The top 10 NHL trades of the decade

Some were fleecings. Some were mutually beneficial. At least one jumpstarted a Hall-of-Fame career. These are the best blockbusters of the past 10 years.
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What constitutes a great trade? There’s no easy answer to that question. If a great trade means one team made out like a bandit, it also means another team got stung badly. So is a truly great trade one that benefits both sides?

Another way to define a great trade is its level of fame and/or infamy. If I say, “Trade is one for one,” chances are you know what swap I’m referencing.

Neither of those definitions is wrong, really. So, when perusing the hundreds of trades made over the past decade to create a top-10 list, I factored in multiple ideas of what makes a perfect deal. Some represent a gargantuan win for one team, particularly in terms of long-term impact. That could mean an acquisition leading to a Stanley Cup win. It could also mean a player acquired in a trade becoming a long-term franchise cornerstone. Other trades on the list feature impact players going both ways. And some trades make the list simply for old-fashioned star power. The big-name “hockey trade” made a comeback in the latter half of this decade.

Some disclaimers for the list:

(a) Trades made by the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2017 expansion draft aren’t factored in. The Knights had an unusual advantage as desperate teams dumped players while making side deals to protect other players on their rosters from being claimed. Vegas scored a bunch of lopsided trades that day.

(b) Most of the trades on this list focus on the established names being moved rather than the theoretical. For instance, the Canucks trading Cory Schneider for the 2013 first-round pick that became Bo Horvat didn’t quite make the cut, as it’s not guaranteed the Devils would’ve picked Horvat. Nashville Predators GM David Poile schooled me on that principle years ago – that we can’t evaluate teams on specific players taken with picks those teams traded away. When the Edmonton Oilers traded for Griffin Reinhart in 2015, we don’t know the pick they sent to the New York Islanders was going to be Mathew Barzal had Peter Chiarelli kept it.

(c) With one notable exception, this list lacks many trades from the past couple seasons, simply because it’s too early to evaluate their long-term impact.

(d) This was a difficult list to pare down. My honorable-mentions list is several dozen trades long, including the Minnesota Wild snagging Devan Dubnyk for a mid-round pick and the Columbus Blue Jackets landing a true star in Artemi Panarin. Only the truly jaw-dropping deals crack the top 10.

Each of the trades listed occurred between Jan. 1, 2010 and present day in 2019.

The countdown begins…now.

10. KINGS SACRIFICE THEIR TOP PROSPECT FOR MIKE RICHARDS: June 23, 2011

Kings acquire: Mike Richards, Rob Bordson

Flyers acquire: Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, 2012 second-round pick (traded away)

When two teams come together on a deal that nets one team a star, the dream is that team gets a difference-maker for a championship run and that the selling team lands some crucial building blocks for its next generation. That’s exactly what happened with this trade.

Richards was 26 at the time and a legitimate star, one of the best 200-foot centers in the game, having finished top-eight in three straight Selke Trophy votes. He’d won Olympic gold in 2010, helped the Flyers reach the Stanley Cup a few months after that and averaged 74 points per 82 games in the four seasons leading up to the trade.

The Kings were in the midst of rising up thanks to a core of first-round picks including Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown but needed another piece to put them over the top. Richards wasn’t nearly as dominant as a King as he was with the Flyers, but he did his job, providing depth scoring and two-way acumen and helping the Kings win Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. Even though Richards’ career fell off a cliff and the Flyers technically lost this trade from a player-value standpoint, it passes the “Was it worth it?” test given Richards played on two championship squads.

The Flyers, meanwhile, made out great. They sold Richards at his absolute peak and got two impact forwards in Schenn and Simmonds From 2011-12 through 2017-18, Simmonds and Schenn ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in team scoring, and Simmonds led the franchise in goals over that seven-season stretch. Both play for new teams now, and neither won a championship in Philly, but both were strong power-forward contributors there for the better part of a decade.

The funny thing is – the Flyers weren’t rebuilders auctioning off Richards to blow the franchise up. They were fresh off a 106-point season but wanted to get Richards’ $5.75-million AAV off the books after acquiring the negotiating rights to then-prized pending UFA goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. We all remember how that deal worked out.

9. THE FILIP FORSBERG FLEECING: April 3, 2013

Predators acquire: Filip Forsberg

Capitals acquire: Martin Erat, Michael Latta

Forget hindsight being 20/20. Foresight was 20/20 for pretty much everyone not named Capitals GM George McPhee the second this deadline-day deal happened. Forsberg was a 2012 first-round pick and top-end prospect, and the Capitals sacrificed him to land Erat, who was in his 30s and struggling with four goals in 31 games the day he was dealt. Latta was a future bottom-sixer and thus not enough to tip the scales in McPhee’s favor.

Forsberg is already fourth on the Predators’ all-time goals list. Guess who he’s set to pass before the season is up? Erat. There isn’t much else to say about this trade. Forsberg, signed long term, is on track to challenge David Legwand for most of the Predators’ all-time offensive records. Erat’s Caps career, including one playoff series: two goals and 27 points in 66 games. Woof.

8. SETH JONES AND RYAN JOHANSEN SAY ‘HI’ AT THE AIRPORT: Jan. 6, 2016

Blue Jackets acquire: Seth Jones

Predators acquire: Ryan Johansen

Remember when Jones and Johansen ran into each other in the airport after being traded for each other? They shared the story a few years back.

Cheers to Preds GM Poile and Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen for bringing back the old-fashioned hockey trade. It was a deal made entirely out of need. The Predators already had a stacked blueline including Shea Weber, Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi. Jones was a borderline prodigy, reaching the NHL as the teenager after going fourth overall in the 2013 draft, but Poile was desperate for a play-driving center.

The Blue Jackets surrendered their No. 1 forward, whom they chose fourth-overall in 2010. The idea I posed at the time was that Johansen would plug a major hole in the short term for Nashville but that Columbus would win the trade in the long run as Jones spread his wings to become a star. Considering how many predictions I get wrong year to year, I may as well enjoy the victory lap on this one. Johansen helped Nashville win three rounds in the 2017 playoffs before getting hurt just in time for the Stanley Cup final. Johansen has since settled in as more of a No. 2 center than a powerhouse No. 1. That’s a big reason why Poile essentially had to repeat this trade in the summer by trading another star ‘D,’ P.K. Subban, and signing center Matt Duchene.

Jones meanwhile, has emerged as a perennial Norris-Trophy-caliber blueliner. He’s still just 25, so his best years may still lie ahead.

7. BLUE JACKETS BUY LOW ON SERGEI BOBROVSKY: June 22, 2012

Blue Jackets acquire: Sergei Bobrovsky

Flyers acquire: 2012 second-round pick (Anthony Stolarz), 2012 fourth-round pick (Taylor Leier), 2013 fourth-round pick (traded away)

After an impressive rookie season, the undrafted ‘Bob’ regressed in Year 2 in effectiveness but also in role, as the Flyers threw money at Bryzgalov to be their bellcow starter. They decided Bobrovsky was expendable and shipped him off for a fresh start in Columbus in exchange for three draft picks. It’s too bad advanced stats weren’t as popular back then. The Flyers could’ve dug deep and seen that Bobrovsky had the third-highest expected goals against per 60 minutes in his down year, so he was partially dragged down by a difficult workload, masking his abilities.

‘Bob’ instantly blossomed as a Blue Jacket, posting an incredible 2.00 goals-against average and .932 save percentage across 38 games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. He carried a Columbus team supposedly stripped down after the Rick Nash trade to a tie for the final Western Conference playoff spot, which the Jackets lost to Minnesota on a tiebreaker. Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy and, after injuries slowed him for a couple seasons, got his body right and won another Vezina in 2016-17. The Flyers, the team perpetually looking for a goaltending solution, traded away the only netminder to win two Vezinas this decade. Oh, the irony!

6. PHIL KESSEL THRILLS IN PITTSBURGH: July 1, 2015

Penguins acquire: Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, 2016 second-round pick (Kasper Bjorkqvist)

Maple Leafs acquire: Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, Nick Spaling, 2016 first-round pick (traded away), 2016 third-round pick (J.D. Greenway)

Here’s the first true contender/rebuilder collaboration on the list. The Leafs had axed GM Dave Nonis without naming a successor, so this trade was actually put together by team president Brendan Shanahan and his then-co-GMs, Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter. Toronto was in full tank mode, so it was prudent to move Kessel for a package consisting primarily of futures. In a way, this trade helped the Leafs get Auston Matthews, as they iced a barren, Kessel-free squad in 2015-16, helping them stuff the draft lottery with ping-pong balls. Kapanen has become a solid, speedy middle-six forward for the Leafs, and the Leafs used the first-round pick acquired in the trade as part of the package sent to Anaheim for Frederik Andersen in 2016.

So the Leafs helped build the foundation of their new roster with this trade. The Penguins, however, made out even better. They hadn’t won a Stanley Cup or even been to a final since 2009, and GM Jim Rutherford decided it was time to add another marquee forward to complement Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. It took a while for the Penguins to realize Kessel worked best on his own line but, once they did, the Pens iced a deadly three-pronged attack. Across Pittsburgh’s back-to-back Stanley Cup runs, Kessel was in the Conn Smythe Trophy mix both times, racking up 45 points in 49 games. Sure, he eventually wore out coach Mike Sullivan’s patience, but the Pens don’t win the 2016 and 2017 Cups without Kessel, who also posted a career-best 92-point effort in 2017-18.

5. THE STARS STEAL TYLER SEGUIN: July 4, 2013

Stars acquire: Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, Ryan Button

Bruins acquire: Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Joe Morrow, Matt Fraser

More so than most NHL franchises, the Bruins have established a definitive culture. It’s team-first, workmanlike, unselfish and even inspires their stars to take less money on their long-term deals to keep the team together. In 2013, the exciting, brash Seguin was 21 and, given his reputation as a partier, didn’t fit into the team culture. “We’re not babysitters,’ GM Chiarelli said to describe Seguin at the time.

Stars GM Jim Nill wisely pounced. In Eriksson, Nill did surrender the team’s best two-way winger, but that paled in comparison to what Nill acquired. Whether you agreed or not with Seguin’s lifestyle at the time, his talent was never in doubt. He’s emerged, not surprisingly, as one of the most consistent offensive weapons in the league since arriving in Dallas, ranking fourth in the NHL in goals and seventh in points from 2013-14 to present day. He also became a full-time center and added some two-way elements to his game.

The Bruins are a model franchise in so many ways, but Chiarelli took a big ‘L’ on this one. Talent trumps all. Seguin was 21 and obviously was going to mature as he got older.

4. TAYLOR HALL, ADAM LARSSON, ‘ONE FOR ONE’: June 29, 2016

Devils acquire: Taylor Hall

Oilers acquire: Adam Larsson

Here’s another entry for Chiarelli’s greatest-hits album, defined by five words, tweeted with a (virtual) straight face by TSN insider Bob McKenzie during one of the wildest days of trading in NHL history: “Trade is one for one.” It was a jaw-dropper at the time and has only aged worse for the Oilers.

Hall, the 2010 draft’s No. 1 overall pick, hadn’t quite become the superstar he was supposed to be, had trouble staying healthy year to year and, like Seguin, sparked gossip about his off-ice lifestyle. But Hall was still one of the game’s fastest, most dynamic left wingers and had only gotten half a season under his belt playing alongside Connor McDavid, who’d broken his collarbone as a rookie. Trading Hall for Larsson, a mobile and fearless defensive defenseman, was deemed indefensible by most the day it happened.

One year into the trade, McDavid had led Edmonton to the playoffs with Larsson playing big minutes, inspiring a bunch of “The trade worked out” takes out West, but Hall quickly squashed that idea in 2017-18. He carried the New Jersey Devils to the playoffs, outscoring his closest teammate by 41 points and winning the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

That the Devils couldn’t re-sign Hall and had to trade him this season doesn’t make the Larsson trade any less of a win for New Jersey GM Ray Shero. Factoring in the assets netted from the Arizona Coyotes, he still turned Larsson into something more valuable than Larsson. It’s remarkable that Chiarelli made the same mistake twice in three years. In Edmonton and Boston, he owned the No. 1 and 2 players drafted in 2010 and traded them both away.

3. RYAN O’REILLY BECOMES A WINNER: July 1, 2018

Blues acquire: Ryan O’Reilly

Sabres acquire: Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, 2019 first-round pick (Ryan Johnson), 2021 second-round pick

Here’s where I break my unofficial rule of giving trades a couple years to mature. The tangible impact of the O’Reilly deal was just so potent that it can’t be ignored. The Blues, having barely missed the playoffs in 2017-18, decided to aggressively overhaul their forward group in summer 2018. That included signing David Perron, Patrick Maroon and Tyler Bozak, but the O’Reilly deal was GM Doug Armstrong’s biggest coup. O’Reilly did pretty much everything all year, playing monster minutes, scoring at the rate of a top-line center and battling the other teams’ best players in shutdown duty. He took home the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward plus the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP, scoring five goals in the last four games of the Stanley Cup final to help St. Louis win its first championship.

Not bad considering O’Reilly had negative press cloaking him at the time of the trade after making emotional comments about the frustration of perpetual losing in Buffalo. Armstrong didn’t care about that. He knew what O’Reilly could bring to the Blues. The Sabres, meanwhile, would probably like a do-over on this one. Due to personal problems, Berglund ended up leaving the Sabres after 23 games, walking away from millions of dollars, and Buffalo has struggled to develop a viable No. 2 center to play behind Jack Eichel. It was supposed to be Casey Mittelstadt, but the Sabres rushed him into that role after the O’Reilly trade, and Mittelstadt currently plays for the AHL’s Rochester Americans.

2. P.K. SUBBAN, SHEA WEBER SWAP TEAMS: June 29, 2016

Predators acquire: P.K. Subban

Canadiens acquire: Shea Weber

It’s amazing that this deal happened the same day as Hall for Larsson – 20 minutes later, to be exact.

In terms of raw star power being exchanged, there’s no topping this trade. It’s the kind of blockbuster that was far more common the previous century. What’s the closest all-time comparable in terms of prime talent going to both teams? The Phil Esposito/Jean Ratelle/Brad Park trade?

A week after denying he was even shopping his Norris-Trophy-winning blueliner Subban, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin pulled the trigger just a couple days before Subban’s no-trade clause kicked in. Subban was four years younger and playing better all-around hockey than the Predators’ captain Weber at the time, but the Habs decided they wanted a more stoic and old-school personality who could offer just as much physicality and a similarly booming right-handed shot.

The Predators won this trade in the early going. Within one season, Subban was firing off quips about bad breath while doing battle with the Penguins’ Crosby in the Stanley Cup final. But Subban ended up dealt to the New Jersey Devils as a cap casualty while Poile hunted for Duchene this past summer. Subban is now enduring the worst season of his career. Meanwhile, Weber has resurged so remarkably at age 34 that he’s a fringe Norris contender this season in Montreal, so maybe we can’t complete our evaluation of this trade just yet.

1. BRENT BURNS BECOMES A SHARK, June 24, 2011

Sharks acquire: Brent Burns, 2012 second-round pick (traded away)

Wild acquire: Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi, 2011 first-round pick (Zack Phillips)

Choosing the top trade of the decade was a matter of impact. Some trades on this list earned points for tremendous short-term impact, which O’Reilly and Kessel brought to their teams. Others yielded long-term cornerstones, such as the Seguin acquisition.

But no trade this decade combines impact and longevity like Doug Wilson’s grand larceny at the 2011 draft. In Burns, not only did Wilson land the team’s best player of the decade (we’ll give the previous decade to Joe Thornton), but he also acquired someone who built what will probably be a Hall-of-Fame legacy in San Jose. Burns played forward for a couple seasons and acquitted himself well there, using his monstrous frame effectively but, after shifting back permanently to defense in 2014-15, he’s enjoyed one of the most remarkable runs of production by any blueliner this century. Since 2014-15, he leads all defensemen in goals, points and shots, and he’s second only to Erik Karlsson in assists. Burns has 31 more points than any other D-man over that stretch and almost 400 more shots than any other D-man. He’s been a Norris finalist three of the past four years, winning once and finishing second once.

His defensive play is the subject of constant debate, but there’s no denying Burns sits alongside Karlsson as the two most dominant defensemen of the decade. They’ve ushered in an era of defensemen joining the rush as fourth forwards and having offenses run through them.

Think about Burns’ level of impact – then review what Wilson gave up to bring that to San Jose. Coyle has carved out a decent career as a middle-six center. Setoguchi never approached the heights of his days in San Jose and is now retired. The Wild gave away a probable Hall of Famer for what became a painfully small return.

Over the next two weeks, The Hockey News will be wrapping up the 2010s with a look back at the best – and worst – of the decade. Find more here.

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