(Hockey Prospectus writer Rob Vollman returns to Flames Nation. This time he looks at some of the worst trades in Flames history to try to determine which swap belongs on top.)
Darryl Sutter was a busy man this time last year, dealing away Dion Phaneuf, Olli Jokinen, and a collection of depth players in exchange for some bad contracts, and a few others that were quickly given one. His gamble didn’t pay off as the Flames fell short of the post-season, leaving the team with much of their cap space devoted to mediocre talent, and leaving him without a job.
Despite how badly things turned out for Sutter and the organization last season, it was far from the worst experience the Flames have had since relocating from Atlanta. Based on our GVT (Goals Versus Threshold) evaluations of four distinct trades, Phaneuf would have to exceed all expectations to even crack the top three.
Ruslan Zainullin for Marc Savard
Though Flames GM Craig Button had been candid with me in the past, when I asked him about a deal where they received only an unknown Russian prospect in exchange for their first-line centre, he was uncharacteristically quiet.
Unfortunately for the Flames, Marc Savard has been one of the highest scoring centres in the league since that trade, bagging 501 points in 488 games, while Zainullin probably couldn’t even make my Friday night beer league. Based on Savard’s GVT, the Flames lost 92.3 goals above replacement value in this trade (and counting). Tragically coach Greg Gilbert, who was rumoured to have asked for Savard to be moved, didn’t even last more than two weeks himself.
Given that the new Atlanta market was struggling, and that the Flames soon received some revenues from the league to which they didn’t quite qualify based on season ticket sales, conspiracy theorists among us wondered if the sweetheart deal was done on purpose at the league’s behest. Whether or not that’s true, it still stands up as a classic example of a team so desperate to move a player that they don’t even seem to try to get anything in exchange.
Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley for Brett Hull and Steve Bozek
It’s a huge risk trading away someone as obviously talented as Brett Hull. Even at that early stage of his career, it was already obvious that this son of a hockey legend clearly had an amazing gift. Hull had torn up the NCAA with 52 goals in 42 games in his final season, then bagged 50 goals and 92 points in 67 games in the AHL before earning 27 goals and 24 assists in 57 games as a Flame. Calgary was trying to put the final touches on a Stanley Cup contending team, but they clearly sacrificed too much.
Brett Hull scored an amazing 714 goals and 1340 points in his remaining 1212 games, while Steve Bozek enjoyed another 54 goals and 108 points in his 256. According to GVT, together they earned a whopping 310.1 goals above replacement value.
Compare that with the 46.4 goals of value that the Calgary Flames received in exchange: Rob Ramage played another 369 games, scoring 31 goals and 105 points, while Rick Wamsley played 122 games with a respectable goals-against average of 3.30 and save percentage of .877. Respectable players, to be sure, but the types of players you could get without sacrificing a generational talent like Hull had the potential to become.
Despite winning the Stanley Cup, was it worth moving Hull for Ramage and Wamsley? Wamsley didn’t even help win the Cup, he played only one period, and allowed two goals in ten shots. In fact, Wamsley’s post-season goals-against average was 8.08 in four seasons with the Flames. Rob Ramage may have been key, scoring 12 points and finishing 2nd among Flames defenseman to Conn Smythe winner Al MacInnis, but Brett Hull could have potentially helped the Flames win many Cups, and could have helped them avoid the seven-year play-off drought that was to come.
In the end, this one trade cost them 263.7 goals in value, making it stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the worst deals in NHL history.
Gary Leeman et al for Doug Gilmour et al
Despite the Hull debacle, the most infamous bad trade in Flames history was probably the Gilmour for Leeman trade. According to GVT, this bizarre trade wouldn’t have made sense even if Doug Gilmour hadn’t been included.
The Flames received Michel Petit, Alexander Godynyuk, Gary Leeman and Craig Berube, who combined for 93 goals and 293 points in 1373 games. You know the trade is ominously bad when the highest scorer you received was Craig Berube (40 goals and 105 points in his remaining NHL seasons).
If you ignore Doug Gilmour, even the other players dealt away totaled almost exactly as much. Jamie Macoun, Ric Nattress, and Kent Manderville and Rick Wamsley scored 60 goals and 249 points in 1268 games.
The Flames received players totaling 24.7 GVT, the Leafs 31.3. Fortunately the trade was balanced out in nets, with Jeff Reese playing 100 more games throughout his career, with a usable 3.36 goals-against average and .885 save percentage, while Rick Wamsley struggled through his final 11 games with just a 4.29 goals-against average and .875 save percentage.
But unfortunately for the Flames, the trade did include Doug Gilmour. He would score 238 points over the next two seasons, finished 2nd in assists both years, and won the Selke trophy as the league’s best defensive forward. He would go on to score 220 goals and 765 points in 824 games, earning 137.6 goals above replacement-level.
Try to think of this as two trades: a reasonable one involving the shuffling of depth talent, and a second one involving one of the league’s best players for the equivalent of Ruslan Zainullin (i.e. nothing).
Nothing for Martin St. Louis
Speaking of getting nothing for a great player, we can’t have this discussion without at least mentioning Martin St. Louis. Though not a trade, the Flames did let the guy walk for nothing. You’d think the team with Theo Fleury would know enough to look beyond the size of a player and assess him based on his talent instead.
It wasn’t hard to see St. Louis’ potential, even that early in his career. He have had just 20 points in 69 games as a Flame at age 24 in relatively limited ice-time, but he had 114 points in 95 AHL games in Saint John, and previously won about every NCAA trophy in the book.
Since then, St. Louis has scored 283 goals and 723 points in 757 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and is still among the league’s leading scorers. He has earned 156.1 goals above replacement value, making this an even greater oversight than even Savard (92.3) and Gilmour (137.6).
Which is the worst trade?
The common theme throughout these four deals was the Flames dealt away great talents without getting anything of even reasonable value in exchange. Sometimes you have to move a star player, and I don’t doubt that the Flames had reasons in each of these cases, but it’s more difficult to understand how they couldn’t have found someone willing to part with a little bit more.
The worst trade is definitely the Brett Hull deal. It’s true that Rob Ramage was a key contributor to the 1989 Stanley Cup, but for a player with Hull’s potential they could have gotten someone even better, and possibly someone that could have helped the Flames for as long as Hull helped his teams.