Rating Gretzky to LA and other landmark NHL trades

Friday August 9th, 2013

Wayne Gretzky haunted his former team by leading his Kings past the Oilers in their first playoff series.
Robert Riger/Getty Images

Nobody is irreplaceable or untradeable. Famous deals in baseball have included Babe Ruth, Pete Rose, Nolan Ryan, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jimmie Foxx. NBA stars such as Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, and Moses Malone were all dealt during their careers. On August 9, 1988, the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings cross-checked the hockey world by orchestrating a trade involving the game's greatest player, proving once again that anyone in any sport can be shipped anywhere.

Gallery: Superstars who were traded in their prime

Here's a look at how that trade, and some other landmark NHL deals, panned out:

• Wayne Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley from Edmonton to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas and first-round picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993

The world as it was on the day of the Gretzky trade

Though he never won another Stanley Cup after leaving Edmonton, Gretzky's arrival in Los Angeles completely changed the landscape of hockey in Southern California, making Kings games must-see events, helping to grow youth hockey in the U.S., and paving the way for two other California franchises, the San Jose Sharks and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, to join the NHL. In his first season with his new team, Gretzky led the Kings past the Oilers in a seven-game first round playoff series after producing the first of his five 120-plus-point seasons in L.A. He later took the Kings to the Cup final in 1993 before moving on to St. Louis and the New York Rangers.

Krushelnyski, a center who scored 43 goals for the Oilers during their 1984-85 Cup-winning campaign, had decent scoring numbers (26-36-62) during his first season in L.A., but he never again reached 20 goals and was traded to Toronto in November 1990. He wrapped up his NHL career with 20 games for Detroit in 1994-95.

Defenseman McSorley had a long career as an enforcer -- his bout with Detroit's Bob Probert inspired musician John Ondrasik, a former SI.com contributor, to name his band Five for Fighting.-- and he assisted on Gretzky's goal that broke Gordie Howe's career mark of 801. He also became known for two moments of infamy: getting called for an illegal stick during the 1993 Cup final against Montreal, a penalty that turned the series against the Kings; and a 2000 stick swinging incident with fellow enforcer Donald Brashear while playing for Boston.

A highly-regarded 20-year-old center coming off a 55-goal season for the Kings, Carson found the pressure of producing in Edmonton too severe although he did amass 100 points in his only full season with Oilers. After four games in 1989-90, he was dealt to Detroit with Kevin McClelland for Petr Klima, Adam Graves, Joe Murphy and Jeff Sharples. Klima would go on to score one of most memorable goals in Oilers history: a triple-overtime winner in Game 1 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Graves and Murphy were valuable young players on the Oilers' Cup-winner that year, and Graves won another with the Rangers after a 52-goal season in 1993-94.

Left winger Gelinas, the Kings' first round pick (No. 7 overall) in 1988, won the Cup with Edmonton in 1990 and reached the final during stints with Vancouver and Carolina. Though he never became a prolific scorer as expected, had his goal in Game 6 of the 2004 final not been disallowed, Gelinas, then with Calgary, might have become the only player in NHL history to produce four series-winning tallies during the same playoff year. He is now an assistant coach with the Flames.

The Oilers dealt their pick in the 1989 draft to the Devils, who ironically chose Edmonton native Jason Miller, a left wing who played all of six NHL games without scoring a point.

In 1991, the Oilers used the Kings' top pick at No. 20 to take Czech forward Martin Rucinsky, who played only two games for Edmonton before going on to a lengthy NHL career that ended in 2008. He amassed 612 points in 961 games for eight teams, including two stops with the Blues and three with the Rangers, making him one of the most traveled players in NHL history. Last season, he played for HC Litvinov in the Czech League through his 42nd birthday.

In 1993, the Oilers used L.A.'s pick at No. 16 to choose defenseman Nick Stajduhar, who, like Rucinsky, played just two games for them. And that was it for his NHL career, which was adversely affected by a concussion he suffered during a bar fight while playing for Cape Breton of the AHL in 1996.

Verdict: Though the Oilers won the Cup without Gretzky in 1990 and the Kings failed to win one with him, we'll give this one to Los Angeles and Sunbelt hockey for the boom that resulted. The trade was the first of several that Oilers' owner Peter Pocklington made with his superstars during the next few years. Owing to financial issues, one the great dynasties in history liquidated its assets piece by piece. First, here are three other significant Oiler sell-offs:

HACKEL: How Gretzky trade rumors met with weeks of media lethargy

• Paul Coffey, Dave Hunter and Wayne Van Dorp from Edmonton to Pittsburgh for Craig Simpson, Dave Hannan, Moe Mantha and Chris Joseph (Nov. 24, 1987)

One of the greatest offensive defensemen in NHL history, Coffey played for nine NHL teams, winning three Stanley Cups with Edmonton and one with Pittsburgh, later reaching finals with Detroit and Philadelphia. He still holds the mark for goals in a season by a defenseman (48) -- good luck breaking that one anytime soon -- and points in a playoff year by a backliner (37). Coffey's career marks were broken by Ray Bourque. He was a very effective offensive player after his trade to the Penguins, but he often clashed with management over money during his stay, which ended with a trade to the Kings in February 1992.

Hunter, a left wing and the older brother of Dale and Mark, had been an Oiler since their days in the WHA and he won three Cups with them. A valuable, physical role player, he was one of the league's best defensive forwards in his prime, but by the time of this trade, he was on the downside of his career. He played 59 games for the Penguins before spending his final NHL season with Winnipeg and Edmonton.

Winger Van Dorp, an NHL journeyman enforcer, spent 25 games and 75 minutes in the box while playing for the Penguins before moving on to the Blackhawks. He concluded his career in 1992 with totals of 24 points and 565 PIMs.

Simpson was an accomplished scorer who consistently put up 25 goals per year except for the anomalous 1987-88 campaign when he amassed 56 between Pittsburgh and Edmonton. He later won the Cup with the Oilers in 1990. Hannan and defenseman Mantha each lasted less than one season in Edmonton. Interestingly, the Penguins claimed Hannan in an October 1988 waiver draft and gave up Hunter as compensation. Blueliner Joseph played parts of six seasons in Edmonton before bouncing around on seven more teams.

Verdict: Both Coffey and Simpson won one Cup with their new teams. Most of these players subsequently moved on to new locations, so both teams got something, but not everything they wanted from the deal. This one is about even.

New York easily got the better end of the Mark Messier trade.
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

• Mark Messier from Edmonton to the New York Rangers for Bernie Nicholls, Louie DeBrusk and Steven Rice (Oct. 4, 1991)

In an attempt to save money, the Oilers sent their leader to Broadway where he became the first traded captain in NHL history to win the Cup. Messier won two Hart trophies and in 1994 famously led New York to its first title in 54 years, silencing the cutting chant of "1940" when the Rangers took the ice in a visiting building. He remains one of the iconic captains in the history of the game.

Nicholls, who was 30 at the time of the trade, never came remotely close to producing the usual 30- or 40-plus goal campaigns of his prime -- never mind matching his career-high 70-goal season with the Kings in 1989-90. He lasted two years in Edmonton before finishing his career with three other teams.

After the trade, winger Rice spent almost all of that season in the minors. After a 17-goal, 32-point effort for the Oilers in 1993-94, he was shipped to the Hartford Whatlers.

DeBrusk was brought in to be an enforcer, but was never really comfortable having to fight for a living, even though he slugged it out with Edmonton for parts of six seasons. He retired in 2004 with NHL career totals of 41 points and 1,161 penalty minutes.

Verdict: The Rangers ended their jinx, while the Oilers never returned to glory.

• Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson and Craig Berube traded from Edmonton to Toronto for Vincent Damphousse, Luke Richardson, Scott Thornton, Peter Ing and future considerations (Sept. 19, 1991)

Fuhr, who won five Cups in Edmonton and backstopped Team Canada to a pair of Canada Cup titles (Gretzky called him the best goaltender he had ever seen), was traded after serving a one-year suspension for recreational drug use. The 1987-88 Vezina Trophy winner remained a solid performer, but he never attained the same level of success with any of his five subsequent teams. His stay in Toronto lasted only a season and a half, during which time the Leafs finished last in the Norris Division with him as their starter in 1991-92. He ended up as Felix Potvin's backup before he was dealt to Buffalo in February 1993, sharing the Jennings Trophy with Dominik Hasek that season. He later played in 76 straight games for the Blues in 1995-96.

Winger Anderson was a playoff stalwart, amassing 214 postseason points, mostly with the Oilers. He also scored five postseason overtime goals, good for third on the all-time list. A two-time 50-goal scorer, his production steadily decreased after the trade and the speedster fell two goals shot of 500 for his Hall of Fame career. He spent nearly three seasons in Toronto, helping the Leafs reach the 1993 Campbell Conference Finals (where they lost to Gretzky's Kings) before a deadline trade sent him to the New York Rangers,with whom he won a sixth Cup in 1994.

Berube, a winger, never played for the Oilers, who acquired him from Philadelphia before sending him on to Toronto, where jhe appeared in 40 games before being dealt to Calgary. He currently stands seventh on the all-time penalty-minutes list with 3,149 in 1,054 games. In the playoffs, his ratio of PIMs to assists was 211 to 1.

Damphousse was a very good center, perhaps the least heralded 1,200-point player to lace up skates. After a 38-goal season for the Oilers in 1991-92, he was dealt to Montreal, where he won the Cup in his first season. He spent nearly seven years with the Canadiens before playing the last six seasons of his career in San Jose.

A rugged journeyman defenseman, Richardson played six seasons for the Oilers. He concluded his NHL career in 2008 with 2,000 penalty minutes and 1,417 NHL games. A stay-at-home backliner, he never scored a playoff goal.

Thornton was forecasted as a power forwards, and he did last for 941 NHL games, but managed 285 points, leaving him well behind his All-Star cousin, Joe.

Ing spent most of his time as a minor-league goalie. He had only three wins in Edmonton and one in Detroit.

Verdict: Though the Oilers reached the conference finals (they were swept by Chicago) after making the trade, this deal was ultimately a long-term wash because Anderson and Fuhr faded and Damphousse was the player who had the best future, though his most notable accomplishments came during his post-Edmonton career.

Here are some other deals that shook the NHL without involving Gretzky or the Oilers:

Former Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy's arrival in Colorado turned the Avalanche into champions.
Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images

• Patrick Roy and Mike Keane from Montreal to Colorado for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko (Dec. 6, 1995)

Roy never got along with Mario Tremblay, his coach in Montreal, the pair sometimes quarreling openly during practice. During a home game against the Red Wings in 1996, Roy allowed a career-high nine goals, was jeered when he made saves, and defiantly stormed past Tremblay when the coach finally pulled him in the second period. Roy insisted that it was his last game in Montreal, and so it was. He was shipped to Colorado four days later. His impact on the game and the Avalanche cannot be understated. He didn't invent the butterfly style of goaltending, but his success with it spawned a generation of goalies who dropped to their knees and covered the bottom of the net. The man with three Vezina Trophies, two Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythes would win two more Cups with Colorado as well as a third Smythe in 2001. He finished his career with the most wins in NHL history during the regular season (551, since broken by Martin Brodeur) and playoffs (151, which still stands).

Keane had been named captain of the Canadiens, but the winger drew ire from fans in Montreal when he stated publicly that he had no plans to learn French because it wasn't necessary. He played four seasons in Colorado -- twice in two-year intervals -- winning the Stanley Cup in 1996. He appeared in 220 career playoff games and finished his career in the AHL in 2010 at age 43.

Monteal was stop number two of six for netminder Thibault, who played four seasons with the Canadiens and later finished his career with exactly 238 wins and 238 losses. Of note, he had a knack for playing well on closing nights. He was the winning goalie in the last games ever played at the Montreal Forum, Maple Leaf Gardens and the Capital Center.

Colorado was stop number three of eight for Rucinsky who interspersed his NHL stints with seven different tours of play in the Czech Republic, making sure to earn those frequent flier miles. In all, he played seven seasons in Montreal, topping 25 goals three times.

Kovalenko played for 13 teams in his career, including seven in the NHL. He scored the last goal in the Montreal Forum and was best known for an uncanny sense of balance that made him hard to knock off his skates. But he only lasted one year in Montreal, where he scored 17 goals in 51 games.

Verdict: Easy. Roy's presence in the Avs' net changed that franchise. The Habs' have endured their longest Cup drought since that trade. Colorado won this one.

• Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings from Hartford to Pittsburgh for John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker (Mar. 4, 1991)

As good as the Penguins were with Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey and rookie forward Jaromir Jagr, something was missing from a team that had won no Cups and often missed the playoffs. Just as the Islanders needed a complementary center in Butch Goring before they could become a dynasty, the Penguins lacked a solid No. 2 who could accept a non-starring but very important role behind their captain. Francis fit the bill. He was a rugged, soft-spoken, very smart center who amassed ridiculous numbers so quietly that by the time his Hall of Fame career was done in 2004, you did a double take when you saw him with 1,798 career points.

Like Francis, Samuelsson fulfilled an important need on an explosive team that lacked a shutdown defenseman who could get the puck out of Pittsburgh's zone. Samuelsson, the paradoxical dirty Swede, was the guy. He frustrated star forwards like few others while mastering the game's black arts.

Jennings played parts of four seasons in Pittsburgh as a physical, defensive defenseman who never scored than four goals in an NHL season. He appeared in 389 NHL games, bounced around the minors, and became an aircraft mechanic in Alaska.

Cullen did have a 77-point campaign with the Whalers in 1991-92, but his remarkable 110-point season with both teams during his trade year turned out to be a one-time flash. In 1998, the centerman made a brave comeback from non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and won the Masterton Trophy.

Defenseman Zalapski started off well in Hartford, picking up 20 goals in his first full season and recording 51 assists the following year. He left the NHL in 2000, having scored 99 goals in 637 games. He loved the game however, and between stints in minor and European leagues, played for 14 more teams, obtaining Swiss citizenship before he retired.

Parker was a winger who had a knack for being involved in big trades. He had gone from Buffalo to Winnipeg earlier in his career as a throw-in in the Phil Housley-Dale Hawerchuk deal. He played four games as a Whaler before a knee injury ended his career.

Verdict: This was a one-sided win for the Penguins, who won Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 after the additions of Francis and Samuelsson.

Boston icon Ray Bourque concluded his Hall of Fame career in grand style with Colorado.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

• Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk from Boston to Colorado for Brian Rolston, Martin Grenier, Samuel Pahlsson and a first-round draft pick (March 6, 2000)

Bourque was a franchise defenseman who would later finish with the most goals (410), assists (1,169) and points (1,579) of any backliner in history. He made two trips to the Cup final as a Bruin, in 1988 and 1990, but his Boston teams were struggling at the end of the century and clearly not title contenders. His trade to Colorado was considered almost an act of sympathy, giving the popular defenseman a solid chance at his long-sought championship. The combination of Bourque, Rob Blake and Adam Foote on defense, with Roy in goal and Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg up front, brought Colorado a title in 2001. Bourque retired soon after hoisting the Cup in what was one of the sweetest exits in NHL history.

Andreychuk played only 14 games in Colorado before being shipped back to Buffalo, his original NHL team. He finished his long career on a high note in Tampa Bay, where he won a Cup in 2004 and retired in 2006 with the most power-play goals (274) of anyone in NHL history.

Rolston spent four seasons in Boston, but saved his best hockey for his next stop, Minnesota, where he hit 30 goals in three straight seasons. He finished his career with 342 goals and 761 points. But after 1,256 regular-season games, his teams had won a total of one playoff series.

Grenier played in just 18 NHL games, but established himself as a top scrapper in the AHL and KHL

Pahlsson was a fabulous defensive forward who played a key role in Anaheim's Cup win in 2007. The Bruins, however, got only 17 games out of him before shipping him to the Ducks. He played in his native Sweden last season.

Martin Samuelsson, the first round pick, played in only 14 NHL games during parts of two seasons with the Bruins, recording a single assist. He spent the rest of his career in the minors before returning to his native Sweden.

Verdict: The Bruins didn't get enough out of any of the players they received in return for Bourque, but they get points for freeing him and letting him win a championship. Colorado won this one (with an assist from Boston).

• John Bucyk from Detroit to Boston for Terry Sawchuk (July 24, 1957)

One of the great goalies ever to play the game, Sawchuk won 447 games and held the career record of 103 career shutouts until Martin Brodeur broke it. He won his first Stanley Cups with Detroit in 1952 as the Wings swept through the playoffs, inspiring the tradition of fans flinging octopi onto the ice in honor of the team's eight-game postseason sweep. Sawchuk had retired from the Bruins prematurely in 1957 while suffering from mononucleosis, but the trade returned him to Detroit, where he spent another seven seasons. He later won another Cup with Toronto in 1967. He finished his career with the Rangers in 1970 and died at age 40 in May of that year after suffering an injury in what he described as a horseplay fight with Ron Stewart, who was renting a house with the goaltender.

Bucyk had played just two seasons and scored 30 points in 104 NHL games when Boston acquired him and he would last another 20 years, scoring 20 or more goals 16 times and helping the Bruins to Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972. When he retired in 1978, he was ranked fourth on the NHL's all time points list with 1,369, the most by any left wing in history. That distinction now belongs to Luc Robitaille. Bucyk is still the oldest player to score 50 goals in a season.

Verdict: This was a deal of one Hall-of-Famer for another. Sawchuk is included in the discussion of greatest goalies for what he did in his prime, but because Bucyk had more of his best ahead of him, the Bruins might have a slight edge here.

• Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais from Boston to the New York Rangers for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle, and Joe Zanussi (Nov. 7, 1975)

None of the players in this deal ever enjoyed the same levels of success in their new city. (When Bruins coach Don Cherry came into Esposito's hotel room to tell him he'd been traded, Espo threatened to jump out the window if the destination was New York.) The Hall of Fame center led the NHL in goals six times as a Bruin, but reached the 40 mark only once in New York. That season, 1978-79, the Rangers reached the Cup final, losing in five games to Montreal. Esposito went on to a career as an executive with decidedly mixed results.

Defenseman Vadnais won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins, but he was a whipping boy for the New York fans during his first two full seasons in New York. Simply, he wasn't Brad Park, but he did reach double-digits in goals eight times in his career, including twice in New York.

Park might have been the best defenseman of his era who wasn't named Orr, making the league's First All-Star team five times. He was a strong Bruin for eight seasons before spending his last two in Detroit. Park played for 18 seasons and never missed the playoffs. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall-of-Fame in 1988.

Hall of Famer Ratelle was a fixture on New York's goal-a-game line before he was traded. In Boston, he posted five straight 70-point seasons and finished with 1,267 points for his career. But despite his teams reaching the Cup final four times -- Ratelle was injured in 1972 -- he never won a title, losing out twice in each city.

Zanussi played in 87 NHL games and the defenseman scored one goal. It wasn't because he was an enforcer, either. He never received a major penalty in the NHL. He did record the first assist in the history of the Winnipeg Jets when they were in the WHA.

Verdict: Ratelle, Park and Esposito were iconic figures with their original teams and very good ones with their new ones. Though the four main players in the trade were effective for many years, all saw their career fade somewhat after the trade and none won a Stanley Cup in his new city. Give the Bruins (two finals to one; two Hall of Famers to one after the trade) a slight edge in a swap that shook up both teams.

• Butch Goring from Los Angeles to the New York Islanders for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis (Mar. 10, 1980)

Don't judge a trade's impact by just its raw numbers. Goring may not have seemed like an impact player by sight. He was small, unshaven and wore a helmet that looked like it was designed in a Lego factory. But he was exactly the missing piece the Islander lacked after several promising seasons that had produced no championships. Goring was a superb penalty killer and speedy puck pursuer who didn't produce at the same rate as he had in L.A., but he added depth and balance to the club and he saved some of his best showings for the playoffs, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1981 and helping the Islanders to four straight Cups before becoming an NHL head coach.

Winger Harris had been the Islanders' first pick in their 1972 expansion draft, so he really was THE original Islander. He was also very durable, appearing in more than 500 straight games without being benched or injured before the trade. He picked up 20 goals during his first season as a King and finished his career in Los Angeles after a stint with the Leafs. He never won a title before the light went out on his career, though he does manufacture candles for a living these days in Ontario.

Lewis played 16 NHL seasons and reached a milestone by finishing with 1,008 games played, including three full seasons in L.A.. He was the classic stay-at-home defenseman who parlayed his knowledge of the game into a coaching career. He won a Stanley Cup as an assistant, but never as a head coach.

Verdict: Goring was a great fit for the Isles. Granted the team maturing and improving without him, but who knows how many of their four Cups would have ended up elsewhere if he had played somewhere else. Advantage Islanders.

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