Wayne Gretzky shocker to L.A. will always be hockey’s pre-eminent swap. It is, after all, known simply as “The Trade.” That said, the first seismic, earth-shattering, mind-blowing blockbuster to register on my Richter scale happened more than a decade earlier, on Nov. 7, 1975, when the Rangers sent Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and Joe Zanussi to Boston for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais. To borrow a line from Greg Kihn, they just don’t write ’em like that anymore.
In today’s NHL, you get the occasional big-name player shipped out, for financial or rebuilding purposes. The bounty he fetches is typically draft picks, prospects and young players. It’s almost always a buyer-seller arrangement, due largely to the confines of the salary cap. But 40 years ago, in 1975, the “real” hockey trade was thriving and there was none bigger than the Bruins-Rangers transaction.
Consider three of the five players (Esposito, Park, Ratelle) earned places in the Hall of Fame. Esposito was the biggest fish, an immense superstar with the personality to match. Boston’s alternate captain had won five of seven Art Ross trophies, was a two-time Hart winner and a key cog on two Cup champions. He was also a national icon in Canada thanks to his epic performance, and rant, during the 1972 Summit Series. He was 33 at the time of the deal and had many miles left on the engine.
Park is the best defenseman never to win the Norris. He can thank Bobby Orr for that distinction, but he has a stellar resume nonetheless. A stalwart at both ends, Park was 27 when the trade was consummated and had been named to five post-season all-star teams. Ratelle, an alternate captain on the Summit Series squad, possessed a combination of size, talent and grace. While he was 35 in 1975, he was actually more productive in Boston over parts of six years than in New York, averaging more than a point a game in his “twilight years.” Vadnais was a slick-skating rearguard known more for offense than defense. He had participated in four All-Star Games by 1975. Today, the deal would be akin to the Caps moving
Alex Ovechkin and
Mike Green to L.A. for
Jeff Carter and a fringe player. In other words, virtually unthinkable. But oh, so memorable.
This is feature appears in the March 9 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.