Ranking the best revenge games in NHL history

There's nothing sweeter than getting revenge on the NHL team that shipped you out of town.

Welcome to RANKED. Every week during the NHL season, we will be ranking players, moments, and anything else we can think of throughout hockey history. This week, we take a look at revenge games.

When a blockbuster trade happens in the NHL, the ripple effect immediately starts to take shape. The narratives surrounding what this player means to their new team and how the transaction will affect the league seep into the mind of just about every fan.

But possibly the most enjoyable single moment after the trade takes place is the player returning to their former arena wearing a different uniform.

Alex DeBrincat experienced that recently, as the new Red Wing went back to Ottawa after playing one single year for the Senators in which he didn't live up to expectations. He was greeted with a chorus of boos as soon as he was shown on the big screen.

So with that in mind, we thought it would be fun to rank some NHL stars’ “revenge games” after they were traded away. To meet our criteria, it would have to be the first time they played against their former team on the road, in front of the fans that used to support them.

Another factor is that the player's trade had to be at least slightly controversial, so you won't find Claude Giroux returning to Philadelphia and being showered by love and affection here.

NHL legend Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Oilers to Kings in one of the biggest deals in sports history. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)
NHL legend Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Oilers to Kings in one of the biggest deals in sports history. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

17. Joe Thornton - Jan. 10, 2006

Twenty-three games into his eighth season with the Bruins after being drafted first overall in 1997, Thornton was traded to the San Jose Sharks, where he would really establish his legacy as a future Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, Thornton’s return to Boston went as poorly as possible.

Just five minutes and 13 seconds into the contest, Thornton was ejected from the game for checking Boston defenseman Hal Gill from behind. A stat line of zero points, 15 penalty minutes, and just 2:31 TOI is all Thornton has to show for his initial return to Boston.

16. Cam Neely - Oct. 22, 1986

A 21-year-old Neely was infamously traded by the Vancouver Canucks to their future-rival Bruins. Neely exploded in production as soon as he went to the other side of the continent, but this isn’t about how the next decade went – it’s all about that first game back.

Just seven games into the 1986-87 season, Neely returned to Vancouver and didn’t do much. He posted zero points and a minus-1 rating in a devastating 5-1 loss for Boston. It was a rough one, as a total of 50 penalty minutes were dished out between the two teams, but Neely didn’t get to show off how much of a mistake the Canucks made until much later.

15. Jack Eichel - March 10, 2022

Eichel had to wait a bit to recover from a major surgery before enacting some true revenge on the Sabres. Unlike other stars, this felt more personal, as the Sabres rejected his pitch to get a certain surgery. In his return to Buffalo, Eichel made his disdain for the club and its fans very clear.

On the ice, Eichel didn’t earn a point in a shocking 3-1 loss for the Golden Knights. In fact, the two players Buffalo acquired in the trade were instrumental in the win. Peyton Krebs scored the game-opening goal and Alex Tuch added the empty-netter to seal the game. That’s pretty embarrassing.

Jack Eichel's return to Buffalo didn't go as planned. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
Jack Eichel's return to Buffalo didn't go as planned. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

14. Phil Kessel - Dec. 5, 2009

The Leafs acquired Kessel from the Bruins for a whole lot of futures that would not come into play until later. How did the young sniper perform in his return to Boston? In a 7-2 loss for Toronto, Kessel put up a giant goose egg — zero points and a minus-3 rating — as players like Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard ran rampant over the Leafs.

13. Matthew Tkachuk - Nov. 29, 2022

Certainly the biggest blockbuster of the last several years was Tkachuk being sent to Florida by the Flames after a contract negotiation went south (oh, what a pun). The Flames lost Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau in the same offseason, and then tried to replace them with Jonathan Huberdeau and Nazem Kadri.

Tkachuk was met with a frosty response in his return to the Saddledome and laid an egg with zero points in a 6-2 loss to his former team. A trip to the Stanley Cup Final would soon heal his wounds.

12. Dale Hawerchuk - Feb. 10, 1991

The Jets traded Hawerchuk to the Sabres in a transaction that might have preemptively spelled the end of the franchise in Winnipeg. In hindsight, it was a fair trade in a vacuum, but Hawerchuk was a Jet and going back to Winnipeg might not have gone as swimmingly as he hoped.

Hawerchuk had to wait until February to go back up to Manitoba and he did not earn a single point in the stuffy 2-0 victory for his new club. Fortunately, the Jets visited Buffalo the month before and with his old team in his new building, Hawerchuk scored just over six minutes into the game and added an assist in the second period.

It might not have been in front of the Winnipeg fans, but he let his old team and employers know that they made a mistake.

11. Alex DeBrincat - Oct. 21, 2023

This is still top of mind for most folks, but in case you needed a reminder, DeBrincat returned to Ottawa and earned zero points and took exactly one shot on goal. At the time of this writing, it was the only game of DeBrincat’s 2023-24 season where he did not earn a point.

Alex DeBrincat spent one season with the Senators. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Alex DeBrincat spent one season with the Senators. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)

10. Nazem Kadri - Dec. 4, 2019

Kadri was controversially traded by the Leafs as a way to shake up a roster that couldn’t get out of the first round. Before he lifted the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, Kadri was able to return to the "center of the hockey universe" and earned zero points in over 17 minutes in a 3-1 win for the Avs.

Luckily, the Leafs visited Denver before this homecoming took place and Kadri notched two assists, showing he was in a much better place on a much better team.

9. Tyler Seguin - Nov. 5, 2013

While the Bruins benefitted from the Canucks trading a potential star just three seasons into his career (Neely), the Bruins did the same thing decades later by sending Seguin to Dallas at 22 years old.

Just a month into the season on his new team, he returned to TD Garden and ended up with zero points in a 3-2 shootout win. He was one of just three players to score in the game-ending shootout, so he deserves some credit for that.

8. Taylor Hall - Jan. 12, 2017

Has a star player ever scored in their return to their former home? Well, thankfully we can start thinking about productive semi-homecomings with Hall’s return to Edmonton.

As half of the infamous “it is one-for-one” trade, Hall made his way back to Alberta as a member of the New Jersey Devils and earned an assist in a 3-2 loss. It was certainly not the prettiest game, as Hall earned a high-sticking double-minor penalty, but it was a somewhat productive return.

7. Jaromir Jagr - Dec. 21, 2001

In possibly the weirdest trade on this list, Jagr was sent packing from his beloved Pittsburgh Penguins to the Washington Capitals in the middle of his prime years. Unfortunately, the Capitals were in the middle of their hangover years after losing in the 1998 Stanley Cup Final.

In Jagr’s return to Pennsylvania, the legend earned one assist on a Peter Bondra power-play goal. The Penguins would still win 4-3 and Jagr finished with a minus-2 rating.

6. P.K. Subban - March 2, 2017

Subban absolutely loved playing in Montreal. He still goes on about how he didn’t want to play anywhere else in the NHL. Unfortunately, he was traded to the Predators for an aging Shea Weber in a very weird swap at the time.

The blueliner was still beloved in Montreal, so this was no sense of revenge on the city or the Habs’ fan base, but on the organization itself. Subban ended up earning the primary assist on the game’s opening goal scored by Ryan Ellis. Unfortunately, that was the only goal the Preds scored and Montreal earned the 2-1 victory via a Paul Byron tally with just nine seconds left in regulation.

5. Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oct. 17, 2023

Dubois has had a couple revenge games early in his career. During the COVID-19 season, the NHL forced teams to play strictly within their own, modified divisions. As a result, Dubois did not return to Columbus as a member of the Jets until 10 months after the trade actually took place. That took a lot of the emotion out of it, but he was still held pointless.

He got his second chance at a revenge game just this season as he returned to Winnipeg as a member of the Los Angeles Kings and ended up scoring his first goal with his new team in his former home.

4. Wayne Gretzky - Oct. 19, 1988

After the most famous trade in hockey history – and potentially ever – Gretzky ripped the bandage off quickly and faced his former Oilers team just seven games into his first season with the Kings.

In an 8-6 win for the Oilers, Gretzky earned two assists and had a minus-2 rating in the bombardment the home team gave him. He might have earned the points, but the Oilers were still the Oilers. Gretzky did at least get sweeter revenge by knocking Edmonton out of the playoffs in a seven-game series several months later.

3. Ron Francis - March 9, 1991

Francis, in the prime of his decades-long career, was sent packing by the Hartford Whalers and was acquired by a star-studded Penguins team. He was Hartford’s captain and franchise leader in almost every category, but was sent over to a much better team that changed both franchises' history.

And he had to face his former team just five days after being traded. At the Hartford Civic Center, Francis stared down the players he called teammates less than a week prior and earned one assist in a 5-2 win for Pittsburgh. It wasn’t his best performance, but the quick turnaround made it that much more significant.

2. Mark Messier - Jan. 23, 1992

Before he was “The Messiah” to Rangers fans, Messier won five Stanley Cups with the Oilers and was a crucial part of possibly the best team in NHL history.

As the Oilers started to shed their roster, Messier was sent to New York. In his return to Edmonton, he assisted on the game-winning goal and added a power-play marker of his own.

1. Doug Gilmour - March 5, 1992

Gilmour was the key piece in one of the largest trades in NHL history. It may not have been the most significant, but 10 whole players were included in this swap between the Flames and the Leafs.

Returning to Calgary as a Leaf, Gilmour put the entire team on his shoulders – a squad that was just one year away from being one of the most stacked hockey teams to ever exist in Toronto.

During this late-season visit to Calgary, Gilmour scored the goal that would start the Leafs' comeback. Down by two, the man from Kingston, Ont., netted his 21st goal of the season with less than a minute left. And then with just nine seconds remaining in regulation, he earned the primary assist on the game-tying goal scored by Rob Pearson to force overtime. That was Gilmour’s third point of the night – he also notched an assist on Toronto’s third goal of the eventual 5-5 draw – and that is what earned him the top spot on this list.

To come back to Calgary, where he lifted the Stanley Cup in 1989, as a cross-country rival and have a clutch, third-period performance like that is a true act of revenge. None of the five players the Flames received in exchange for Gilmour would ever achieve anything close to what Gilmour did in Toronto. And it all started with one act of sweet revenge.