In hindsight, it was the trade that reinvigorated a Maple Leafs franchise still digging out from the Harold Ballard era, while extinguishing any hope that the Flames’ Stanley Cup contender status could be revived.
Hearing the move announced for the first time back then was a legitimately stunning experience; once the names started, they just kept coming. The deal involved ten players, sending Gary Leeman, Michel Petit, Jeff Reese, Craig Berube and Alexander Godynyuk to the Flames in exchange for Gilmour, Jamie Macoun, Ric Nattress, Rick Wamsley and Kent Manderville.
In terms of the sheer number of players involved, the deal really was the biggest in NHL history, and remains so to this day. And while other trades may have had a bigger impact – Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros and Phil Esposito all come to mind – that list is a relatively short one.
So today, let's celebrate the deal's silver anniversary with 25 facts about the Doug Gilmour trade.
1. The trade happened the day after Gilmour walked out on the Flames.Let's lead off with this one, because it's important but has somehow been largely forgotten over the years.
These days, the trade is held up as a classic lopsided blockbuster, and as we'll get to, that's a fair assessment.
But it's not like the Flames just woke up one day and said "Let's trade a really good player for a bunch of worse ones." They kind of had no choice.
Gilmour was miserable in Calgary, feuding with GM Doug Risebrough (and at one point, allegedly overhearing a phone call in which Risebrough talked about trading him). Mix in a contract dispute that was turning fans against him, and it was well-known that Gilmour wanted out.
But things escalated on New Year's Day. Hours after putting up two points in a win over Montreal, Gilmour packed up his gear and left the Flames. The deal had obviously been in the works long before that – ten player deals don't just come together in 24 hours – but Gilmour's walkout sped things along and stripped the Flames of virtually any remaining leverage.
It gets in the way of the "dumb team gives away a superstar" storyline, but fair is fair. You can't tell the story of this trade without mentioning that Gilmour was already an ex-Flame when it happened.
2. Risebrough knew the Flames pretty wellMost fans know that Risebrough was the Flames GM at the time. What isn't as well remembered is that he was also in his second season as the team's head coach.
Pulling double duty was relatively rare back then, though not unheard of, and in theory Risebrough would have had a chance to evaluate the players he was trading away up close.
(As a side note, his dual status didn't last long. Two months after the Gilmour trade went down, the Flames lost to the Canucks 11-0 and Risebrough resigned as coach. He'd remain as GM until 1995, though.)
3. Cliff Fletcher knew the Flames pretty well, tooFletcher had been the first and only GM in Flames' franchise history until after the 1990-91 season, when he headed to Toronto to assume near total control of the Maple Leafs. This wasn't his first Leafs blockbuster – that would have been the September 1991 deal that saw Toronto acquire Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson from the Oilers. But it was his first chance to deal with his old club, and with the man who had replaced him.
Needless to say, Fletcher knew the players he was getting at least as well as the ones he was giving up. And in hindsight, it showed.
4. A Gilmour/Leeman trade had been rumoured for weeksEven before Gilmour forced the Flames' hand, rumours had been flying that a deal would send him to Toronto for Leeman. The Leafs' winger was having an awful season, with just seven goals through the first half, but was still less than two years removed from scoring 112 goals over three seasons, peaking with 50 in 1989-90.
Things had fallen apart for Leeman in November 1990, when in the span of 24 hours the Leafs traded away his centreman, Ed Olczyk, and he suffered a serious shoulder injury.
He was still feeling some lingering effects of that injury and hadn't clicked with new linemates; the idea that he could get healthy and regain his scoring touch next to someone like Joe Nieuwendyk or Theo Fleury wasn't all that far-fetched.
But even given that, most figured that a straight up one-for-one deal probably didn't make sense, and that a player or two would have to be thrown in to make it work. We just didn't realize that "a player or two" would end up ballooning to eight other names.
5. One of the worst losses in Leafs history may have helped the deal go downWhile Gilmour's walkout was the biggest factor in pushing the Flames towards a deal, the Maple Leafs may have been given a nudge of their own by one of the worst performances in franchise history. On December 26, 1991, the Leafs went to Pittsburgh and got blown out by a score of 12-1.
Any thoughts of patience on Fletcher's part probably evaporated as he watched the defending champs toy with his sad-sack team. Chance was going to be needed, and minor tinkering wouldn't cut it. One week later, he pulled the trigger on the trade that blew his roster to smithereens.