On the 28th anniversary of Wayne Gretzky's stunning trade to the Los Angeles Kings, here's a look at five other blockbuster deals that fundamentally shifted the foundation of the NHL:
Detroit trades Marcel Dionne and Bart Crashley to Los Angeles for Terry Harper, Dan Maloney and a second-round pick
June 23, 1975
Owner Jack Kent Cooke wanted to grab headlines for both of his Los Angeles-based teams in the summer of 1975. And so, just days after signing top NBA free agent Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers, he pounced on Dionne who was coming off a 47-goal, 121-point season with Detroit. But because free agency was a nascent concept at the time, the league required compensation be given to the Red Wings. The Kings paid a steep price for the promising sniper, giving up Harper, their captain and top defenseman, along with a solid young power forward in Maloney in a deal that infuriated coach Bob Pulford.
And understandably so. Los Angeles changed dramatically after the deal. Gone was the tight-checking, defensive mindset that led them to a franchise record 105 points the previous season. Instead, the Dionne-led Kings were all razzle-dazzle; and while they never enjoyed great postseason success, they packed the Fabulous Forum with a new generation of fans. Dionne lived up to his end of the bargain, recording 550 goals and 1,307 points in 921 games with Los Angeles as he became one of the greatest scorers in NHL history,
Detroit, meanwhile, missed the playoffs six of the next seven seasons and stumbled into the Dead Things era.
Boston trades Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais to New York for Jean Ratelle, Brad Park and Joe Zanussi
Nov. 7, 1975
It's one of hockey's great apocryphal tales: Esposito, upon being informed by coach Don Cherry that he'd been traded, threatened to jump out of his hotel room if Cherry told him he was being traded to the Rangers. Cherry then turned to Bobby Orr and said, “Bobby, open the window.”
It didn't quite happen that way, but Espo was truly devastated when he learned he'd been dealt. Boston and New York were fierce rivals in those days, and there was no love lost between the fans or players. But that wasn't the real problem for Esposito. Just weeks earlier, he'd agreed to a new contract with the Bruins for much less than he could have made in the WHA, and passed on a no-trade clause after Boston GM Harry Sinden gave his word that he'd never deal him to the Rangers. Getting sent to New York then was the ultimate betrayal, something he's bitter about to this day.
Ultimately, he made the adjustment. He later told Cherry he was made to play in New York and in many unexpected ways, he was. Esposito was never the scorer that he was in Boston, but he averaged 37 goals over his four full seasons in New York and helped lead the Rangers get to the 1979 Final before retiring in 1981.
Although it hurt to lose their colorful leader, Boston ended up getting the better of the deal. Park, a criminally underappreciated defender, helped them segue from Orr to Ray Bourque, and Ratelle was a stately presence down the middle who twice figured into the mix for the Hart trophy. Together, they helped lead Boston to a pair of Cup Final appearances (1977, 1978) and made the B's one of the most dominant teams of the decade.
Edmonton trades Mark Messier and future considerations to the New York Rangers for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk
Oct. 4 1991
Messier stepped up magnificently in the aftermath of the Gretzky trade, assuming the C and leading the Oilers to their fifth Stanley Cup in 1990. But after the 1991 season he asked that the final two years of his contract be renegotiated. When GM Glen Sather wouldn't budge, Messier held out, leading to his shocking trade to the Rangers.
It was a risky move for New York GM Neil Smith. Messier was coming off an injury-shortened season in which he'd scored just 12 goals, but Smith believed it was his leadership, not his offense, that would move the needle for the Rangers.
That's pretty much how it worked out. By the end of that first season, Messier helped mold the Rangers into a cohesive unit that claimed its first Presidents' Trophy in franchise history. Two years later, he scored a hat trick to deliver on a guarantee of a win over the Devils in Game 6 in the Eastern Conference final, then guided New York to its first Stanley Cup since 1940 with a seven-game win over Vancouver. He'll forever be revered as the man who brought the Cup back to Broadway.
The deal didn't work out quite as well for the Oilers. Nicholls initially refused to report, then scored just 28 goals over two partial seasons before being shipped back east to the Devils. Neither Rice, a first-round pick in 1989, nor DeBrusk ever became an impact player. And after earning a spot in the conference final in 1992, Edmonton missed the playoffs each of the next four years.
Quebec trades Eric Lindros to Philadelphia for Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, two first-round draft picks and cash
June 20, 1992
It was the deal that altered the fates of two franchises. Lindros, the top pick in the 1991 draft and the most highly-touted prospect since Gretzky, refused to sign with the Nordiques, prompting a nearly year-long holdout as he awaited a trade. Ultimately, different members of the organization agreed to send him to the Flyers and Rangers. After 10 days of arbitration, it was decided that the trade with the Flyers was valid, and Lindros was awarded to Philadelphia.
Both teams were fundamentally changed by the deal, but it was Quebec/Colorado that came out on top. Although the Big E went on to author a Hall of Fame career, and there were periods when he was the best player in the world, injuries prevented him from becoming the game-changing force everyone expected him to be. For Quebec though, the deal put them on track to win a pair of championships and become one of the league's most dominant franchises. Forsberg became a Hall of Famer in his own right and arguably the best player involved in the trade. Ricci matured into one of the league's top defensive forwards. And one of those first-round picks was used to select Jocelyn Thibault, whose true value will be explained below.
Montreal trades Patrick Roy and Mike Keane to Colorado for Jocelyn Thibault, Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky
Dec. 6, 1995
This summer's P.K. Subban deal wasn't the first time the Habs had spectacularly mishandled a world-class talent. In 1995, rookie coach Mario Tremblay left Roy between the pipes for nine goals in an 11–1 loss to the Red Wings. Believing that Tremblay wanted to humble him for challenging the coach on a number of fronts, Roy finally stormed off the ice and vowed never to play for the Canadiens again.
Although the trade that sent him to Colorado days later was shocking, the seeds for the deal were sewn in the preseason when the Habs and Avalanche agreed in principle to a trade that would send Roy to Colorado for winger Owen Nolan, goalie Stephane Fiset and a draft pick. Although that fell through, the lines of communication were established when Montreal had to make a move.
That didn't stop the Habs from getting rooked, though. Thibault, a middling talent to begin with, struggled with the weight of being Roy's successor. He was shipped to Chicago three years later. Rucinsky was a solid, if ultimately forgettable, second-line winger for Montreal, delivering four seasons of 20-plus goals. Kovalenko was dealt to Edmonton after one 17-goal, 34-point season.
And Roy? He cemented his Hall of Fame credentials by leading the Avs to Stanley Cup wins in 1996 and 2001. He also won 262 games to push his career total to a then-record 551, ensuring this swap would go down as one of the most impactful, and lopsided, in history.