The National Hockey League trade deadline is where general managers and their transactions are put under the microscope. Did they make a move? Did they make enough moves? Were they good enough? Who won the trade?
In reality, you judge trades with calendars, not stop-watches. With that in mind, here’s a brief rundown of the five best and five worst trades in Calgary Flames history.
What makes a trade good or bad? Value and intent. Giving up too much to get an asset is bad and making a trade with poor information and ill-fated intentions is also a hallmark of a bad trade. But when a general manager can leverage a declining asset for future success – or even just the chance at success – then that trade can be one for the record books.
THE 5TH WORST
March 4, 2009: The Flames traded F Matthew Lombardi, F Brandon Prust and 2010 first round pick (Brandon Gormley) to Phoenix for F Olli Jokinen and 2009 third round pick (Josh Birkholz)
Arguably Darryl Sutter’s last “big swing for the fences” move as the team’s general manager, he was trying to provide then-coach Mike Keenan with enough big guns to win a championship. Unfortunately, Jokinen’s tenure didn’t really pan out and he was eventually traded to the New York Rangers (along with Prust, who had been reacquired). The trade was bad because they gave up way too many futures for an asset that had a very small shelf life.
THE 5TH BEST
June 15, 1985: The Flames traded F Kent Nilsson and 1986 third round pick (Brad Turner) to Minnesota for 1985 second round pick (Joe Nieuwendyk) and 1987 second round pick (Stephane Matteau)
The Magic Man was getting on in years, and his defensive play was beginning to worsen. The trade basically amounted to trading up in the 1987 NHL Draft (from the ’86 Draft) and trading Nilsson for a second round pick. Considering he was drafted with a fourth round pick, that’s decent asset management, and Cliff Fletcher managed to give his scouting staff a couple extra kicks at the can rather than just letting Nilsson walk away.
THE 4TH WORST
January 31, 2010: The Flames traded D Dion Phaneuf, D Keith Aulie and F Fredrik Sjostrom to Toronto for F Matt Stajan, F Jamal Mayers, F Niklas Hagman and D Ian White
Where do we start?
After failing to cash in on a good playoff opportunity the season prior, it became obvious (to everyone but those in management) that the Flames’ window to win was closing. Phaneuf wasn’t maturing quite as Sutter had hoped and was reportedly beginning to seem like a bad fit for the team culture. Rather than openly shop Phaneuf and perhaps trade him at the upcoming trade deadline or even wait until the NHL Draft to get the price up a bit, Sutter hastily shuffled him away – along with an AHL defender and one of his better penalty-killers – for Matt Stajan and a bunch of depth players. The Flames didn’t get back any picks or prospects, just a bunch of mid-level, mid-aged depth players (and Stajan, who did eventually become a strong role guy in Calgary).
Rather than hold onto an asset that wasn’t yet depreciating to maximize the return, Sutter handled him like a live grenade.
THE 4TH BEST
February 28, 1999: The Flames traded F Theoren Fleury and F Chris Dingman to Colorado for F Rene Corbet, D Wade Belak, D Robyn Regehr and 2002 second round pick (Jarret Stoll)
The Flames had a depreciating asset in Theoren Fleury that was their best player, but was also somebody that was going to fetch way more on the open market than they could afford to pony up. (Stupid Canadian dollar.) Anyway, general manager Al Coates went out and turned Fleury and depth forward Chris Dingman into four assets, including two future assets. You can argue all you want about how those assets were managed subsequently – Stoll wasn’t signed and re-entered the draft, for instance – but leveraging a guy that they couldn’t afford to keep into a bunch of assets was a very smart move.
THE 3RD WORST
June 25, 2011: The Flames traded D Robyn Regehr, F Ales Kotalik and 2012 second round pick (44th overall, Jake McCabe) to Buffalo for Chris Butler and Paul Byron
This trade was bad on two levels.
The first: Regehr was slowing down a bit and leveraging him for future assets made perfect sense. But this trade was also a salary dump that required the Flames to send a draft pick to Buffalo to get them to swallow the bitter pill that was Ales Kotalik’s lousy contract ($3 million per season). As a result, the Flames didn’t really turn an aging player into future assets, as they gave up the shiniest future asset (the second) and the best player (Regehr) and got a pair of depth players in return.
The second: Jay Feaster worked to recoup that lost second pick at the following year’s draft, trading down from 14th overall to 21st overall and drafting Mark Jankowski. Had the Flames not sent their second round pick to Buffalo, they might not have felt as tempted to trade down and get a second back.
THE 3RD BEST
September 10, 1982: The Flames traded 1983 second round pick (35th overall, Todd Francis) and 1984 third round pick (Graeme Bonar) to Montreal for F Doug Risebrough and 1983 second round pick (38th overall, Frank Musil)
The Flames were gradually gearing up, transitioning from being a consistent playoff team into being a damn scary powerhouse in the Campbell Conference. The trade basically boils down to trading down three picks and swapping a third round pick for Risebrough, who was a really effective complementary player and became a great leader for the Flames while he was here. This is one of many “little” Cliff Fletcher trades that helped the Flames win the Stanley Cup in 1989, and arguably the one where he gave up the least and got back a ton in return.
THE 2ND WORST
November 15, 2002: The Flames trade F Marc Savard to Atlanta for F Ruslan Zainullin
Marc Savard and then-Flames coach Greg Gilbert never got along. They feuded publicly (via the media) for parts of two seasons, at which point then-general manager Craig Button could have no more and was forced to choose which to keep, the player or the coach. He traded Savard to Atlanta for a little-known Russian prospect that never came over to North America. Savard continued his development into a very strong NHL player, and Button fired Gilbert a couple weeks later anyway, and the Flames ended up without both the coach and the player.
An example of truly mind-boggling asset management.
THE 2ND BEST
June 1, 2011: The Flames trade D Tim Erixon and 2011 fifth round pick (Shane McColgan) to NY Rangers for F Roman Horak, 2011 second round pick (Markus Granlund) and 2011 second round pick (Tyler Wotherspoon)
Jay Feaster inherited a big problem from Darryl Sutter: Tim Erixon didn’t really want to play for the Flames. Faced with the chance of Erixon re-entering the draft if not signed by June 1, Feaster managed to turn what would otherwise be a compensatory second round pick into two second round picks and a pretty decent prospect in Roman Horak. He was faced with his first real big challenge as an NHL general manager, and I don’t think he could’ve handled it any better.
January 2, 1992: The Flames trade F Doug Gilmour, F Kent Manderville, D Jamie Macoun, D Ric Nattress and G Rick Wamsley to Toronto for F Gary Leeman, F Craig Berube, F Michel Petit, D Alex Godynyuk and G Jeff Reese
Four members of the 1989 Stanley Cup team and one of the organization’s top prospects were hastily sent to Toronto for a bunch of guys. It’s also completely unclear what the objective of this trade was, as the Trying to get cheaper? Flames didn’t save that much money in salaries in the move and actually made their club appreciably worse right away. Trying to get younger? The age difference between the two sides was fairly minor.
December 19, 1995: The Flames trade F Joe Nieuwendyk to Dallas for F Jarome Iginla and F Corey Millen
Could it be any other trade?
Nieuwendyk was sitting out in the midst of a contract impasse. The Flames flipped him for a pretty effective NHLer in Millen and one of Dallas’ top prospects. The whole league knew that Nieuwendyk was going to be moved given he was sitting out, so the Flames’ ability to get so much for him is pretty impressive considering that the worst case scenario was continuing to hold onto him.
Sure, the Flames managed to turn a Hall of Famer into a Hall of Famer. But in a situation where it was really tough to get good value for an asset, they managed to.