As NHL trades go I’d rank the one in early December 1995 that sent All-Star goaltender Patrick Roy from Montreal to Colorado as the greatest ever. At the time Roy was suspended and feuding with Montreal management, which felt it had no choice but to trade him.
The price paid for Roy (and right wing Mike Keane) was goalie Jocelyn Thibault, right wing Andrei Kovalenko and left wing Martin Rucinsky. At the time of the trade, the 30-year-old Roy was the most marketable player in the NHL. He was a proven championship goaltender and Colorado landing him was the greatest steal of any trade I’ve ever seen.
The trade of Roy came around midseason, but the NHL’s biggest deals usually take place near or at the trade deadline. Besides the Roy deal, here in chronological order are my top trades since 1990.
March 4, 1991: The Penguins traded center John Cullen, right wing Jeff Parker and defenseman Zarley Zalapski to the Whalers (now the Hurricanes) for center Ron Francis, defenseman Grant Jennings and defenseman Ulf Samuelsson. This deal turned out to be one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history.
By getting Francis, the Penguins brought aboard an incredible center to go with superstar Mario Lemieux. And in Samuelsson Pittsburgh got grit and toughness on the blue line as he was an ultimate playoff gladiator. This deal put Pittsburgh – a franchise with Lemieux, one of the most dazzling players in the history of the game – in championship mode. Francis’ leadership was superb.
The Penguins went on to win the 1991 Stanley Cup, a first for the franchise. They repeated that feat the following season. They were heavily favored to win a third straight Cup until the Islanders pulled off a miraculous upset of the Penguins. Without swinging this deal, Pittsburgh doesn’t win those two Cups. Hats off to then Pittsburgh general manager Craig Patrick for pulling off this deal.
March 21, 1994: The Rangers made three separate swaps on this day, and each proved a tremendous boost for New York. The Rangers dealt right wing Tony Amonte and the rights to left wing Matt Oates to Chicago for left wing Stephane Matteau and right wing Brian Noonan. They also sent right wing Mike Gartner to Toronto for right wing Glenn Anderson, the rights to defenseman Scott Malone and the Maple Leafs’ fourth-round pick in the 1994 Entry Draft (defenseman Alexander Korobolin). And they moved center Todd Marchant to Edmonton in return for center Craig MacTavish.
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The key additions for the Rangers were Matteau, Noonan, Anderson, and MacTavish. Rangers coach Mike Keenan had familiarity with these players and that was invaluable because if a player didn’t mesh with Keenan he wasn’t going to be of any help to the team. Rangers general manager Neil Smith not only had to find good fits for Keenan, he also had to bring in players that the team’s superstar, Mark Messier, knew and trusted.
As a result of these trades the Rangers got old quickly, but they also ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought as they went on to defeat Vancouver in seven games for the NHL championship. So for New York, it was well worth making these three trades.
On the same day of the deals made by the Rangers, Vancouver sent center Craig Janney to St. Louis and got back a couple of defensemen, Jeff Brown and Bret Hedican, and center Nathan LaFayette. Although this deal was overshadowed by the moves the Rangers made, I don’t feel the Canucks would have made it to the Stanley Cup Final had they not pulled the trigger on this transaction.
March 24, 1998: Dallas traded right wing Todd Harvey, left wing Bob Errey and its fourth-round pick in the 1998 Entry Draft (left wing Boyd Kane) to the Rangers in exchange for center Brian Skrudland, right wing Mike Keane and the Rangers’ sixth-round pick in the 1998 Entry Draft (center Pavel Patera).
Skrudland and Keane were both former team captains and they both had Stanley Cup rings. They brought to Dallas the character, glue and grit that took the Stars to their first Presidents' Trophy that season and to winning the Stanley Cup the following season.
March 23, 1999: The Red Wings sent their first-round picks in 1999 (defenseman Steve McCarthy) and 2001 (goalie Adam Munro) to the Blackhawks for defenseman Chris Chelios.
This deal looked like a steal for Chicago – two first-round picks for a 37-year-old defenseman. The Blackhawks were going to miss the playoffs that season anyway. But as it turned out the Red Wings were the big winners in this trade and not just because Chicago blew it in its selections of McCarthy and Munro.
The addition of Chelios proved significant for the Red Wings although their bid for a third consecutive Stanley Cup came up short when they were ousted by Colorado in the Western Conference Semifinals that season. At 46, Chelios is still with the Red Wings. His acquisition has paid huge dividends for Detroit, especially in 2002 when Chelios helped the Red Wings win their third Stanley Cup in a six-year period.
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