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Ranking the 10 Best Trade Deadline Deals in NHL History

Rob VollmanContributor IMarch 4, 2014

Ranking the 10 Best Trade Deadline Deals in NHL History

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    RAY STUBBLEBINE/Associated Press

    Wednesday marks the trading deadline for the 2013-14 season, a day that has changed the destiny for many NHL teams over the years. It kick-started the 1980s New York Islanders dynasty, landed the Pittsburgh Penguins the final pieces they needed in the early 1990s, and got teams like Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Vancouver their franchise players. Which deal was the greatest of them all?

    Though I normally use analytics to answer questions like these, this time it's based on pure personal opinion. Short-term successes down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup playoffs were weighed against those deals that involved players who provided modest but more sustained success. In each case the trade-day motivation is explained, along with the ultimate end result of each deal.

    This was no easy task. There have been a lot of great deadline deals, and it is hard to choose 10. For example, New Jersey's famous deals in 2000 (Aleander Mogilny), 2002 (Jamie Langenbrunner and Joe Nieuwendyk) and even 2003 (Grant Marshall and Richard Smehlik) were especially hard to leave out.

    In the end these trades were not always the biggest, nor always the most one-sided, but they were the best, and each one has a great story. Let's begin.

    All advanced statistics are via writer's own original research unless otherwise noted.

     

10. Pittsburgh Acquires James Neal and Matt Niskanen

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Deal: The Pittsburgh Penguins, perhaps the kings of the deadline deal, acquired James Neal and Matt Niskanen from the Dallas Stars for Alex Goligoski at the 2011 trade deadline.

    It was a year that also featured a big deal between St. Louis and Colorado that saw Erik Johnson and Jay McClement head west for Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Stewart.

     

    The Motivation: Dallas was in financial difficulty and looking for new ownership, and this move freed up short-term dollars. James Neal and Matt Niskanen had both held out late into the previous offseason before signing.

    Furthermore, the Stars were deep on left-shooting forwards, and weak on puck-moving defensemen. Matt Niskanen was not held in high esteem, and the analytics agreed with that view, according to Josh Lile of Defending Big D.

    Ironically the move was mainly made to salvage a power play that was about to lose Brad Richards. James Neal would go on to lead the league with 18 power play goals in 2011-12, and finish third the following year with nine power play markers.

     

    The Result: Joe Yerdon of NBC Sports wrote that "the snap reaction on this trade is that Dallas got robbed."

    While Neal and Niskanen combined for just two goals and 10 points down the stretch, and Pittsburgh has a losing post-season record since the deal, there's no arguing with how quickly their two new players have developed.

    Neal has 83 goals and 165 points in 159 games in the three seasons since, and was named to the first all-star team in 2012. Meanwhile Niskanen is one of the few Pittsburgh defensemen to stay healthy this year, leads their blue line with 35 points and leads the entire NHL with plus-31.

    Alex Goligoski had a bigger initial bang for the Stars, scoring 15 points in 23 games down the stretch, but has 82 points in 177 games since. That's only 12 more than Niskanen, who has half the cap hit.

    While time has yet to provide a final verdict on this deal, it looks great for the Penguins so far.

9. Detroit Acquires Larry Murphy

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    The Deal: The Detroit Red Wings acquired Larry Murphy from the Toronto Maple Leafs for future considerations at the 1997 trade deadline. Not only are the future considerations believed to have ultimately been nothing at all, Toronto also paid a third of Murphy's contract through the end of the following season, according to Ray Parrillo of the Inquirer.

    This wouldn't be the last time Detroit picked up an invaluable veteran defenseman at the trade deadline. Two years later the Red Wings acquired Chris Chelios from the Chicago Blackhawks for Anders Eriksson and two first round choices (Steve McCarthy and Adam Munro).

    It also wasn't the first time Murphy was involved in a trade deadline deal. Two years earlier he and Mike Gartner were traded from Washington to Minnesota for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse, a transaction that included three future Hall of Famers.

     

    The Motivation: Giving up a high-scoring, two-time Stanley Cup champion seems crazy, doesn't it?

    Murphy scored 100 points in 151 games as a Leaf, and had almost triple the points of the next highest-scoring Leaf defenseman that year (Dave Ellett, who was also traded at the deadline). How could they get rid of him, and for nothing?

    The Leafs were having a very disappointing season, and to say that Murphy was a scapegoat would be an understatement. In fact, he "was subjected to merciless catcalling by the Maple Leaf faithful and attacks in the local press" reported Scott Burnside of ESPN.

    In an attempt at fairness towards his critics, Murphy was 35 years old at the time and, never being the fastest skater to begin with, was occasionally getting exposed defensively. He was also the team's highest-paid player, once Doug Gilmour was dealt to New Jersey a few weeks earlier.

    In addition to the unfortunate on-ice situation, Toronto's front office was also in turmoil. GM Cliff Fletcher was replaced by Ken Dryden soon after this confusingly ill-advised transaction.

     

    The Result: Back-to-back Stanley Cups for the Detroit Red Wings! Larry Murphy led the NHL in plus/minus both post-seasons with a combined plus-28. He also added 26 points in 42 post-season games.

    When Murphy went to Detroit, he no longer needed to carry the blue line by himself. Paired up initially with Sergei Fedorov (who played defense early in his career), and ultimately with a 26-year-old Nicklas Lidstrom, Murphy was free to play the trademark calm and poised puck-moving style of play that had made him famous five years ago in Pittsburgh.

    Murphy would play a total of four more seasons for Detroit after 1997, scoring 171 points in 312 games before retiring and being voted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

8. Pittsburgh Acquires Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    The Deal: It's time for perhaps the original Ray Shero classic. At the 2008 trade deadline the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from the Atlanta Thrashers for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a first round selection (Daulton Leveille).

    Some fans prefer the deal Shero made the next year, when Pittsburgh acquired Bill Guerin from the New York Islanders for a third round draft choice (Michael Lee). While the Hossa deal got them to the next level, it was the Guerin deal that won the Stanley Cup.

     

    The Motivation: The Atlanta Thrashers were a non-playoff team, and their star Marian Hossa was a pending UFA who wasn't going to re-sign.

    They needed solid young talent, and Pittsburgh put the best package together. Not that it was easy, given the bidding war resulting from Hossa's lack of a no-trade clause. Montreal and Ottawa were among the finalists of a list that included Boston, San Jose, Detroit and Dallas according to CBC.

    Given Armstrong's popularity, Esposito's promise, Christensen's talent for the shootout and the potential of a first-round pick, by no means was this seen as a bad deal for Atlanta at the time. In fact, the two-thirds of James Mirtle's SBNation readers that thought the Penguins overpaid were not atypical.

    The Penguins took a gamble that could have easily ended badly.

     

    The Result: Even though they lost the Stanley Cup finals 4-2 to the Detroit Red Wings, the Hossa trade ushered in a new era for the Penguins, helping to establish them as the new elite team in town.

    Hossa himself had 10 points in 12 games down the stretch, led the Penguins in the post-season with 12 goals and his 26 points were one short of 20-year-old captain Sidney Crosby's.

    While the Slovakian superstar was just a rental, Pascal Dupuis blossomed into the trade's real coup. With 232 points in 418 games since then, Dupuis has emerged as one of the league's most versatile two-way forwards.

    Dupuis led the NHL with a plus-31 last year, when his 17 even strength goals were sixth overall, finished seventh with eight game-winning goals in 2011-12, and has finished in the league's top-five in shorthanded goals twice. Without him, this one might not have cracked the list.

7. Colorado Acquires Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    The Deal: The Colorado Avalanche acquired Ray Bourque and Dave Andreychuk from the Boston Bruins for Brian Rolston, Martin Grenier, Sami Pahlsson and a first round pick (Martin Samuelsson) at the 2000 trade deadline.

    The next year, the one in which they actually won the Stanley Cup, Colorado acquired Rob Blake and Steven Reinprecht from Los Angeles for Aaron Miller, Adam Deadmarsh, two first round selections and a player to be named later. It was however the earlier acquisition of Bourque that had actually made the difference.

     

    The Motivation: It didn't look like the 39-year-old Ray Bourque, arguably the most accomplished defenseman in the history of the NHL, was ever going to realize his dream of winning a Stanley Cup. The Bruins were last in their division, and 12th out of 15 in the Conference.

    Boston needed to rebuild, so they dealt their two star veterans, both of whom were in the final year of their contracts, for a solid young player, two prospects, and a first round pick. That's a good return, especially when bidding was limited to only the handful of teams that were legitimate Cup contenders.

    Reportedly Bourque was close to joining the Flyers, who offered a package that included Daymond Langkow and Andy Delmore, reported Mark Graham of the Hockey Writers. Detroit, Dallas and St. Louis were all in the running, according to an archived article at the Hockey Nut.

     

    The Result: The Colorado Avalanche didn't immediately win the Stanley Cup, but got close enough to entice Bourque to remain one more season until they did.

    The year of the trade Bourque scored 14 points in 14 games down the stretch, and nine points in 13 post-season games. The Avalanche lost a tight seven-game series to Dallas in the Conference finals, never managing to score more than two goals in a single game against Ed Belfour.

    After signing a final one-year deal, Bourque played over 26 minutes a game and scored 59 points in 80 games at age 40, shattering Tim Horton's record by 31 points, and making the NHL's first all-star team.

    The 2001 Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche was a star-studded team, but Bourque was their key inspiration. He scored 10 points in 21 games while playing almost 30 minutes per game throughout the post-season.

    Things also worked out for the Boston Bruins. Not only did they get to see their favorite son finally hoist a Stanley Cup, but Brian Rolston was an immediate star, having four great years going into the 2005 lockout.

6. Tampa Bay Acquires the Vincent Lecavalier Pick

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    The Deal: The Tampa Bay Lightning acquired Andrei Nazarov and a first round selection (Vincent Lecavalier) from the San Jose Sharks for Bryan Marchment, David Shaw and a first round selection (David Legwand) at the 1998 trade deadline.

    Technically Tampa Bay acquired the right to swap first round picks. San Jose had acquired Florida's first pick in an earlier trade, and when Florida won the lottery, Tampa Bay GM Phil Esposito exercised that option, and used it to take Vincent Lecavalier first overall. Tampa Bay's pick, which San Jose later traded to Nashville, was used to select David Legwand.

    To make the 1998 trade deadline even more successful/lucky, on the very same day the Lightning also acquired Sandy McCarthy, a third round selection (Brad Richards) and a fifth round selection (Curtis Rich) from the Calgary Flames for Jason Wiemer.

     

    The Motivation: By all accounts this was meant as a relatively minor move, the kind that is often ignored.

    San Jose GM Dean Lombardi was making some minor deals to tune up for the post-season. He had picked up Joe Murphy, and wanted gritty defenseman Bryan Marchment. The Sharks were nevertheless knocked out in the first round by the Dallas Stars.

     

    The Result: Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards were two of the three highest scoring players in Tampa Bay history, and formed the nucleus of their 2004 Stanley Cup championship team.

    Lecavalier scored 383 goals and 874 points as a Bolt. He had 12 consecutive 20-goal seasons, including a league-leading 52 goals in 2006-07. He has played in four all-star games, and ranks in the top 10 among active players in goals, even strength goals, power play goals and shots.

    While the 1998 Tampa Bay deadline was impressive, the kings of the draft day sale are the Buffalo Sabres. Ryan Miller, Phil Housley, Tyler Ennis and Tom Barrasso were all drafted with picks acquired at various trade deadlines.

5. New York Rangers Acquire Brian Noonan and Stephane Matteau

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    Ron Frehm/Associated Press

    The Deal: The New York Rangers acquired Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan from the Chicago Blackhawks for Tony Amonte at the 1994 trade deadline.

    It was the key piece of three deals that included the acquisition of Glenn Anderson from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Mike Gartner, and Craig MacTavish from the Edmonton Oilers for Todd Marchant.

     

    The Motivation: The New York Rangers were in first place, but felt that they needed some changes if they were going to truly compete for the Stanley Cup.

    Coach Mike Keenan wanted big forward Stephane Matteau, who had been a key member of the Chicago Blackhawks team he had coached to the Stanley Cup finals two years previous. In fact, Keenan would arrange to acquire Matteau yet again the next year, along with Noonan, after he left for St. Louis.

    Though it made GM Neil Smith quite nervous, Keenan encouraged him to let go of 23-year-old star Tony Amonte, who was struggling along with 16 goals and 38 points in 72 games. He had scored 35 and 33 goals respectively in the two seasons prior to Keenan's arrival.

     

    The Result: In 1994 the Rangers made the case for deadline deals with their first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years.

    Anything less than the Stanley Cup would very well have been a disaster. Tony Amonte was a superstar in Chicago, and their leading scorer for four straight seasons starting in 1996-97. He is the ninth highest-scoring player in that franchise's long and storied history.

    The Rangers were really going all-in on an assortment of rental and/or role players. All told they had six former Cup-winning Oilers in Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe, Esa Tikkanen and Jeff Beukeboom.

    The key players acquired at the deadline were however Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan. They combined for 13 points down the stretch, and 20 points in the post-season, including Matteau's famous game-seven winner against New Jersey in the Conference Finals. They both outscored Anderson and MacTavish, who each had six points down the stretch, and six and five points in the post-season, respectively.

    Both Anderson and MacTavish were gone in the offseason, while Matteau and Noonan soon joined Keenan in St. Louis. But the Rangers won the Cup, and that's ultimately what the trade deadline is all about.

4. St. Louis Acquires Brett Hull

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    Mike Butkus/Associated Press

    The Deal: The St. Louis Blues acquired Brett Hull and Steve Bozek from the Calgary Flames for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley at the 1988 trade deadline.

    Don't feel too badly for the Flames getting fleeced here. They won their only Stanley Cup the following season, and they got Jarome Iginla in much the same way exactly 10 years later for Joe Nieuwendyk.

     

    The Motivation: The Flames felt that they were just a back-up goalie and some defensive depth away from being the league's best team. And, in fairness, they were right.

    The Flames were not fond of 23-year-old rookie Brett Hull, despite 26 goals and 50 points in 52 games. In spite of his offensive prowess, Hull was a healthy scratch for three games prior to the trade, and 16 of the team's 68 games that season.

    The primary concern was about his conditioning and work ethic. He was famously beat out for a spot in the 1987 Canada Cup by Chris Nilan because he was "fat," as reported by Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette. Could he truly realize his full potential? St. Louis needed some scoring help, and was willing to take that chance.

    As for Calgary, they has been relying on disappointing youngster Doug Dadswell to back up Mike Vernon and, despite having a top four that included Gary Suter, Al MacInnis and Brad McCrimmon, lacked blue line depth.

    This trade solved both those problems right away. Rick Wamsley was a pretty decent 28-year-old platoon goalie, and Rob Ramage was a gritty 29-year-old puck-moving defenseman who had just played in his fourth all-star game. He had eclipsed the 60-point mark three times so far, and had 42 points in 67 games that year. At the time this was seen as a move that significantly improved the Flames defensively, according to an archived New York Times article.

     

    The Result: One full season later Brett Hull led the NHL in goals for the first of three consecutive seasons. He scored 228 goals over those three seasons, something matched by only the great Wayne Gretzky. Hull has the third-highest career goal-scoring total in history, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.

    Despite giving up one of the greatest goal scorers in history, don't shed too many tears for the Flames. Rick Wamsley may have played just 73 minutes down the stretch, and only 104 post-season minutes in a Calgary uniform, but played 100 games as a solid back-up over the following three seasons (before being packaged up in the even more infamous Doug Gilmour trade).

    As for Ramage, his scoring may have dropped as he shifted into a more defensive role, but he was a solid contributor to Calgary's 1989 Stanley Cup before being gifted to Toronto for a second round selection the following offseason.

3. Vancouver Acquires Markus Naslund

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    Haraz N. Ghanbari/Associated Press

    The Deal: The Vancouver Canucks acquired Markus Naslund from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Alek Stojanov at the 1996 trade deadline.

     

    The Motivation: The Pittsburgh Penguins were deep in offensive talent, but needed some grit for the post-season.

    Alek Stojanov was the seventh overall selection in 1991, right after Peter Forsberg, after attracting a lot of attention by rag-dolling Eric Lindros in an OHL fight. In 1996 he was a big but low-scoring winger with one point in 58 games but 123 penalty minutes as a 22-year-old rookie for Vancouver.

    Markus Naslund was also 22 years old, and had 52 points in 66 games. However, Pittsburgh was pretty well-stocked with offensive talent like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Petr Nedved, Tomas Sandstrom, and Naslund was being pushed down the depth chart.

     

    The Result: Naslund played 11 more seasons for Vancouver, during which time he led the team in scoring for seven straight seasons. He remains Vancouver's all-time leading goal scorer with 346 goals and is third with 756 points.

    He played in five all-star games, was a three-time first-team all-star, and won the Ted Lindsay award in 2003. He finished second in league scoring in back-to-back seasons in 2001-02 and 2002-03.

    As for Stojanov, his offensive game had apparently been lost in his 1994 shoulder surgery. He would play just 45 more NHL games, all for Pittsburgh, registering six points.

    If there's any way to be fair to Pittsburgh, Naslund's incredible talent did require some coaxing. He had only 15 points in 85 games over his first two seasons with the Penguins, and 77 points in his first 164 games with the Canucks. Shortly before his 1998-99 breakout the 25-year-old winger had even asked for a trade out of Vancouver, according to Iain MacIntyre of NHL.com.

    If Vancouver had had only slightly less patience, this would have amounted to nothing more than yet another meaningless deadline deal.

2. New York Islanders Acquire Butch Goring

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    Richard Drew/Associated Press

    The Deal: The New York Islanders acquired Butch Goring from the Los Angeles Kings for Dave Lewis and Billy Harris at the 1980 trade deadline.

     

    The Motivation: The New York Islanders were a young, hard-working and fast team with a lot of potential, but were barely over .500 and ninth in a 21-team league. They needed a veteran to take the pressure off 23-year-old first-line center Bryan Trottier.

    In came Butch Goring, who had an all-star game appearance along with 20 goals and 68 points in 69 games for Los Angeles that year. He was the leading scorer in Kings history at the time with 659 points in 736 games over 11 seasons, which is currently good for sixth.

    At 30 years old he would be the third oldest Islander, months behind Jean Potvin and a year younger than back-up goalie Chico Resch. He was a small but highly disciplined and hard-working two-way player who had finished 12th in Selke voting the year before, when he was riding four straight 30-goal seasons. Goring was also early into a six-year deal.

    The Islanders also had Ken Morrow, who was fresh off the 1980 Miracle on Ice, and ready to take a spot in the top-four. That allowed the Islanders to offer the Kings what they needed most, a solid defensive-minded defenseman like 26-year-old Dave Lewis, who had a combined plus-143 over this and the four preceding seasons.

    To make the deal work they replaced most of Goring's two-way scoring with 1972's first overall selection Billy Harris, who has 389 points in 623 games for the Isles. At 28 he was only two years younger than Goring, and his career highlight was 32 goals and 70 points in 1975-76, his lone appearance in the NHL all-star game.

     

    The Result: A 12-game undefeated streak down the stretch, and four straight Stanley Cups.

    Goring was the final piece that the promising young Islanders team needed. He scored 39 points in 39 games over the first two post-seasons, and won the Conn Smythe trophy that second season. He scored 23 points in 39 games over the next two triumphant post-seasons.

    He was no slouch in the regular season, either. He scored 60 points in 1980-81, and then between 32 and 46 points per season for the next four years, the first three of which he scored at least five shorthanded goals. Goring even enjoyed Selke consideration his first three full seasons in Long Island.

    It wasn't necessarily a bad deal for the Kings, either. Lewis hit the spot, and actually got some Norris consideration the next year, despite only 13 points. He would play three seasons for the Kings.

    As for Harris, he played only one full seasons with the Kings, but it featured four shorthanded goals and his last 20-goal campaign.

1. Pittsburgh Acquires Ron Francis and Ulf Samuelsson

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    Glenn Cratty/Getty Images

    The Deal: The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings from the Hartford Whalers for John Cullen, Zarley Zalapski and Jeff Parker at the 1991 trade deadline.

     

    The Motivation: The Hartford Whalers had to move a couple of unhappy superstars, and the Penguins, who desperately needed blue line toughness, had just the right players to offer.

    Ron Francis had fallen into disfavor with management, had been stripped of his captaincy earlier in the year, and was playing out his option.

    The 27-year-old had established himself as one of the league's top two-way forwards the previous season, his first one across the 100-point level, when he finished fifth in Selke voting. He currently led the Whalers with 76 points in 67 games and was their all-time leading scorer with 821 points in 714 games.

    Pittsburgh was one of the few teams with a player that could possibly match Francis, their own high-scoring all-star John Cullen. The 26-year-old was fifth in the NHL with 94 points in 65 games and carried the Penguins offensively when the legendary Mario Lemieux was out of the line-up.

    Hartford had a little more to offer, since 26-year-old tough two-way defenseman Ulf Samuelsson was dissatisfied and considering a return home to Sweden. This was the perfect added enticement for the Penguins, who desperately needed some blue line toughness. To this end the Penguins even threw in 25-year-old low-scoring tough defender Grant Jennings.

    To secure these additional assets, the Whalers wanted one of Pittsburgh's three puck-moving defensemen, 22-year-old speedster Zarley Zalapski, who had 135 points in 190 NHL games thus far. Jeff Parker was also thrown in, a tough 26-year-old depth winger with just 35 points in 137 games.

     

    The Result: Two consecutive Stanley Cup championships for the Penguins.

    After the trade, Pittsburgh went 9-3-2 down the stretch to go from third to first in the Patrick division for the first time ever.

    The star of the trade was obviously Ron Francis, who played 13 more seasons, including seven full seasons in Pittsburgh. Evgeni Malkin just passed him for the fifth leading Pittsburgh Penguin scorer of all time, eclipsing his 613 points in 553 games. 

    Not to list all of the Hall of Famer's accomplishments, but Francis is the fourth all-time leading scorer in NHL history, and is second in assists. As a Penguin he twice led the league in assists, and once in plus/minus, won the Selke in 1994-95 and finished no worse than eighth in Selke voting for six straight seasons.

    The upgrades to the blue line also worked out as expected. Samuelsson played four more full seasons with Pittsburgh, featuring back-to-back 29 point seasons starting in 1992-93, the year he finished fourth in Norris trophy voting. Jennings played three more full seasons with Pittsburgh, scoring 28 points in 210 games.

    As for Hartford, Cullen played only one full season there, scoring 77 points in 77 games while making a second consecutive all-star game appearance. Unfortunately for the Whalers he struggled with some back problems and was essentially gifted to Toronto the next year for a second round pick.

    As for Zalapski, he played two full seasons in Hartford, and would ultimately amass 165 points in 229 games for the team before being packaged off to Calgary. Parker played just four NHL games down the stretch before suffering a career-ending knee injury.

     

    Rob Vollman is author of Rob Vollman's Hockey Abstract, co-author of the annual Hockey Prospectus guides and a featured ESPN Insider writer. @robvollmanNHL.

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