Carolina Hurricanes forward Jiri Tlusty left Raleigh for the Czech Republic soon after last season, but not without leaving a cryptic tweet.
Tlusty tweeted: "Leaving Raleigh, feels strange might not be back, but hopefully I am."
Tlusty was a restricted free agent and the team seemed certain to give him a qualifying offer, if not negotiate a new contract. But that tweet
"You never know," Tlusty said a few days ago. "I wanted to come back but you never know. The season wasn't as good as I was expecting. I knew they kind of wanted me back but you never know what can happen.
"While I was leaving, I just had a little feeling. I just placed that (tweet) out there. But I wanted to come back."
On July 1, the Canes announced Tlusty had signed a one-year, $2.95 million contract with the Canes. A day later, he tweeted he was happy to be staying and excited about the upcoming season.
"I like it here," Tlusty said in the recent interview at Raleigh Center Ice. "It's been almost six seasons with the Canes and it's my home right now. I didn't want to leave."
Tlusty, 26, may have liked a longer contract, and for more money. But the one-year deal will take him into unrestricted free agency after next season.
"Hopefully both sides are happy, because on my side I'm really happy," Tlusty said.
What would make Tlusty just as happy would be to have an injury-free season. After scoring 23 goals in the 2012-2013 season, shortened to 48 games because of the NHL lockout, the left winger believed he might be able to develop into a 30-goal-plus player.
Tlusty was a good fit on a line with center Eric Staal and right wing Alexander Semin in the lockout year, finding openings in the offensive zone and burying his chances. The Canes' top line was productive as nearly any in the league.
But Tlusty injured his wrist last summer while playing in a "fun game" in the Czech Republic. That healed before the start of the Canes' training camp, but he suffered a concussion in an early team scrimmage.
"The concussion thing wasn't fun, and then in the pre-game skate before the first preseason game I was high-sticked and lost one tooth," he said. "I had stitches in my face but played the game banged up."
The worst was yet to come. Just before Christmas, Tlusty had an emergency appendectomy that kept him out of eight games, and he dealt with a shoulder problem late in the year.
"It was just a tough season," he said.
And not just for Tlusty. Eric Staal came into last season off a serious knee injury suffered in the 2013 World Championship and had a slow start. Semin injured a wrist in preseason, hampering him much of the season and requiring surgery after it, and also missed time with a concussion.
Former Canes coach Kirk Muller had to juggle the lines because of the injuries, but did reunite Tlusty, Staal and Semin in mid-January. Tlusty slipped from 23 goals to 16, although he had a career-best five game-winning scores and a plus-2 rating, a result of responsible defensive work at even strength.
"We thought last year was going to our year, but it wasn't," Tlusty said of the line. "It's the NHL. It's never easy. I personally learned from that and was determined to be ready for this season and prove again I deserve to be on the top line."
He'll have to prove it to a new head coach, Bill Peters, although general manager Ron Francis noted Tlusty should have added motivation with UFA status coming, saying, "He should be ready to rock and roll."
But Tlusty said he would put all that aside. His five seasons with the Canes have a common thread - no playoff appearances - and he'd like to change that.
"I have great feeling about this team," he said. "Let's just make it happen on the ice and it will be so much more fun around here."