With the trade deadline less than two weeks away and the rumor mill churning at full speed, hockey fans are dreaming of all the potential blockbusters that could be on the way.
Chances are, we won’t get any. The true blockbuster trade is a dying art in the NHL, as the salary cap, no-trade clauses and league-wide parity have rendered them all but obsolete. Instead, fans are left to look back fondly on past eras, when it wasn’t uncommon to see a future Hall of Famer or two swap teams in a jaw-dropping deal.
But while the superstars get all the attention, there’s another important piece that shows up in most major blockbusters, even if it usually passes by without much notice. It’s the throw-in – that depth player or backup goaltender who gets tossed into the deal to balance it out. He’s the guy who makes the trade work, the handful of spare change that evens out the ledger. And you may even get a glimpse of him, quietly cleaning out his locker in the background as the media crowds around the bigger names.
Most blockbusters have a throw-in or two. And if you look over the list of the NHL’s biggest trades, some of those names start to get familiar. That’s because a handful of players had an odd knack for repeatedly showing up in some of history’s biggest deals.
So today, let’s pay tribute to the noble throw-in. None of these five guys were Hall of Famers or even all-stars, but at least they can say they shared the transactions page with a few.
These days, Berube is best known for his recent stint as head coach of the Flyers. During his playing days, he was one the game’s most feared enforcers, racking up 3,149 penalty minutes over a 17-year career that saw him go toe-to-toe with everyone from Bob Probert to Tie Domi to the occasional unfortunate goaltender.
And when it came time to pull off a blockbuster trade in the early 90s, Berube was apparently an indispensable piece of getting the deal done. Over one amazing seven-month stretch, Berube was involved in three separate trades that saw a total of four future Hall-of-Famers change teams.
At the end of the 1990-91 season, Berube had spent his entire five-year career with the Flyers. That ended with a six-player trade that saw Berube, Scott Melanby and Craig Fisher sent to the Oilers for Jari Kurri, Dave Brown and Corey Foster. The trade was a big one for the Oilers, signaling that the breakup of the dynasty that had won five Cups in seven years was well and truly underway.
That demolition continued in September, and Berube got to be part of it again. Before he’d even played a game for the Oilers, Berube was on his way to Toronto alongside Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson in exchange for Vince Damphousse, Peter Ing, Luke Richardson and Scott Thornton. This time, at least, Berube got to settle in and play a few games for his new team. But by January he was on the move again, this time as part of the record-breaking ten-player deal that sent Doug Gilmour to the Maple Leafs in exchange for… well, not all that much.
Berube would go on to be traded three more times in his career, but none of those deals ended up being quite as memorable; each was for cash or a late-round pick. But as far as modern day NHL records go, Berube’s mark of being involved in three blockbusters featuring a total of 22 players in seven months is probably more unbreakable than Gretzky’s 2,857 points.