In response to a reader casting doubt on the research supporting my recent Kukla’s Korner article, here’s a look at the returns received by teams who traded away star players at the NHL trade deadline.
On my “Puckin’ Around with Spector” blog on Kukla’s Korner, I recently wrote a post entitled, “Trading Stars At The Deadline Doesn’t Always Pan Out”, in which I stated teams which trade star players at the deadline usually don’t get quality value in return.
I noted several examples (Ilya Kovalchuk, Marian Hossa, Brad Richards, Bryan Campbell, Ryan Smyth, Mark Recchi, Ray Bourque, and Larry Murphy) to support my claim, but one of my readers recently contacted me via Twitter to disagree.
“ think your theory is flawed trading players salaries should be considered boston Thornton Edmonton Gretzky examples won cups”.
“how many players have left Detroit and they still keep winning hossa Federov primeau to name a few”
The Joe Thornton deal wasn’t a trade deadline move (it occurred on November 30th, 2005), but I responded the return the Bruins received (Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau) played no active role in the Bruins march to the Stanley Cup nearly six years later.
The Gretzky trade also never occurred at the trade deadline, taking place in August 1988, and the return (Martin Gelinas, Jimmy Carson, three first round picks) did nothing to prevent the Oilers slow decline following the Gretzky trade.
Gelinas played a role in the Oilers Cup win in 1990, but that victory was due primarily to the number of quality stars (Messier, Kurri, Anderson, Lowe, Ranford, Tikkanen) still in the Oilers lineup. Carson played no part, because he was dealt to Detroit earlier that year.
I asked the reader to shoot me his e-mail, saying I’d be delighted – following this year’s deadline – to provide a detailed breakdown of deadline trades involving major stars, anticipating I’d be too busy, and the task too involved, to examine it at the present time.
He replied, “I give u credit for standing by your article even if it’s impossible to prove. 4 every argument 4 there’s an equal against”.
The more I thought about this subject, the more I felt compelled to conduct a detailed examination of the subject now, rather than wait to do so after the trade deadline. Happily, this didn’t turn out to be “impossible” to prove my point, nor was it as time consuming as I’d originally imagined.
The NHL Trade Deadline was first implemented on March 10, 1980. Here’s a look at the major players who were dealt since then, the return they fetched, and how each deal worked out.
1. 1980: To NY Islanders: Butch Goring.
To LA Kings: Billy Harris and Dave Lewis.
Goring went on to help the Isles win four consecutive Stanley Cups, winning the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP in 1981. Harris and Lewis did nothing to significantly improve the Kings. ADVANTAGE: ISLES
2. 1981.To LA Kings: Rick Martin.
To Buffalo Sabres: Kings third round pick in 1981, first round pick in 1983 (Tom Barrasso).
Injuries ended Martin’s career soon after this deal. Barrasso won the Calder and Vezina Trophies with the Sabres in 1984, on his way to a lengthy, successful NHL career. ADVANTAGE: SABRES
3. 1990. To NY Rangers: Mike Gartner.
To Minnesota North Stars: Ulf Dahlen, Rangers fourth round pick in 1990 and future considerations.
Gartner played 3 1/2 years with the Rangers, netting three-straight 40-plus goal seasons, while the return for the North Stars did nothing to help them. ADVANTAGE: RANGERS.
4. 1991: To Pittsburgh Penguins: Ron Francis, along with Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings.
To Hartford Whalers: John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker.
Francis on his own would’ve netted those three, but this remains one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history, as Francis and Samuelsson went on to help the Penguins win two Stanley Cups, while the return for the Whalers did little to improve them. ADVANTAGE: PENGUINS
5. 1994: To Chicago Blackhawks: Tony Amonte.
To NY Rangers: Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan.
True, Matteau scored a memorable goal vaulting the Rangers into the 1994 Stanley Cup Final, but Amonte went on to play his best seasons during his 7 1/2 years with the Blackhawks, becoming an all-star performer. ADVANTAGE: BLACKHAWKS.
6. 1997: To Detroit Red Wings: Larry Murphy.
To Toronto Maple Leafs: future considerations.
Explained in detail on my blog. ADVANTAGE: RED WINGS.
7. 1999: To Detroit Red Wings: Chris Chelios.
To Chicago Blackhawks: 1999 and 2001 first round draft picks.
Chelios played ten more years with the Wings, helping them to three Cup Finals and two championships. The Blackhawks used the picks to select Steve McCarthy and Adam Munro. ADVANTAGE: RED WINGS.
8. 1999: To San Jose Sharks: Vincent Damphousse
To Montreal Canadiens: fifth round pick in 1999, conditional pick in 2000.
Damphousse went on to 5 1/2 productive seasons with the Sharks. The Habs got nothing of value for those draft picks. ADVANTAGE: SHARKS.
9. 2000: To New Jersey Devils: Alex Mogilny
To Vancouver Canucks: Brendan Morrison and Denis Pederson.
Explained in detail on my blog. EVEN.
10. 2000: To Colorado Avalanche: Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk.
To Boston Bruins: Brian Rolston, Samuel Pahlsson, Martin Grenier and 2000 first round pick.
Explained in detail on my blog. ADVANTAGE: AVALANCHE.
11. 2001: To St. Louis Blues: Keith Tkachuk.
To Phoenix Coyotes: Michal Handzus, Ladislav Nagy, rights to Jeff Taffe and a first round pick in 2002 (Ben Eager).
Tkachuk went on to spend nearly eight seasons with the Blues, becoming one of their most popular players. The return for the Coyotes wasn’t bad, but failed to produce any star talent equal or greater to Tkachuk, and didn’t significantly improve them. Nagy had the most promise, but he would be hampered by injuries. ADVANTAGE: BLUES.
12. 2006: To Carolina Hurricanes: Mark Recchi.
To Pittsburgh Penguins: Niklas Nordgren, Krys Kolanos, second round pick.
Explained in detail on my blog. ADVANTAGE: HURRICANES.
13. 2007: To NY Islanders: Ryan Smyth.
To Edmonton Oilers: Robert Nilsson, Ryan O’Meara, first round pick in 2007 (Alex Plante).
Explained in detail on my blog. ADVANTAGE: ISLANDERS.
14. 2008: To Dallas Stars: Brad Richards.
To Tampa Bay Lightning: Mike Smith, Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern, fourth round pick in 2009.
Explained in detail on my blog. ADVANTAGE: STARS.
15. 2008: To Pittsburgh Penguins: Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis.
To Atlanta Thrashers: Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito, first round pick in 2008.
Explained in detail on my blog. ADVANTAGE: PENGUINS.
As we can see, of the fifteen trade deadline deals involving a star player, only one resulted in a team trading away that player getting the better of the deal, and one where the deal worked out for both teams. Of the remainder, the team acquiring the star player got the better of the deal.
To reiterate the point of my original post, when a general manager trades a star player at the deadline for what appears to be a significant return, he’s gambling the return will eventually turn into something around which to rebuild.
In other words, he takes his chances and hopes for the best.
More often than not, the return isn’t worth the player they gave up.