Worst Trades in Flames History



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(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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 


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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.


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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.

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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.


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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.

  • CitizenFlame

    My problem with this is that it’s only speculation that Hull woul dhave won Cups in Calgary. After all, he didn’t win until Dallas and that goald shouldn’t have counted based on the rules in place at that time. He was also playing with Nieuwendyk and Modano.

    When Suter went down, Ramage was a rock, we won the Cup – bottom line. I personally don’t think we would have won that year without him.

    Also, I’d like to add the worst trade that never happened (or most likely won’t happen) – hypothetical, of course: Schenn and ‘something’ for Iginla.

    Which further cements my opinion that your star player, in order to win a Cup, needs to be a centreman and not a winger (ala Hull, Fleury, Iginla, Ovechkin).

  • CitizenFlame

    i agree with the-wolf on the hull trade. i don’t think that either the the pundits or the lazyboy GMs could confidently say “without ramage and walmsley, the flames would have won the cup in ’89…” because we DID win the cup with those two and NOT with the golden brett.

    would i trade one cup win for a career’s worth of superstar ? not a chance in hell. ’89 champs FTW.

  • It may not register on the GVT scale, but the trade that saw Olli Jokinen leave along with Brandon Prust for Ales Kotalik and Chris Higgins is perhaps the worst trade I can remember in recent memory.

    Regardless of what you think of Olli, imagine how much less we’d hate his re-signing if he wasn’t traded on February 1st, 2010.

    • icedawg_42

      In recent memory maybe, on the all time radar? Not a chance. Did I hate the resigning? Looking back I preferred Cullen to Jokinen, but both Jokinen and Morrison have outscored him to date So even though Prust is gone we picked up Tim Jackman which has outperformed Prust so you can stand to reason an asset like Prust is easy to replace.

      • Oyo

        Given Prusts’ new acting job in broadway, I’m rather happy we don’t have him here. Seems fit to play with Avery.

        It terms of actual hockey, this team is full of 3rd and 4th liners on the Heat, therefore making a guy like Prust expendable.

        Defying my own logic, I’d agree that it would be worthwhile to keep Jackman on this team, his skill level may not be the same as the guys on the heat, but his pay is relatively the same, so I’d rather have that consistent and proven effort. (A great Dutter signing!)

  • CitizenFlame

    The brett hull trade was the idealistic trade of sacrificing the future for the now. The trade was made to help push this team over the edge for the stanley cup run. I’m sure no one thought that Ramage was going to put up the points that Hull was going to. To me that trade did exactly as intended, and therefore would not be the worst trade.

    Everyone thinks that the Gilmour trade was the worst, because it was a trade with Toronto, so all those Leaf fans want to gloat.

    To me, allowing St. Louis to walk was the worst of the three. Since you didn’t have to give anything but cash to keep him, this type of a situation can usually be blamed on mismanagement. I think the 04 cup run would have been very different if St.louis was our 1st line center.

    Meaning that allowing this guy to walk free could have cost us a cup, rather than earned us a cup like the Hull trade.

      • CitizenFlame

        Haha in a good way, or in a, “i’m an idiot” kind of way!

        After I posted that message I realized that St.Louis did in fact cost us the cup in 04, being a critical factor for Tampa and scoring the Game 6 OT winner for them… Which makes this deal even worse. I was originally just speculating on what his impact playing with Jarome could have been…

    • SmellOfVictory

      If all other things had been the same that year (luck included), having St Louis on the Flames as opposed to the lightning would most certainly have meant a Calgary cup.

  • CitizenFlame

    An extension of the Dion trade… White & Sutter for Babs and Kostopolous was underrated. Babs is +5 as a Flame and also outscoring Dion. Kostopolous is my new favorite mucker. It may have been the turning point in the season as the team was turning the tide before the resignation.

    Time to start a Kostopolous Army.

    Tom Kostopolous, an everyday man that puts one pant leg on at a time, punches in his time card and gives in 110%. Right Guard made a extra strength product just for him because he sweats like Chuck Norris. If Superman needed help miving mount olympus, he would call Tom.

    Tom Kostopolous. The most impressive man on the Calgary Flames.

    • CitizenFlame

      Definitely interested.

      Best trade? Probably getting Gilmour, just lik elosing him was our worst, IMO.

      And Lanny too, damn I love that man. Class act all the way.

    • SmellOfVictory

      I would love to see an article on the best trades. Since the ’89 cup, the trade to bring in Jarome and the the Kipper trades would both good great trades. In terms of GVT the Jarome trade would be interesting, although knowing that nieuwendyk was refusing to play means that they really didn’t lose any goals from him. But would be interesting to see.

      Although best trade in team history hands down would be the trade to bring the team to Calgary from ATL. IMO

  • icedawg_42

    Boy we’ve let some serious talent slip through here. However, if memory serves (and it may not) – didn’t both Hull and Savard demand trades? (not to justify the return, but when those demands become known it really handcuffs a GM)

  • Oyo

    A Great Butter aquisition actually. He asked for a soldier by the name of Jackman. Darryl sent a personal request to US homeland security asking for an honorable discharge before calling Jackman’s agent.

  • SmellOfVictory

    It’s sad to look back and realize how good this franchise could have been, with a better economy through the 90’s and early 2000’s, if it hadn’t been for poor management (Craig Button!!!) If we had kept St.Louis and Savard with Jarome, this team could have won multiply championships ( post-lockout)!!

    Is there any other explanation for why our scouting has been so poor? ie. Todd Button.

  • Oyo

    this kind of @#$% make me mad. my God. lemme see here flames management or a monkey and a dart board? hands down… the monkey wins. i dunno which is worse, our management or our scouting.

  • Ricky

    I remember Cliff Fletcher saying at the time when he traded Hull that he realized that the Flames were giving up a potential 50 goal man-well he was so close wasn’t he-how about 86 goals and many more seasons with more than 50! Us fans knew at the time that Hull was a special talent but the Managerial geniuses with the Flames thought differently. Secondly the owners promote Risebrough the neophyte to GM and he Fletcher proceeds to just destroy him in the Gilmour trade. Thirdly I believe that it was Button as one of his first decisions as our GM was to let St. Louis walk. Again the fans loved St.Louis and could see that he was a very exciting player with potential so the new genius GM let’s him go. Button the rookie GM just like Risebrough. I have trouble remembering all of the quality players and people who loved playing in Calgary that became part of this community that were dumped by Management. (Andrew Ference for one) Sorry but I have to vent and hope to God that Feaster finally brings intelligence to the GM’s job. WE HAVE GOTTEN PAST THE FIRST ROUND ONCE SINCE 1989!!! The owners have as much or more responsibility for the disaster that this organization has been because they constantly pick the wrong guys to run this team. End of rant.

  • Ricky

    This guy went on to win 2 more cups & 3 time 30+ goal scorer.
    June 16, 1990: Joe Mullen traded to Pittsburgh by Calgary for Pittsburgh’s 2nd round choice (Nicolas Perreault) in 1990 Entry Draft, June 16, 1990.

  • Ricky

    Most underated player in 89, was a plus-44 & the guy that scored the first goal in game 6(89)against Montreal. October 24, 1991: Colin Patterson traded to Buffalo by Calgary for future considerations, October 24, 1991.
    What exactly did we get back?

  • CitizenFlame

    The only thing I’ll say in defense of th eMullen trade is that back at that time players were generally done by 30-32 years of age. That trad pretty much was the cusp of a new era of players playing longer.

    That said, boy did that hurt. Mullen was awesome.

  • The Gilmour trade wasnt done for hockey reasons, it was done for Gilmour was sleeping around reasons. It shouldnt be on the list because it wasnt made with the intention of making the team better.

    It’s not the same type of blunder, if that makes any sense.

    • Matty Franchise Jr

      Makes you wonder just how many of the “bad” trades out there were due to that kind of thing – tying the GM’s hands.

      Several come to mind: Pronger, Heatley x2, Gilmour, Di… nevermind.

    • icedawg_42

      Exactly – a trade can take a MUCH different light if you’re privvy to underlying circumstances….which we as the public at large normally aren’t..based on pure “hockey” merits, hard to find arguement that any of these trades were absolutely awful..but what else was going on!….and no im not a conspiracy theorist