5 Trades the Detroit Red Wings Never Should Have Made
With the NHL trade deadline looming, rumors swirl regarding high-profile players and possible new destinations.
In Detroit’s case, it may not make a move this season. In the past the trade deadline has been somewhat of a holiday for the Red Wings faithful.
The Red Wings have made many big trades with some historic names throughout their 88 years in the NHL. Even if they don’t pull the trigger on a deal this time around, there is still a good core in place for future success.
That hasn’t always been the case, and some trades have proven very costly for the club. Some prominent players were shipped out for trivial reasons, while others were given the opportunity to succeed elsewhere.
Sometimes a general manager thinks he’s got a leg up on the competition, only to find he’s already a step behind. Everybody makes mistakes, and even with the recent success it has enjoyed, Detroit is no exception.
While not in any particular order, here are five trades that never should have been made in Hockeytown.
Garry Unger to St. Louis
During the 1970-71 season the Detroit Red Wings' players were dealing with a disciplinarian as head coach in Ned Harkness.
Harkness refused to tolerate any player who was a threat to his governance, and Garry Unger was a casualty of his intransigence.
What makes this deal so terrible? It was over the length of Unger’s hair.
His flowing, blond locks were his identifier, and he refused to cut it when Harkness demanded so. In response to Unger’s “insubordination,” Harkness, who was then general manager, sent him along with Wayne Connelly to the St. Louis Blues for Red Berenson and Tim Ecclestone.
While Berenson had a few good seasons with Detroit, Ecclestone didn’t produce much and never made an impact on a terrible team.
Unger would play every game in a Blues uniform and hold the NHL’s “iron man” record during the 1970s. He had eight consecutive 30-goal seasons totaling 292 goals with St. Louis. He is fourth all time in scoring in Blues history.
Harkness just couldn’t cut it in Detroit.
The deal was certainly over a trivial manner that cost Detroit more than just a talented player but shrouded the franchise in darkness for more than a decade.
Adam Graves to Edmonton
Adam Graves is one of the most celebrated players in New York Rangers' history, and the start to his NHL career came with the Detroit Red Wings.
Drafted in the second round (22nd overall) in the 1986 NHL draft, Graves was never granted a fair opportunity to showcase his talents in Detroit.
He would go on to win two Stanley Cups between Edmonton (1989-90) and New York (1993-94), culminating in his No. 9 being retired by the Rangers on Feb. 3, 2009.
"Gravy" played just 78 games in parts of three seasons with Detroit before being packaged with Petr Klima, Joe Murphy and Jeff Sharples to Edmonton for Jimmy Carson, Kevin McClelland and a fifth-round pick.
Carson scored 100 goals in parts of four seasons with Detroit, but McClelland scored just four in 64 games.
While Klima was the headliner on Detroit’s half, Graves grew into a tremendous player with his opportunity in Edmonton and became a true asset for the Rangers in the mid-to-late ‘90s.
Widely decorated by the team and NHL for his work on and off the ice, Graves exemplified the character associated with being a consummate professional.
Graves was credited during his retirement ceremony with “defining the heart of a Ranger” by play-by-play announcer Sam Rosen.
He was a remarkable player and person and might have played an integral part in Detroit’s road to success.
Marcel Dionne to Los Angeles
Marcel Dionne was the centerpiece of one of the most devastating trades in Red Wings history, also orchestrated by general manager Ned Harkness.
After being selected second overall in the 1971 NHL draft, Dionne scored 139 goals in four seasons with Detroit before frustration with losing bought his ticket out of town.
Hugh Bernreuter, of MLive.com, quoted Dionne:
"People now forget that when I was in Detroit, there were problems. The guy that saved that franchise was Mike Ilitch. When Gordie Howe left, management could not put it together.”
Certainly one of the worst deals in team history, the return was pitiful in comparison to Dionne’s talent.
The small bright spot Detroit had during the “Darkness with Harkness” was sent packing, and the Red Wings would suffer until Mike Ilitch purchased the team in 1982.
Adam Oates to St. Louis
Perhaps just as painful as the Marcel Dionne deal, the trade that sent Adam Oates to the St. Louis Blues for nearly nothing was undeniably disheartening.
Oates had his best season as a Red Wing in 1988-89 when he scored 16 goals and 62 assists in 69 games. He totaled 199 points in 246 games with the team.
The summer before the 1989-90 season, Red Wings general manager Jim Devellano wanted to make a deal that would solidify Detroit as a Stanley Cup contender.
He traded Adam Oates and Paul MacLean to St. Louis for Tony McKegney and Bernie Federko.
The players Devellano acquired were complete busts in every definition of the word.
McKegney was a problem in Detroit’s locker room and was traded to Quebec after just 14 games. Federko played just one season with Detroit before retiring.
Oates would surpass 100 points four times and total 1,221 after he was dealt away from Detroit. If it makes fans feel any better, the Red Wings swept Oates’ Washington Capitals for the 1998 Stanley Cup.
Perhaps with a little perspective, the Red Wings enjoyed far more success than Oates did. However, a player of his caliber could have contributed to one of the greatest dynasties in league history.
But of course, hindsight is 20/20.
Ted Lindsay and Glenn Hall to Chicago
Ted Lindsay is one of the greatest to ever sport the winged wheel.
Detroit won four Stanley Cups with the help of Lindsay in the 1950s, but his involvement with the NHL Players’ Association did not sit well with general manager Jack Adams.
Lindsay helped form the NHLPA with several other high-profile players to ensure fair treatment for free agents.
Adams already had Lindsay in his dog house and decided to punish him by trading him to Chicago. Lindsay was accompanied by goalie Glenn Hall to the Windy City for Johnny Wilson, Forbes Kennedy, Hank Bassen and Bill Preston.
The Blackhawks occupied the bottom of the standings, but Lindsay and Hall returned the franchise to respectability. Lindsay played three seasons, then retired.
Detroit’s return in the deal was vastly inferior to what they shipped out. Lindsay was one of the game’s top scorers and Hall was a Calder Trophy recipient and three-time Vezina Trophy winner.
It’s so hard to watch talent slip right out of team’s hands, but every club deals with it at one point or another.
The Detroit Red Wings have seen their share of poor transactions, but there has been plenty of success to make up for it.