If you put a national holiday, a low-budget three-ring circus and CNN's election night coverage into a blender, hit puree and added a dash of fan anxiety, you'd have the recipe for the NHL's Trade Deadline Day.
The fact that the hype hasn't matched the results in recent years has diminished it a bit, despite there having been more trades (31) and players moved (55) last season than on any deadline day in the past 20 years. Plus, trades happen earlier and earlier ahead of the deadline. We toss around the word "blockbuster" like we're discussing the movie box office, but there's a comparison to be drawn: Summer movie season now begins in March; the NHL trade deadline window has grown to about a month.
The following is a list of the 20 biggest, most significant trades on NHL Trade Deadline Day since 1980. It purposely leaves out trades made before the actual deadline; no Ray Bourque to the Avalanche or Dwayne Roloson(notes) to the Oilers or Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) to the Devils. It also leaves out trades that were more about great drafting than they were the trade, i.e. the Buffalo Sabres using a fifth-rounder they snagged on deadline day on Ryan Miller(notes).
These are simply the top 20 trades to shock the world or help create a champion, which should be the aim of every team at the deadline, but one that frequently takes a back seat to financial considerations.
The top 20 most significant NHL trade deadline deals. Enjoy.
Trades that resulted in a Stanley Cup are given extra weight. And here ... we ... go.
Too small-scale? Consider that Maltby would go on to become a key defensive cog on four Stanley Cup champions after pulling a minus-29 in parts of three years with the Oil. An essential building block for the Winged Wheel dynasty.
19. March 10, 1987: Marcel Dionne traded to New York Rangers by Los Angeles Kings with Jeff Crossman and Los Angeles' 3rd round choice (later traded to Minnesota - Minnesota selected Murray Garbutt) in 1989 Entry Draft for Bob Carpenter and Tom Laidlaw, March 10, 1987.
Please understand the magnitude of this deal on the "WTF?!" Scale: Dionne was 35 years old and the second-leading point scorer in NHL history. Rangers GM Phil Esposito added him in the final moments before the deadline, as Dionne and the Kings were in a contractual squabble. Espo's reasoning:
"I'm going for it this year or next year, and I think Dionne can really help. I'm doing the same thing the Rangers did when they acquired me at the end of my career."
Dionne scored 4 goals in 14 games after the deal, and then 31 in 67 the following season. By 1989, GM Neil Smith had decided he'd no longer be part of the team.
Oilers management didn't like the effort they were seeing from Satan, as his point production dipped from his rookie season. So they traded him to the Buffalo Sabres, where he was a 40-goal scorer two years later. Combined games for Barrie Moore and Craig Millar with the Oilers? Forty.
17. February 26, 2008: Brian Campbell(notes) traded to San Jose Sharks by Buffalo Sabres with Buffalo's 7th round choice (Drew Daniels) in 2008 Entry Draft for Steve Bernier(notes) and San Jose's 1st round choice (Tyler Ennis(notes)) in 2008 Entry Draft, February 26, 2008.
Campbell was one the most coveted players at the deadline (and a free-agent sell-off for the Sabres). San Jose won the derby, and he posted 19 points in 20 games for them, and then another seven in 13 playoff games. The performance would help propel him to an absurd free-agent contract with the Blackhawks that the team still can't get out from under. Meanwhile, that Ennis fellow seems like he has some potential.
16. March 18, 1997: Larry Murphy traded from Toronto Maple Leafs to Detroit Red Wings for future considerations.
The veteran defenseman was an underwhelming performer and a lightning rod for criticism during his time with the Leafs, so they shipped him to Detroit and agreed to pay part of his salary. That spring, he led the playoffs with a plus-16, did the same as a plus-12 the following postseason and drowned out any critics back in Toronto with two (more) Stanley Cup rings plugged in his ears.
15. March 9, 2006: Mark Recchi(notes) traded to Carolina Hurricanes by Pittsburgh Penguins for Niklas Nordgren, Krys Kolanos and Carolina's 2nd round choice (later traded to San Jose, later traded to Philadelphia - Philadelphia selected Kevin Marshall(notes)) in 2007 Entry Draft.
The acquisition of Doug Weight(notes) was almost as vital, but The Recchin' Ball scored seven goals and was a key leader on the ice in the Carolina Cup run during his only season with the franchise. The perfect rental.
Before there was Ilya Kovalchuk, there was another Russian sniper the Devils gave up a ton of treasure to acquire. GM Lou Lamoriello kicked his team in the tail by trading two of the franchise's best young players for free-agent-to-be Mogilny. (The Canucks agreed to foot some of his $5.2 million salary.) Mogilny would help the Devils win the Cup that season and play well in getting them back to the Finals the following season. Morrison posted 71 points as a pivot for the Canucks three years after the deal.
13. March 10, 1980: Jerry Korab traded from Buffalo Sabres to Los Angeles Kings for Los Angeles' 1st-round pick in the 1982 Entry Draft (Phil Housley).
Korab wasn't terrible in 1980, as the former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman logged minutes and played parts of four seasons with the Kings. But giving up a first-rounder for him two years down the line was nutty; the Kings were a 74-point team in 1980 and a 63-point team in 1982. Hence, the pick was in the top six, and became the legendary Phil Housley.
12. March 13, 2001: Keith Tkachuk(notes) traded to St. Louis Blues by Phoenix Coyotes for Michal Handzus(notes), Ladislav Nagy, the rights to Jeff Taffe(notes) and St. Louis' 1st round choice (Ben Eager(notes)) in 2002 Entry Draft.
Stop us if you heard this one before: Financial troubles in Phoenix. It's what necessitated the trade of Tkachuk, one of the NHL's top power forwards, to the Blues for what was a considerable return at the time. Handzus was later flipped to Philly for Brian Boucher(notes) and Nagy could never break the 60-point ceiling. Tkachuk, meanwhile, retired as a Blue nearly a decade later.
11. February 27, 2007: Ryan Smyth(notes) traded to New York Islanders by Edmonton Oilers for Ryan O'Marra(notes), Robert Nilsson(notes) and NY Islanders' 1st round choice (Alex Plante(notes)) in 2007 Entry Draft.
Significant because (a) Smyth was in talks for an extension with the Oilers right before they pulled the trigger on a stunning deal and (b) because it was an uncharacteristically aggressive move for the Islanders. He had 15 points in 18 games, helped them make the playoffs (then went out in five games) and then signed with the Colorado Avalanche in the offseason. A true deadline shocker.
10. February 26, 2008: Marian Hossa(notes) traded to Pittsburgh Penguins by Atlanta Thrashers with Pascal Dupuis(notes) for Colby Armstrong(notes), Erik Christensen(notes), Angelo Esposito(notes) and Pittsburgh's 1st round choice (Daulton Leveille) in 2008 Entry Draft.
Ray Shero's big splash as Penguins GM, as he traded two popular forwards and what was considered a potential blue-chip prospect for the Thrashers' soon-to-be free-agent sniper. Hossa helped the Penguins to the Cup Finals before bolting for a 1-year mercenary contract with the Red Wings. Dupuis, then a throw-in, is as vital a forward as the Penguins have that's not named Sid, Geno or Jordan.
9. March 19, 2002: Jamie Langenbrunner(notes) traded to New Jersey Devils by Dallas Stars with Joe Nieuwendyk for Jason Arnott(notes), Randy McKay and New Jersey's 1st round choice (later traded to Columbus, later traded to Buffalo - Buffalo selected Daniel Paille(notes)) in 2002 Entry Draft.
An aggressive move by Lou Lamoriello that shook up the Devils and laid the foundation for their 2003 Stanley Cup. Langenbrunner would later become team captain before being sent back to Dallas in 2010 (in a trade made by GM Joe Nieuwendyk, no less). It was a strange move for Doug Armstrong, as he broke up a logjam at center ... by acquiring another center. Said Richard Durrett of Stars Blog: "This one haunts Stars fans."
8. March 8, 1988: Geoff Courtnall traded to Edmonton Oilers by Boston Bruins with Bill Ranford and Boston's 2nd round choice (Petro Koivunen) in 1988 Entry Draft for Andy Moog, March 8, 1988.
A remarkable trade for two reasons. First, because it solidified the Bruins' goaltending with Reggie Lemelin and Moog, helping the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Finals ... where they'd meet Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers, who captured the Cup. Second, because Ranford would meet the Bruins again in 1990, this time as a starter, defeating Moog in the Finals for another Oilers' Cup.
7. March 21,1994: Mike Gartner traded to Toronto Maple Leafs by New York Rangers for Glenn Anderson, the rights to Scott Malone and Toronto's 4th round choice (Alexander Korobolin) in 1994 Entry Draft
The Rangers made several moves in constructing their 1994 Stanley Cup championship, and there's no question that the trade of Tony Amonte for Brian Noonan and Stephane "Matteau Matteau" Matteau could challenge this entry. But dealing Gartner meant dealing (a) one of the League's best offensive stars at the time and (b) a major move for Coach Mike Keenan away from Gartner's style to a more physical one at the forward slot. It worked.
6. February 26, 2008: Brad Richards(notes) traded to Dallas Stars by Tampa Bay Lightning with Johan Holmqvist for Jussi Jokinen(notes), Jeff Halpern(notes), Mike Smith(notes) and Dallas' 4th round choice (later traded to Minnesota, later traded to Edmonton - Edmonton selected Kyle Bigos) in 2009 Entry Draft.
His $7.8 million salary was too much for the Lightning, so they traded one of the "Big 3" to Dallas in an absolute blockbuster that hasn't exactly been a windfall for the Bolts. Despite not yet owning the team, Oren Koules and Len Barrie helped orchestrate this deal, despite Jay Feaster's protests. Boy, those guys were just full of win.
5. March 23, 1999: Chris Chelios(notes) traded to Detroit Red Wings by Chicago Blackhawks for Anders Eriksson(notes) and Detroit's 1st round choices in 1999 (Steve McCarthy) and 2001 (Adam Munro) Entry Drafts, March 23, 1999.
In 1999, Chelios denied asking out of Chicago, via the Chicago Tribune:
"I swear on four of my kids' heads that that's not true at all," Chelios said. "I have no interest in being traded anywhere. There is no such thing as that type of deal. As bad as things are right now, I want to be here when this thing turns around and lead the charge."
The 'Hawks had other designs, dealing him to the rival Red Wings for two first-round picks that became a journeyman (McCarthy) and a goalie who played 17 NHL games (Munro). Chelios, meanwhile, would play nine more seasons and collect two Stanley Cup rings with Detroit.
4. March 24, 1998: Bryan Marchment traded to San Jose Sharks by Tampa Bay Lightning with David Shaw and Tampa Bay's 1st round choice (later traded to Nashville - Nashville selected David Legwand(notes)) in 1998 Entry Draft for Andrei Nazarov and Florida's 1st round choice (previously acquired, Tampa Bay selected Vincent Lecavallier) in 1998 Entry Draft, March 24, 1998.
This trade, and the one that saw the Lightning acquire a third-round pick from the Flames that became Brad Richards, were the definitive moments in the franchise's history. The Richards deal ... well, finding that kind of talent in the third round is good drafting.
This swap of first-round picks was also drenched in good fortune. The Panthers gave up their No. 1 for Viktor Kozlov(notes), and that pick was then sent to Tampa Bay by the Sharks. The Bolts had the worst record in hockey, yet the Panthers "won" the lottery. So Tampa got Vinny, the Predators got Legwand with the Tampa pick and San Jose selected Brad Stuart(notes) third overall.
The most lopsided trade in deadline day history; hell, it's one of the most lopsided in sports history. Via Towel Power, a remembrance:
There simply wasn't any room for [Naslund] in a scoring capacity. So, in an attempt to shore up on toughness for the upcoming playoff run, the Pittsburgh Penguins dealt Markus Naslund to Vancouver for Alek Stojanov who, up to that point, was best known for beating the [crap] out of Eric Lindros in junior hockey.
While many considered the deal to be in Vancouver's favor at the time, nobody could have imagined just how lopsided the deal would become. Stojanov played 54 NHL games after the trade, accumulating six points before succumbing to an injury sustained in a car accident. Naslund went in the opposite direction.
That's putting it kindly. Naslund would score 756 points for Vancouver over the next 12 seasons.
2. March 10, 1980: Butch Goring traded from Los Angeles Kings to New York Islanders for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis.
That pretty much says it all. If the trade deadline is meant to add the last piece of the puzzle, then Billy Torrey found it in the gritty Goring, who won a Conn Smythe for the Isles during their dynasty. Lewis would bounce around the Kings, Devils and Red Wings until 1988.
1. March 4, 1991: Ron Francis, Grant Jennings and Ulf Samuelsson traded from Hartford Whalers to Pittsburgh Penguins for John Cullen, Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapski.
For many, it's the trade that defines the deadline. Francis was a Whalers legend, but had been stripped of his captaincy and put on the trade block. Cullen, meanwhile, was the centerpiece of the trade: fifth in the League in scoring and just 26 at the time. Many Penguins fans weren't thrilled with the trade at first ... until it became a foundational move that helped Pittsburgh win its first Stanley Cup, as Francis scored 17 points in 24 games and was soon established as a perfect No. 2 center behind Mario Lemieux.
From Seth Rorabaugh of Empty Netters, here's Francis on his reaction the trade:
"I just had my daughter a couple of weeks earlier so we were dealing with that as new parents. You're leaving every body at home to come here. When I got here and played a few games with this team, I got really excited. I said to Ulf Samuelsson one night after a game, I thought this team was good enough to win."
After the trade, it certainly was. As for Cullen, the Leafs poached him from the Whale but injuries impacted his career. He eventually recaptured some of the magic with the Tampa Bay Lightning ... right around the time Francis was still putting up 90 points with the Pens.
Simply put: The trade that defines the risk and reward of the deadline.