careers.

Across the league, we’ve seen plenty of homecomings and there are always a few every season. Colorado Avalanche fans in particular have had to experience a few of these and make up the majority of this list (yes yes, the Avs bias from the Avs writer I know). Regardless, check out how these homecomings have ranged from good, to bad, and ugly.

Good: Erik Johnson

Johnson returned to Ball Arena Wednesday night for the first time to play against the Avalanche as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. It is the first time in over a decade EJ has played out of the visiting locker room in the Mile High City. The waterworks and emotions were already high even after the morning skate in the Sabres room.

During the game, his tribute video was beautifully produced and shared with all, ending with a resounding applause for the Avalanche Stanley Cup champion. He’s an Avs member for life, even if he isn’t in their colors for the next few seasons. It is certainly one of the best, heartwarming returns for a player to their former home.

Good: Nazem Kadri

Another nicely done return to Denver was Kadri’s first time back after winning the Stanley Cup, but this time as a member of the Calgary Flames. His influence in Colorado was strong, even if it was only for three seasons.

This was likely one of the most highly-anticipated returns to the Mile High City – until Johnson came back earlier this week – and it was highly recognized. The love for Naz will also likely never wear, even if he did score against the Avs for the first time on the road.

Bad: John Tavares

One of the straight-up horrible returns came from Islanders fans towards John Tavares. He left the New York Islanders for his boyhood team Toronto Maple Leafs before the start of the 2018-19 season. His return to the Island was less than welcoming, to say the least.

Even with this move to Toronto nearly being five years old, Isles fans cannot seem to get over it. He is consistently being booed every single time he plays in New York. This was exemplified further when Tavares scored his 1000th career point against the Islanders and was showered with boos rather than cheers for this historic accomplishment.

Until Tavares retires, it’s safe to say he will still face the same criticism and boos from New York fans. They are a different breed in the Big Apple and never forget. It just may be the case for years to come for the Maple Leafs captain.

Ugly: Matt Duchene

Finally, the last name we’ll go over on this list is Duchene. Again involving the Islanders to an extent, his Avs tenure came to an unexpected end when he left the bench in the first period in the middle of a game against the Islanders.

It was then reported he had been traded to the Ottawa Senators, and ended on ugly terms with then-General Manager Joe Sakic and the Avalanche. Fans made sure to remind him of this, as his return to Denver in 2018 was received with a mix of cheers and boos.

Of course, it has been well-documented the love Duchene had for Sakic and the entire Quebec Nordiques/Avalanche organization. His third overall pick back in 2009 was a dream come true, gave Duchene his chance to grow in the league and he made the most of it.

However, when things started to crumble around him and the team, topped off with the disastrous 2016-17 48-point season, he wanted out. He didn’t get a chance to leave in the offseason, and instead just shrugged his way through the opening games of the season as he demanded a trade out of Colorado.

The trade massively helped the Avalanche get to where they are today, while Duchene has had career struggles since then. Even for a few years after, he would get booed in Colorado but now memories have faded for Avs fans. While it’s not a Tavares-esque level of hate, it is certainly far from the love both Johnson and Kadri got.