Jean-Pierre Dumont has entertained visions of playing a home game in Buffalo from the moment he decided he was going to be a Nashville Predator.
Yes, the veteran winger is aware the only date the Buffalo Sabres are scheduled to play the Predators in the regular season is tonight in the Music City. So it's not difficult to understand what kind of matchup Dumont is considering for his return to HSBC Arena.
"The only way to come back to Buffalo would be in the Stanley Cup finals," Dumont said, his smile nearly audible over the phone. "Too bad for you, but in my dream you guys are not even close to winning the Cup. And guess who gets the winning goal, too."
The Sabres will visit the Central Division-leading Predators tonight in the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The game will be Dumont's first against the Sabres since they cut him five months ago.
Dumont was a popular player in Buffalo, not only with the fans, but also among his teammates. But management, uncomfortably pressed against the salary cap, set him adrift over the summer, electing to walk away from his $2.9 million arbitration award.
Dumont learned of the club's decision on the day he buried his grandfather in Montreal. His second daughter had been born days earlier. He was unemployed, but not in the delightful, unrestricted free agent way. Most teams already had allocated their budget within the salary cap. Options were limited.
"It wasn't a pleasant summer," Dumont said. "It all seemed to come at the same time. We were kind of worried about moving somewhere and finding a new place to live with two young children."
All has worked out well for Dumont. He signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
When asked to describe the Predators for Western New Yorkers who haven't seen them play yet, Dumont explained they roll four lines. They possess underrated, mobile, puck-moving defensemen. They have a great starting goalie who's hurt, but the backup is playing like a No. 1. The chemistry is sublime. Their front office is the most stable in the conference.
Dumont gushed over how much the Predators helped him, wife Kristen, daughters Ella and Ava and black Labrador retriever Jack get settled in quickly. Dumont said that allowed him to make a seamless transition.
Of course, it hasn't hurt that he skates on a line with center Jason Arnott (when healthy) and right winger Steve Sullivan. The trio fronts a power-play unit.
"He has fit in really well for us," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "He gives us a very intelligent player. He is a solid guy on the wall, and he gives us additional depth at scoring. . . . So it was a good move."
Dumont, who scored 39 seconds into his Predators debut, is fourth on the club in scoring with six goals and 17 assists through 34 games. He has zero goals 12 games running, but he has five points in five games, including the primary assist on all three of Sullivan's goals last Thursday.
"He gave Sullivan a hat trick, pretty much handed him three goals," Sabres goalie Martin Biron said. "That's pretty much the guy he was here, and you're starting to see him do that in Nashville more and more in the highlights."
Dumont, however, remains disappointed over the way his career ended in Buffalo after nearly 400 games, including the postseason. He also was heavily involved in local charities, particularly Carly's Club. He bought an HSBC Arena suite and would dole out tickets to various organizations.
"That's something I didn't see coming at all," Dumont said of his exit. "I really thought during the summer both sides would sit down and talk and try to agree on something, but the Sabres never called. I was looking forward to this year because the way we finished was not how we wanted to end it.
"I saw all the guys they tried to make deals with and I was at home, waiting. But they had their plan made, and I wasn't a part of their plans. I really believed that with the playoff we had they would try to keep the team together, but with the cap it's hard."
The Sabres clearly have gotten along fine without Dumont. They lead the Eastern Conference and have scored more than any other team. Jason Pominville has been effective with Dumont's old linemates, Daniel Briere and Jochen Hecht.
Nevertheless, Dumont's departure left a void.
"He was a big part of the team," Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell said. "Could we use him? Yeah, obviously. Would we like him to be here? Yeah. But that's the business side of hockey, and that's too bad because he was well-liked in the locker room and had been around the city quite a while."
Dumont, a wisecracking prankster, was known for his running commentary in the dressing room and at practices.
"There's always these moments," said Biron, his roommate on the road for four seasons, "where you say 'Aw, if J.P. was here he would have said this,' or 'If J.P. was here he would have done that.' His name always comes up. Him and his family are definitely missed here, but that's just the way it is."
The wistful feelings are mutual. At least until the spring.
"I miss the city and the fans," Dumont said. "They've been really great with me, even during the rough times we had in Buffalo. It's just too bad the next time they see me I'll be scoring a few goals against their team in the Stanley Cup finals."