Few trades in recent memory have been as jaw-droppingly awesome as the seven-player blockbuster last July between the Dallas Stars and the Boston Bruins. An honest-to-God hockey trade that was headlined by emerging star Tyler Seguin and long-time stalwart Loui Eriksson, the deal provided the kind of drama that most NHL moves lack: huge risk, massive reward, high-end talent and a surprisingly long list of players moving in both directions.
The deal was notable, too, for its authors.
On the one side, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is well-established as one of the league’s best; Boston won the 2011 Stanley Cup and has been perhaps the most dominant team in the Eastern Conference over the last half-decade.
On the other side, Jim Nill was a newcomer prior to the trade but a highly respected hockey mind who had served a long apprenticeship with the always impressive Detroit Red Wings.
It was certainly the kind of deal that could only have been made by two men supremely confident in their organizations and their own abilities. Boston dealt a potential franchise talent, while Dallas moved one of its most reliable citizens and added a pile of quality prospects to sweeten the pot.
Just over a year has now passed, and we’re in a place where we can assess the early results of the trade. How has each team fared?
Eriksson was the obvious centerpiece of the deal from Boston’s perspective, a veteran right wing who could replace Seguin’s scoring and add the kind of complete game that the 2010 second overall pick lacked. A three-time 70-point man in Dallas, Eriksson was coming off a bad campaign. In his debut season in Beantown, he delivered more of the same, posting just 37 points in a 61-game season that was heavily impacted by injury.
Fortunately for the Bruins, one of the prospects acquired in the deal stepped up in a big way. Reilly Smith, a third-round pick back in 2009, went from a part-time NHLer to significant scorer, posting 20 goals and 51 points and taking a job alongside Patrice Bergeron in Boston’s top six. As good a prospect as he was, he’d only put up nine points in 37 major league games in 2012-13, making his immediate production a very pleasant surprise.
Joe Morrow, the defenceman who was picked in the first round of the 2011 draft, has yet to have that kind of impact in the NHL but is a promising prospect for the Bruins. The offensive defenceman was recently ranked as the NHL’s 50th-best prospect in the Future Watch edition of The Hockey News and is second only to goalie Malcolm Subban in importance in the B’s development pipeline.
The fourth piece acquired by Boston was Matt Fraser, a 24-year-old winger with a proven record of goal scoring in the AHL. He played 14 games for the Bruins in 2013-14, and four more in the postseason, and will doubtless challenge for a full-time NHL job next season.
Beyond the tangible, many suggested that the Bruins would gain a significant intangible in the removal of a disruptive presence from the locker room.
“It doesn't matter how high you're drafted, what it took to acquire you in a trade, or how much you're being paid," wrote NHL.com's Matt Kalman following the deal. "If the way you play the game doesn't fit the blueprint Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has for his roster, you're expendable.”
The trouble with the intangible argument is that it’s awfully difficult to quantify the impact of things that happen off the ice. Boston was able to win the Stanley Cup in 2011 and take Chicago to six games in the 2013 Cup Final with Seguin in the locker room; last season, the club fell in the second round. Whatever Seguin’s problems on or off the ice, they didn’t prevent the Bruins from having success, and their absence didn’t suddenly lead to another championship.
Dallas took a chance on Seguin’s reported issues because he’s a phenomenal hockey player, and a year in, their gamble looks wholly justified. Seguin finished fourth in the entire NHL with 84 points, leading the team in scoring and finding instant chemistry with regular partner Jamie Benn. Furthermore, the Stars made their first playoff appearance in six seasons.
Seguin’s emergence as an NHL superstar helped to compensate for the misfortune suffered by the other significant player coming over in the deal.
Rich Peverley, a versatile NHL role player, scored 30 points in 62 games for Dallas in 2013-14 but suddenly collapsed on the bench during a March 10 game against Columbus. He was suffering from atrial fibrillation and spent the remainder of the campaign recovering from heart surgery. His NHL future remains uncertain; while he told Texas radio station 1310 The Ticket that he’d like to return, he also made it clear that it just might not be possible.
The final player included in the package going to Dallas was defenceman Ryan Button, who split 2013-14 between the AHL and ECHL and is not a prospect of particular note.
But even with Button’s poor play and Peverley’s poor health, it’s hard not to like Nill’s work in this trade. Top-10 NHL scorers at the age of 22 who are still years from their prime aren't usually available in trades, and while Boston landed two excellent players and two significant prospects, it just isn’t enough to make up the difference.
There is a truism about the team getting the better player winning the trade because it’s much, much harder to find elite talent than it is to add supporting pieces, and in this case, the truism is right.
Chiarelli and the Bruins got a really nice group of players back for Seguin; the return was everything that could be expected. The problem is simply that they never should have been willing to deal that player in the first place.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.