What makes a trade lopsided? Many hockey fans think it is when one team gets the better players, declaring that that team had “won” the trade. But getting the better players doesn’t necessarily mean that team always wins.
For example, look at the Wayne Gretzky trade. One could rightly surmise that the Los Angeles Kings won that exchange, since they acquired the game’s greatest player in the deal. But consider that the Edmonton Oilers got $15 million in the trade, which allowed them to stay afloat, and won the Stanley Cup in 1990 with some of the assets they received. The Kings raised their profile exponentially with Gretzky on their team, but did not win a Stanley Cup Championship until 2012, long after that trade had any bearing.
That trade doesn’t seem so lopsided anymore when you look at it that way, does it?
With today being the NHL trade deadline, here is a look at five lopsided trades, where one team clearly benefited, while the other got hosed.
March 4, 1991:
Penguins get Francis, Samuelsson & Jennings
…Whalers get Cullen, Zalapski & Parker
March 4, 1991 will go down in history as one of the biggest, franchise-defining moments for both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Hartford Whalers, sending both teams in opposite directions.
Seeking to bolster his fledgling team, Whalers GM Ed Johnston reached out to Penguins GM Craig Patrick and worked a deal sending Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings from Hartford in exchange for Pittsburgh’s John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker. I will stress the fact that, at the time, this trade was viewed as a benefit to both clubs.
Some sports experts even thought Hartford may have come out on top. The Hockey News gave the edge to Hartford, The Hartford Courant spun it as positive, and both Johnston and team owner Richard Gordon, believed it was a great deal. Johnston even went on to say that he thought Cullen and Francis were equal. In an interview with NHL.com back in 2006, then Pens radio announcer Paul Steigerwald was quoted as saying, “People were saying that in Hartford,” in reference to the Whalers coming out on top. “They had soured on Ronnie Francis and Ulfie was talking about going back to Sweden because he was so upset.” Well, those “glass is half full” people in Hartford were wrong.
In the short term, Cullen had 16 points in the last 13 games, helping Hartford into the playoffs where they lost 4-2 in the first round against Boston. Pittsburgh finished 9-3-2 in the last 14 games, winning their division. Francis posted 11 points, Samuelsson had five, and Jennings had four. The Penguins stormed through the playoffs, earning their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
In the long term, Pittsburgh won a second Cup in 1991-92 followed by the President’s Trophy in 1992-93. The Penguins didn’t miss the playoffs again until the 2001-02 season. Ron Francis played eight memorable, HOF-like seasons for Pittsburgh. Ulf Samuelsson played another four seasons for the Pens, cementing his legacy as one of the leagues great tough guys. Grant Jennings played 198 games over another 3 ½ seasons mostly as a role player.
Hartford made the playoffs again in 1991-92, being eliminated in the first round by Montreal. They never made another playoff appearance again. Cullen scored 77 points in that season, which to many, was an overall disappointment. He followed that up with a rough 1992-93 opening campaign that led to his shipment to Toronto. Zalapski continued as a Whaler for another 2 1/2 seasons but was traded to Calgary amidst what had become a management nightmare in Hartford. Jeff Parker only played 4 games for the Whalers. Hartford’s record after the trade was 164-243-53, attendance at the Civic Center dropped, and after the 1996-97 season, the teams demise was capped with moving trucks relocating the team to Carolina.
The key to the trade was Ron Francis and ultimately, he was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame due to his entire career, not just in Pittsburgh. However, not having to be relied on as a #1 center did wonders for his stat sheet and longevity in the league. He was already a star player with a great career and not having to shine in the spotlight was just what he needed, playing with superstars like Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. 613 pts in 533 games over eight seasons in Pittsburgh (with another 100 playoff points) is nothing to balk at. Five of his last six seasons saw 87+ points per season (the lockout kept it from 6/6.) He eventually retired, as a Hurricane, 4th all time in points. – Tim Parish
August 7, 1992:
Sabres get Hasek
…Blackhawks get Beauregard & 4th round pick
The Chicago Blackhawks really did not need to trade away future Hall of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek — but they did anyway.
Hasek was named goaltender of the year five years in a row and player of the year three times in his native Czechoslovakia. In his first full NHL season, he was named to the NHL’s All-Rookie Team. You would think that a guy with those credentials would be worthy of being Ed Belfour’s backup.
Nope! Instead, Blackhawks General Manager Mike Keenan traded Hasek to the Buffalo Sabres for goaltender Stephane Beauregard and a fourth round draft pick, then three days later traded Beauregard to the Winnipeg Jets for Christian Ruuttu. Most people incorrectly think that it was a Hasek-for-Ruuttu deal, and technically, that’s what it amounted to for the Blackhawks and Sabres. It was actually this three-way swap where the Jets traded Beauregard earlier in the summer, only to reacquire him before the season started. (Because — dammit! — the Jets really wanted to keep Beauregard.)
The Sabres obviously thought that Hasek was worthy of being Grant Fuhr’s backup. Hasek played 28 games for Buffalo in 1992-93, and was even left unprotected in the 1993 NHL Expansion Draft, though neither the Anaheim Ducks nor the Florida Panthers chose him. After that, Hasek went on to a stellar career, winning the Vezina Trophy six times, the Jennings Trophy three times, and the Hart Trophy twice. Hasek won the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2002 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.
Ruuttu, meanwhile, did not meet expectations with the Blackhawks. He put up 90 points (28 goals and 62 assists) over 158 games, making him slightly better than a half-point per game player — but not good stats for a player centering the team’s second scoring line. After 2 1/2 seasons with the ‘Hawks, Ruuttu was traded to the Vancouver Canucks, where he finished out the 1994-95 season, then headed to Europe for another four years before retiring.
Perhaps the only upside for the Blackhawks in this lopsided deal is that the fourth round pick was used to draft Eric Daze, who proved to be the team’s brightest player during the team’s darkest years.– Sal Barry
June 23, 2001:
Senators get Chara, Muckalt & 1st Round Pick
…Islanders get Yashin
What was Mike Milbury thinking? The New York Islanders GM was so obsessed with acquiring Alexei Yashin from the Ottawa Senators that he traded away a future Hall of Fame defenseman and a draft pick that cost his team a potential 1,000-point scorer.
Don’t get me wrong; Alexei Yashin was an extremely talented player, but he was also an extreme headache for the Senators. Yashin had several contract disputes with the Senators, and was even suspended by the Sens for the remainder of the 1999-2000 season when he refused to report to the team. Yashin was forced to honor the final year of his contract with the Senators, who then traded him to the Islanders. You have to wonder why the hot-headed Milbury would want to put up with a player like that. Yashin played five seasons for the Islanders, failing to meet expectations before being bought out of his contract.
In exchange for Yashin, the Senators got up-and-coming, 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara, who would eventually become a Norris Trophy winner and will probably be inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Sens also got Bill Muckalt, who was essentially a throw-in, but the third piece of the deal is what really made this trade lopsided: the Islanders also gave up their first round pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, which was taking place that same day. The Senators used the pick — second overall — to select Jason Spezza, who scored 687 points in 686 with Ottawa, and is only 88 points away from hitting 1,000 career points. Mike Milbury could have literally done nothing that day and his team would have been better.
– Sal Barry
November 30, 2005:
Sharks get Joe Thornton
…Bruins get Primeau, Stuart & Sturm
– Kyle Scully
April 3, 2013:
Predators get Forsberg
…Capitals get Erat & Latta
You can’t talk about lopsided trades without mentioning Filip Forsberg. Many of you probably didn’t know that Forsberg was actually drafted by the Washington Capitals and was the 11th pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.
Forsberg was traded by the Washington Capitals to the Nashville Predators in April of 2013 for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. It goes without saying that the Predators won this trade. Forsberg is a top NHL forward who has scored over 20 goals each year since the 2014-15 season. Erat and Latta are both out of the league.
The Forsberg trade may have been worth it for Washington had they won the cup in 2013. Teams trade away prospects for established NHL players all the time to try to compete for a Stanley Cup. Many times, the prospect they trade away develops into a star. If the team wins the Cup, the trade is almost always worth it. That’s what the Capitals were hoping for when they traded away Forsberg.
Erat and Latta did absolutely nothing for Washington in 2013. Latta didn’t even play a game for them until next season and Erat had zero points in four games in the playoffs, which the Capitals lost in the first round. Erat would go on to play another half-season with the Caps before being traded to Phoenix and Latta played 96 total games for Washington and hasn’t sniffed the NHL since. Forsberg, on the other hand, is approaching 300 NHL points and plays for a contender. The Capitals gave away Forsberg, a top tier NHL player, for zero playoff points and two guys who contributed nothing to their team.
The only silver lining for Washington is that they did win the Stanley Cup last year, so it isn’t like that trade had any long-term negative effect. But maybe they could have won it earlier if they had kept Forsberg. – Blake Isaacs
Which lopsided trade do you think should be on this list? Leave a comment and let us know. ■