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February 18, 2011
Howe and Why
NHL's Worst Trades Ever

by Robert Vollman

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With the NHL trade deadline fast approaching and teams frantically trying to position themselves for the postseason, the possibility of a disastrous trade increases every day. For instance, in their panic last season the New Jersey Devils gave up Johnny Oduya, two young, first-round prospects in Niclas Bergfors and Patrice Cormier, and their first two draft choices to the Atlanta Thrashers to rent Ilya Kovalchuk for 27 games. The Devils re-signed Kovy, but that trade could easily mark the turning point for two franchises that were previously headed in different directions.

What can be learned from the NHL's vast history that can help reduce the chances of lopsided deals? Using GVT we can compare players of all types, and across all different eras, helping us find the five most lopsided deals of the post-expansion era.

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The deal: Chicago Blackhawks trade Dominik Hasek to the Buffalo Sabres for Stephane Beauregard and future considerations

The cost: 417.9 goals

The lesson: Don't trade away goalies before establishing their potential.

In 1992 the Chicago Blackhawks had perhaps the greatest goalie in NHL history, and didn't even know it. Dominik Hasek was the MVP of the Czech league three times, and goalie of the year five consecutive seasons before the end of communist rule allowed him to play in North America. In his first season his stats matched those of teammate Ed Belfour, who was recognized as one of the best netminders in the league at the time. Despite his obvious talent, Hasek was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres for virtually nothing.

Goalies have the capacity to carry a franchise all by themselves, and it can take several seasons to establish their true talent level, so think twice before trading away goalkeepers with only a couple of years of experience.

Other examples: The Boston Bruins trade Ken Dryden and Alex Campbell to the Montreal Canadiens for Guy Allen and Paul Reid.

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The deal: Chicago Blackhawks trade Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to the Boston Bruins for Pit Martin, Jack Norris and Gilles Marotte

The cost: 394.5 goals

The lesson: Role change can unleash a player's true talent.

The Blackhawks have the unfortunate distinction of having made the two most lopsided trades in history. In Chicago, the young Phil Esposito's role was merely to feed the puck to the great Bobby Hull, and he was never given the opportunity to become anything more. Once a Bruin, it was Esposito who was being fed the puck -- by Hodge and Wayne Cashman -- as he stood immovably in front of the opposition's goal.

Even if a player won't get the opportunity to realize his true potential in one lineup, like perhaps Dustin Byfuglien as a modern-day Blackhawk example, that's no reason to fail to extract full value when sending a player to one in which he will.

Other examples: The Detroit Red Wings trade Adam Oates and Paul MacLean to the St. Louis Blues for Tony McKegney and Bernie Federko.

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The deal: The Philadelphia Flyers trade Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Kerry Huffman and two first-round draft choices (Jocelyn Thibault and Nolan Baumgartner) to the Quebec Nordiques for Eric Lindros.

The cost: 380.6 goals

The lesson: Don't overpay for hype.

Everyone knew that the Nordiques had to deal Eric Lindros, because he refused to play in Quebec. Normally that's a recipe for a lopsided deal in favor of the buyer, as teams selling in those situations rarely seem to press for full value. Instead, Quebec managed to essentially rob Philadelphia of a potential dynasty. Why? Because the Flyers were swept up in the Lindros hype and lost their objectivity. Avoid being distracted by a big name -- like Ilya Kovalchuk -- and make the deal based on what the players produce on the ice.

You also want to avoid trading away first-round draft choices. Though the Flyers didn't get stung that badly here, imagine how California's fortunes would have changed had the Golden Seals not traded away the pick ultimately used on Guy Lafleur for Ernie Hicke and Chris Oddleifson! Or what if the Toronto Maple Leafs had kept the third overall draft choice used on Scott Niedermayer in 1991 instead of acquiring veteran defenseman Tom Kurvers?

Other examples: The Buffalo Sabres trade Dave Andreychuk, Darren Puppa and a first-round draft choice (Kenny Jonsson) to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Grant Fuhr.

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The deal: The Calgary Flames trade Brett Hull and Steve Bozek to the St. Louis Blues for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley.

The cost: 263.7 goals

The lesson: Don't trade away potential superstars.

Despite the generational talent Brett Hull became, there are those who still defend Calgary's trade on the basis that Rob Ramage was a key reason Calgary won the Stanley Cup the next season. While that may be true, a player of Hull's pedigree, who had torn up the NCAA, the AHL and even the NHL so far that season, could certainly have attracted a defenseman either of higher caliber than Ramage, or at least a lot younger.

Sometimes a team finds itself in a position where it needs to trade away a great player, but that's no excuse for failing to get just compensation. Shop around until the highest bidder is found.

Other examples: The Detroit Red Wings trade Marcel Dionne and Bart Crashley to the Los Angeles Kings for Terry Harper, Dan Maloney and a second-round draft choice (Jim Roberts).

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The deal: The New York Islanders trade Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen to the Florida Panthers for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha .

The cost: 261.5 goals, and rising fast!

The lesson: Don't be Mike Milbury.

Anyone who is looking to avoid lopsided deals should simply study Mike Milbury's, and do the opposite. There's really no way to avoid making one-sided trades if you thought Chris Nilan and Brian Skrudland were All-Stars in 1991, nor if you concluded that Rick DiPietro was a better draft choice than Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik.

Of all the disastrous moves that contributed to the perpetual struggles of the former dynasty, the Roberto Luongo deal was the most crippling. Given that he's only 31 years old and arguably the best goalie in the league, Luongo could easily help this trade climb the list all the way to the top.

Other examples: The New York Islanders trade Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan McCabe and Jarkko Ruutu to the Vancouver Canucks for Trevor Linden. Also: The New York Islanders trade Zdeno Chara, Jason Spezza and Bill Muckalt to the Ottawa Senators for Alexei Yashin.

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Lessons learned

Fortunately the salary-cap era greatly reduces the long-term consequences of truly disastrous deadline deals. Even if you accidentally trade a future Hall of Famer for a bag of roasted peanuts, in a few years that player will be getting paid his true worth, causing his team to either let him go or drop players adding up to equivalent value to make room. If you invest the spare cap space that would have been used to keep him on well-selected talent, you could even wind up ahead in the long run.

The short-term game is the key in the salary-cap era, and the same historical rules still apply. Avoid taking on the big names with overvalued long-term contracts, hang on to your first-round draft choices, keep any prospects whose true potential is as of yet undetermined and, if you must trade away a key player for whatever reason, consider the full impact that player could have for another team when determining the asking price.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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