6 Worst Trade Gambles in NHL History

Al DanielCorrespondent IIJanuary 29, 2013

6 Worst Trade Gambles in NHL History

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    Brian Burke, recently dismissed from his duties as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, need not have his trade for Phil Kessel lumped into the low points of his tenure. Not yet, anyway.

    Although Burke effectively squandered two opportunities to inject new blood into a team that had just missed four straight postseasons in 2009, he still reeled in a reliable young scorer. Kessel’s yearly output has exponentially increased in his first three seasons with the Leafs, whom he led with a career-high 64 points in 2010-11 and with 82 last year.

    Those who would classify that deal as a detrimental trade gamble on Toronto’s part either have too broad a scope or too little patience in that respect. Giving up a chance to rebuild a franchise or relinquishing solid established pieces for the sake of an unknown future only prove to be a bad move if the return package does not deliver.

    Kessel still has time to constitute a part of Toronto’s rejuvenated nucleus. Although, this deal could start to look a lot worse in a few more years if the Leafs are still missing the playoffs while the Boston Bruins are thriving with the help of Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.

    If the new face is an immediate bust or abruptly starts to decline within two or three years of the deal in question, then the move is a losing gamble. The notion of a lost bet is only compounded when the other party reaps rewards from the other player longer than the “losing” team even sticks with its new piece.

    The jury is still out on the Kessel deal. Ditto the trade between Columbus and Philadelphia that yielded Jeff Carter’s abbreviated gig with the Blue Jackets and the import of youngsters Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier by the Flyers.

    Depending on what unfolds for those parties in the coming years, they just might join the company of these one-sided swaps as moves that one franchise must wish it could take back.

Cam Neely for Barry Pederson

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    How different might the Vancouver Canucks’ fortunes have been in 1994 if they still had Cam Neely at their disposal?

    One can only guess, but just consider the reality of what happened for each party eight years after the Canucks dealt Neely to Boston in 1986.

    The 1993-94 campaign saw the Canucks finish sixth in the Western Conference, but then push the regular-season champion New York Rangers to Game 7 before faltering in the Stanley Cup Final. It also saw their long-ago exile, Neely, post 50 regular-season goals and lead the league in goals per game (1.02), game-winning goals (13) and shooting percentage (27 percent).

    Barry Pederson, the chief piece of compensation in exchange for Neely, was in his second year of retirement by then. After switching from the Bruins to the Canucks, he had dressed for 233 games and tallied a 60-137-197 scoring log before transferring to Pittsburgh in 1989-90 after his productivity had taken a plunge the year prior.

Doug Gilmour for Gary Leeman

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    The only way this could have been worse for the Calgary Flames is if Doug Gilmour’s Toronto Maple Leafs had reached the 1993 Stanley Cup Final, opposite Gary Leeman’s Montreal Canadiens.

    One year prior, midway through the 1991-92 campaign, Leeman was acquired from Toronto while Gilmour went from the Flames to the Leafs as part of a 10-player deal.

    It was a gamble on Calgary’s part in that Leeman had plummeted since posting a career-high 95 points in 1989-90 while Gilmour was continuously surpassing a point-per-game average each season.

    The change of scenery did not help Leeman or the Flames, who eventually dealt him to Montreal late in 1992-93. He briefly accelerated his production in the homestretch with the Habs and partook in a run to the Stanley Cup, but was otherwise never the same.

    Gilmour, on the other hand, broke triple digits in the point column for the only two times in his career while playing for the Leafs in 1992-93 and again in 1993-94, his first two full years with the team.

    Toronto, which had been a postseason no-show in 1991 and 1992, reached the third round of the playoffs in both seasons. The Flames missed the 1992 playoffs with Leeman and lost to Los Angeles in the opening round of the 1993 tournament after he was exported.

Markus Naslund for Alek Stojanov

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    Markus Naslund was just breaking out as a 22-year-old in his third season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. After charging up a combined log of 6-9-15 in 85 games played the two previous seasons, he had a 19-33-52 transcript in his first 66 appearances with the Pens in 1995-96.

    Yet even while Naslund was beginning to prove himself, the Penguins opted to swap him out in favor of an even less proven youngster in Alek Stojanov. At the time of his acquisition from Vancouver, Stojanov had scored but one point in 62 games as a Canuck. 

    Whatever Pittsburgh’s higher-ups saw beneath that slow start and whatever improvement they envisioned, it never materialized. Stajanov’s career with the Penguins lasted all of 45 games with two goals and four assists while Naslund blossomed into a prolific leader for Vancouver.

Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe for Trevor Linden

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    This would not be the last time the New York Islanders relinquished a bona fide star, if not two, before they even knew they had him.

    Todd Bertuzzi had his first breakout year two seasons after the Isles exported him to Vancouver, posting 50 points for the Canucks in 1999-2000. By then, the seasoned leader Linden, the compensation for Bertuzzi and McCabe, was no longer an Islander, but rather a Canadien.

    Bertuzzi accelerated to another echelon within another two years for an 85-point campaign in 2001-02. By then, Linden was a Canuck again.

    Granted, the Islanders had their own renaissance in 2001-02 with such new faces as forward Alexei Yashin, goaltender Chris Osgood and head coach Peter Laviolette. Those figures helped the team put Toronto to seven games in the first round of the playoffs

    But what if Bertuzzi were still in their equation at that point? Better yet, what if Bryan McCabe were still an Islander that year, as opposed to a Maple Leaf?

    Like Bertuzzi, McCabe had been dumped from the Islanders before he could finish his third NHL season in 1997-98 so that Linden could come aboard. By 2002, the defenseman was tallying double digits in the goal column for the first time and helping the Maple Leafs end the Islanders’ first playoff run in recent memory.

Zdeno Chara (and Jason Spezza) for Alexei Yashin

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    In the immediate run, it was a beneficial deal for all parties concerned.

    In his first season as an Islander, Alexei Yashin led the team in scoring and partook in the franchise’s first playoff run in eight years. Meanwhile, 2001-02 was a breakout campaign for Zdeno Chara in Ottawa after four iffy seasons on Long Island.

    Unlike Yashin and the Isles, though, Chara and the Sens took additional steps after their first season following the 2001 trade that also had Ottawa taking New York’s second overall draft choice.

    They used that pick to claim Jason Spezza, who would help the Senators to an appearance in the 2007 finals, the same year the Islanders were zapped out of their first round in Yashin’s final season and their most recent postseason run.

    That run to the finals was after Chara left for Boston, but not before Ottawa won the President’s Trophy and came within one win of a berth in the 2003 finals. Just as they were in 2002 and 2007, Yashin’s Islanders were bounced from the first round in 2003 and 2004 and missed the dance altogether in 2006.

    Imagine how different those seasons would have been for both franchises if the personnel in question were reversed.

Ryan McDonagh for Scott Gomez

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    When analyzing the Montreal Canadiens’ end of this blockbuster deal right after it happened on June 30, 2009, The Hockey News concluded, “This is a desperation move for a team that has had a devil of a time landing quality free agents.”

    At the time of the trade, which involved five other players, Scott Gomez was 29 years old and had nine more years of experience than the rising rookie Ryan McDonagh. Gomez had two Stanley Cups and two All-Star appearances, the most recent of the latter being in 2007-08.

    With McDonagh and another young blueliner in Pavel Valentenko exported to the Rangers, the Canadiens relinquished two potential pieces of the defense’s future in implicit hopes of amplifying and seasoning their offense.

    Fast-forward to the present: Gomez is gone after being bought out and seeking a fresh sheet in San Jose. His Habs finished last in the Eastern Conference while he sat out 44 games with four different injuries in 2011-12.

    Conversely, McDonagh is coming off a year in which he dressed for all 82 games, led the Rangers with a plus-25 rating and helped them to first place in the conference.