Devon Toews #7 of the Colorado Avalanche carries the Stanley...

Devon Toews #7 of the Colorado Avalanche carries the Stanley Cup following the series winning victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 26, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. Credit: Getty Images

Former Islander Devon Toews had already made his first return to UBS Arena last season.

This time, though, the slick-skating defenseman came back as a Stanley Cup champion as the Islanders faced the Avalanche on Saturday night.

“He was a fun guy to have,” center Brock Nelson said. “Got to know him pretty well. A good skater. He was able to get up in the offense. A nice player to have, a guy like that, in today’s game. Tough to lose a good player. He’s doing well now. His career has taken off even more so. A lot more recognition and well deserved.”

Islanders president and general manager Lou Lamoriello wound up trading Toews, then a restricted free agent with arbitration rights and due a significant raise, for the underwhelming return of two second-round picks on Oct. 12, 2020.

At the time, Toews was coming off a deal with an average annual value of $750,000. Re-signing Toews might have meant not having the money to re-sign Mathew Barzal and/or defenseman Ryan Pulock and Lamoriello also didn’t want to risk an arbitration judgement the Islanders couldn’t afford and might have had to walk away from. Plus Lamoriello felt ready to give Noah Dobson a bigger role.

Skating with Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar as perhaps the most dynamic defense duo in the NHL, Toews, 28, set career highs last season with 13 goals and 44 assists in 66 games. He added five goals and 10 assists in the Avalanche’s 20-game march to the Cup.

Toews scored a goal in his first return to UBS Arena on March 7 as the Avalanche held on for a wild, 5-4 win after the Islanders nearly rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the third period. The Islanders honored Toews with a welcome-back video during that game.

“I was only with him for a short period of time but he was a great guy,” Dobson said. “He really took off when he went to Colorado as a player. But you could see he had the skill set here, it was only his first and second year. I’m really happy to see him doing well over there. They’ve made a good pair.”

“He developed into a very solid, two-way player,” Pulock said. “When he first came here, (he had) skating ability and he was smart. He could just get up and down the ice so well. That’s what he uses to his advantage. He just turned into an all-around great player.”

The Avalanche fulfilled many preseason predictions that had them as a top Cup contender.

The Islanders, of course, also had strong Cup aspirations last season following back-to-back trips to the NHL semifinals. But last season went horribly wrong for the Islanders, in no small part as COVID-19 impacted their roster and their schedule.

But the lack of an elite skating defenseman such as Toews or Nick Leddy, traded in 2021 also for salary cap reasons, hindered the Islanders. Too often last season they had trouble with exit passes or breaking out of their own zone.

Still, Toews’ ex-teammates were happy for his Cup success.

“I think it’s cool,” Pulock said of watching Toews lift the Cup. “Obviously, you wish it was you. But I think it’s cool to see. He’s worked hard and he’s earned it so it’s great to see him get rewarded like that.”

“When you see other guys lift the Cup, that gives you all the motivation you need,” Dobson said. “It’s closer to home when you see an ex-teammate live it. But, motivation-wise, every year if you don’t win it, you come back really motivated.”

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