Recently, Maclean’s magazine [a weekly news magazine in Canada] filed a front page feature eloquently titled, "Why the Leafs Stink"
The feature was accompanied by a sidebar article listing the worst deals ever made by the Toronto Maple Leafs, stating that had the Leafs held on to some of the draft picks traded away, they might have won the Stanley Cup by now.
But are bad trades at the epicentre of the Leafs' problems?
The seven worst deals in Leaf history, according to Maclean’s are:
1. Frank Mahovlich and Carl Brewer for Norm Ullman and Paul Henderson
2. Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenneville for Wilf Paiement and Pat Hickey
3. Darryl Sittler for Rich Costello and Peter Ihnacak
4. Russ Courtnall for John Kordic
5. Scott Niedermayer for Tom Kurvers
6. Kenny Jonsson and Roberto Luongo for Wendel Clark and Mathieu Schneider
7. Steve Sullivan for nothing
Any hockey fan, regardless of who they cheer for, would agree that the top three trades were terrible deals for the club, the franchise and the fans.
No debate here.
In fact, I think most sports fans will attest, it almost hurts to look back at trades like these – one can't help but wonder what the GM was thinking and maybe even daydream a little about what could have been. This is one of the reasons I can’t imagine how difficult it is for an Islanders fan to look back on the Milbury era.
But once you move past those top three, the Maclean’s piece runs out of gas.
I’m not sure that the Kordic for Courtnall deal is really deserving of a top seven notation, and if it is, the Leafs clearly haven’t too much to be ashamed about. Down Goes Brown wrote an admirable defense of this trade and the reason it was completed – his take is worth the read (more so than the entire Maclean’s side-bar).
As for the rest of the list, I'm going to split some hairs.
Tom Kurvers for Scott Neidermayer should actually be Kuvers for a first round pick (that turned out to be Scott Niedermayer).
I’m doubtful the awful 1988 Leaf club would have drafted Neidermayer.
The Leafs of the late 80s thought "scouting" referred to teams playing off the 401 highway between Oshawa and Belleville and were all but wholly reliant on Central Scouting reports for their drafting insights.
Yeah, it’s still a terrible, horrifically bad trade, but call it what it is – a deal for a pick that turned out amazingly well for the New Jersey Devils.
Kenny Jonsson and Roberto Luongo for Wendel Clark and Mathieu Schneider is another deal where the Leafs traded a pick that just turned out to be Roberto Luongo.
The first problem with Maclean's take on this deal is that it suggests Luongo was property of the Leafs.
The second problem is that Luongo wouldn't even have been on the Leafs' radar.
This is a Leafs team that had a 1993 Calder Finalist and NHL All-Rookie team goalie named Felix Potvin tending nets in 1996 and thought they had great depth in their system in a young goalie named Eric Fichaud.
When you look at the players involved, it's also worth noting that Jonsson is no longer in the NHL while Schneider has gone on to win cups in Detroit and is a valuable member of the Anaheim Ducks defence (the trade still stunk, but it's not an all time low).
Finally, here's something to keep in mind when looking at the post-analysis of the "Neidermayer" and "Luongo" deals: Robert Picard was dealt for a third round pick that turned out to be Patrick Roy. If it’s positioned as Picard for Roy, it’s clearly one of the worst deals of all time. But a Picard for a third round pick? That's a deal many a GM pulls off each and every year.
Steve Sullivan for nothing – this wasn’t a trade, it was a questionable waiver wire decision, the Leafs chose to protect Dmitri Khristich in lieu of Sullivan.
While Maclean’s cites Sullivan's "impressive 180 goals and 281 assists in 520 games" they fail to mention his annual invisibility act in the playoffs (ask folks in Nashville about that one). It's the main reason the Quinn administration deemed Sullivan expendable.
Maybe I expect too much from a news magazine that promises to enlighten and engage, but if their hypothesis is that the Leafs propensity to deal draft picks has hurt them, they might have found more than two deals involving draft picks to bolster their case.
If it was enlightenment and engagement they were after, perhaps Maclean's could use some of that much cited mainstream media professional training and access to sources to provide a bit of context that would help readers better understand these deals.
Certainly, none of the Leaf transactions listed come close to rivaling any of the all-time great one-sided deals like: Cam Neely and a first round pick for Barry Pederson; Gretzky from Indianapolis to Edmonton for future considerations; Alek Stojanov for Markus Naslund; the original Lindros deal for Forsberg and $15MM; Patrick Roy and Mike Keane for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky, and Andrei Kovalenko; Luongo for Bertuzzi; Pavol Demitra for Christer Olsson; Briere for Gratton; Mark Messier for Louie DeBrusk, Bernie Nicholls, and Steven Rice or maybe even Gilmour, Macoun, Wamsley, Natress and Manderville for Leeman, Petit, Reese, Berube, and Godynyuk.
Oh, and for anyone keeping score, poor decisions at the ownership level - from the craziness of the Harold Ballard years, to Steve Stavros' bankruptcy, to the meddling incompetence of MLSE - is the primary cause of the Leafs thoroughly well-documented woes.