When the Nashville Predators signed free agent defenseman Dan Hamhuis on July 25, he became the 14th “recycled” NHL player in franchise history.
“Recycled,” meaning a player who played for an NHL club at one point in their career, left for whatever reason, only to find their way back later on. The entire list of players that fit into that category for the Predators is below.
Francis Bouillon (2002, claimed on waivers by MON || signed as free agent in 2009)
Greg de Vries (1998, traded to COL || signed as free agent in 2007)
Vern Fiddler (2002-2009, left via free agency || acquired from NJ in 2017)
Cody Franson (2009-2011, traded to TOR || acquired from TOR in 2015)
Simon Gamache (2003-2004, claimed on waivers by STL || claimed on waivers from STL in 2006)
Dan Hamhuis (2003-2010, traded to PHI || signed as free agent in 2018)
Scott Hartnell (2000-2007, traded to PHI || signed as free agent in 2017)
Matt Hendricks (drafted in 2000 but never signed with Preds || signed as free agent in 2013)
Anders Lindback (2010-2012, traded to TB || signed as free agent in 2017)
Chris Mason (1998-2001, left via free agency || claimed in 2003 waiver draft; 2003-2008, traded to STL || signed as free agent in 2012)
Ryan Parent (drafted in 2005 but never played for Preds, traded to PHI || acquired from PHI in 2010)
Randy Robitaille (1999-2001, left via free agency || signed as free agent in 2005)
Mike Santorelli (2008-2010, traded to FLA || acquired from Toronto in 2015)
Jeremy Stevenson (2000-2002, left via free agency || claimed on waivers from MIN)
“I’m looking at the list quickly and there’s a different story with each and every player,” Predators General Manager David Poile said after being shown all the names together for the first time. “Almost all of them were a one-year situation.”
You’ll notice that notable players Mike Fisher and Alexander Radulov are not included. This is because they didn’t spend time in a different NHL organization between their stints with the Predators. Fisher came out of retirement after just seven months and Radulov, of course, controversially defected to the KHL in the summer of 2008, only to return to Music City in 2012 in order to finish out the remainder of his entry-level contract. Additionally, former undrafted Merrimack College standout Gregg Classen isn’t on the list either because, while he played for Nashville from 2000 to 2004 and was re-signed a year later, he went overseas to play during the lockout and, therefore, did not have an NHL contract with another club during that time. Plus, that career tract was typical with a lot of fringe guys whose contracts ran out just before the lockout. Teams didn’t want to commit to players until the Collective Bargaining Agreement gave them an idea of what to expect.
Fourteen players are a lot, especially considering the franchise is just 21 years old. For the best comparisons possible, look at a couple of franchises that came into the League around the time Nashville did. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild, who are both just two years younger, have just five and six players on their lists of recycles, respectively, according to their media relations departments.
And, for contrast, take the Boston Bruins. In their 94-year history, only 38 players fit the criteria. That’s just 24 more than Nashville but with a 73-year head start.
“I must admit, I didn’t realize there were that many,” Poile said.
Of course, there are unique circumstances surrounding each player. Do you think Poile wanted to get rid of Hartnell in the summer of 2007? Absolutely not. The sixth overall pick of the 2000 draft was just 24 years old with the prime of his career ahead of him. He had developed into a 40-point guy in the National Hockey League and showed promise to become a 30-goal scorer, something the franchise had only experienced twice in its history (Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan each scored 31 goals in 2005-06). Hartnell was among the casualties of the “fire sale of 2007” because original owner Craig Leipold was selling the team and, as a result, a lot of key pieces with higher price tags needed to be jettisoned.
The moral of the story? Every situation is different.
“Last year, Scott Hartnell was at the end of his career and, with the familiarity we had with him, we were pretty sure he could fill a specific role,” Poile said. “But, for example, Radulov was way different. When he came back, you thought you might have a guy for a lot of years, but there are 10 other stories that go with that as to why it didn’t happen.”
When you’ve been around the sport as long as Poile has, you discover certain tips and tricks in order to achieve success. After all, he’s not the winningest GM in NHL history for nothing. Recycling players has evolved into a prime example.
“Frankie Bouillon, when we let him go the first time, I don’t think we realized how good he was,” he said. “When he came back, he was perfect. Our first knowledge wasn’t exactly correct, but once we watched him elsewhere and we had more knowledge, it worked out to be a terrific situation.”
And then there are the moves he’d like to have back.
“Some of them, honestly, we probably shouldn’t have done,” Poile admitted. “Some didn’t work out so well.”
Perhaps bringing Franson and Santorelli back into the fold in exchange for a first-round pick, prospect Brendan Leipsic and veteran center Olli Jokinen, is one of them. While it could be argued that Jokinen wasn’t exactly a force to be reckoned with during his time in Music City (six points in 48 games), Franson couldn’t keep up with the speed of the game and struggled mightily at times. If that wasn’t enough, Santorelli was supposed to bolster the bottom six as a buried offensive threat but, in 21 games, he notched just a single goal and turned in a minus-7 rating, second worst on the team.
This year’s addition is Hamhuis, a blueliner the Preds know well. He was drafted 12th overall by the team in 2001, spent two full seasons with the top minor league affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, and logged nearly six injury-free seasons with the big club before his rights were traded to the Philadelphia Flyers as a pending free agent in 2010. “Hammer” then went onto the Vancouver Canucks for six years before being a part of the Dallas Stars the past two seasons.
“I think we know exactly what we have there,” Poile said of Hamhuis. “We never wanted to lose him in the first place, so him coming back here just feels like the right situation.”
Time will tell whether the Hamhuis recycle goes into the Frankie Boullion bin or the Mike Santorelli bin, but regardless, Poile’s logic is not wrong. The team believes he can address a need and, through their experience with him in the past, it makes the signing worth a shot.
“Looking at the list, it seems like nine times out of 10, it’s more of a short-term fit,” Poile said. “Somebody that you know fits into your locker room and you know the traits they bring.”
Hamhuis is just the latest example.
SPECIAL THANKS to the media relations departments of the Minnesota Wild, Boston Bruins, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals for their help in my research.