Five Really-Lopsided NHL Trades

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 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

In November 2005, Joe Thornton, the number-one overall pick in 1997, was off to a strong start, tallying 33 points in just 24 games, but that didn’t stop then-Bruins General Manager Mike O’Connell from trading him to the San Jose Sharks. In return Boston received defenseman Brad Stuart and forwards Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau. Despite a signing a three year deal worth $20 million in August, a lot of blame had been placed on Thornton for Boston’s early exit against the Montreal Canadiens during the 2004 playoffs. Both teams though were in free fall. Boston had just lost nine of its last 10 games. San Jose was in the basement of the NHL looking for a way out.
Thornton kicked San Jose’s offense into high gear racking up 92 points in just 58 games. He would end the season winning the Art Ross and Hart Trophies in 2006 along with recently passing Gordie Howe on the all-time assist leader board. On the other hand, while Sturm played with the Bruins through 2010, Primeau and Stuart were dealt to the Calgary Flames in 2007. O’Connell didn’t even survive the season and was fired in March 2006. Some trades are bad, and sometimes they’re so bad you lose your job over it. Don’t worry though; O’Connell hasn’t traded a future Hall of Famer since.
– 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. ■

2 thoughts on “Five Really-Lopsided NHL Trades”

  1. I totally understand the Hasek trade tho… That trade was only a steal in hindsight – as are all trades that are considered “theft” or “steals”..

    When fans and pundits discuss this trade they always forget that the Hawks drafted Jimmy Waite 8th overall a couple of seasons prior and that Waite was going be given every opportunity over Hasek to succeed… I mean Waite was the Hawks future in goal, of course Ed Belfour who was signed as a depth goalie changed that in a strange twist of events when he went from “depth goalie” to “superstar” overnight in 1991.. So with Belfour taking over #1 that made Waite the de facto backup….. There was no way the Hawks were going to give an “over the hill” Hasek that role when you factor in Waite’s potential as a high pick and Belfour’s play..

    So yea, the trade made sense at the time…

    Also, I’m not going to call it a “bad trade” because had Hasek not been traded to Buffalo would we even remember him today?, I mean would he be the Hasek he is today or would he have ended up going back to Europe? one thing is certain — he had no future with the Blackhawks ..

    Unless -here is an interesting thought – and yes indeed this happened….

    The Hawks were in on Eric Lindros, and Quebec had a deal in place that would have sent Eric Lindros to the Hawks in exchange for Belfour, Larmer, Steve Smith and $5,000,000 in cash but the deal fell through because Bill Wirtz didn’t want to give up the $5,000,000… But had that deal happened, maybe Hasek stays with the Hawks and the Hawks win several Stanley Cups in the 90’s with Lindros, Roenick & Brent Sutter down the middle, Chelios anchoring the D and Hasek in goal….

    Lindros was traded on June 30, 1992 and the Hawks traded Hasek August 7, 1992 so the timeline does suggest that was the plan.. The fact the Belfour/Lindros trade fell though made Hasek expendable..

    It’s not like the Hawks would have traded Belfour for anyone else at the time – Belfour was the best goalie on the planet, and the only swap I could imagine would be for the “Next One” er Eric Lindros.

    1. Hi HawksFan. Welcome to the site, and please take a look around. I have quite a bit of Blackhawks content here.

      I do know that Jimmy Waite was drafted 8th overall in 1987 and was the Blackhawks “Goalie of the Future.” So I understand why the Blackhawks wanted to keep him in the picture.

      But many forget that Waite had fallen so far down the depth chart towards the end of the 1991-92 seasib that he was loaned to the AHL’s Hershey Bears. The Blackhawks were set on the tandem of Belfor and Hasek once Belfour ended his contract holdout. And the team could have easily kept that tandem going forward in 1992-93.

      The ‘Hawks could have traded Waite instead of Hasek. They didn’t need to move either one, but it made sense to move a goalie for an asset, like a second-line scoring center. I’m not saying the Sabres would have taken Waite instead of Hasek, but then again, the Sabres left Hasek unprotected in the 1993 NHL Expansion Draft a year after acquiring him.

      And since Hasek did make the All-Rookie team, maybe he could have been shopped around for a slightly better asset. Christian Ruuttu had scored only four goals in 70 games during the 1991-92 season, so there were probably better players they could have traded for.

      Back then, I thought the trade was a mistake. Hasek had shined internationally, but I think Mike Keenan was partial to Canadians, hence keeping both Belfour and Waite and moving Hasek.

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