Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Ten times an elite defenceman was traded in his prime

If you’re the sort of fan who enjoys a good trade rumour, these days it’s all about the blue line.

That’s not all that unusual – in today’s NHL, it always feels like just about everyone needs help on defence. But for a change, we’re not just talking about depth pieces or short-term rentals. Instead, it’s some of the biggest names in the sport who are rumoured to potentially be available. In Ottawa, there’s been talk that Erik Karlsson could move at some point before he hits free agency in 2019. Arizona is facing a similar dilemma with Oliver Ekman-Larsson. And the slumping Penguins are now reported to at least be considering a move involving Kris Letang.

That’s not to say that any of those trades will happen, of course. But it’s rare to even see names of this magnitude show up in discussions at all. After all, as we’re so often told, nobody trades elite defencemen in their prime in this league.

Or do they? It turns out, trades involving top defencemen have been more common than you might think.

So today, let’s crack open the history books for a look at some of the times in NHL history that an elite defenceman was traded in his prime. We’re looking for guys who were established stars, which we’ll define as already having at least one post-season all-star pick or multiple top-five Norris finishes in their career. We also want players who were still relatively young, which we’ll say means they were 32 or younger. That rules out guys who were traded later in their career, like Brian Leetch and Ray Bourque, as well as some who blossomed into top-tier stars after they were traded, like Ryan McDonagh and Brent Burns. But it still leaves us with a surprisingly long list of candidates.

Here are 10 times in the last 30 years than an elite defenceman was traded in his prime, and what those deals might teach us about what to expect from today’s rumoured moves.

Paul Coffey

The trade: We have plenty of trades to choose from with Coffey, who was traded seven times. We’ll go with his first, the 1987 deal that saw the Oilers send him along with Dave Hunter and Wayne Van Dorp to Pittsburgh for Craig Simpson, Dave Hannan, Moe Mantha and prospect Chris Joseph.

The reason: Coffey was a two-time Norris winner at the age of 26 and had been a key part of three Edmonton championships, but by the start of the 1987-88 season he was holding out in a contract dispute. The Oilers made him wait until November as they worked to get a top asset back; they found one in Simpson, a 21-year-old who’d been the first-overall pick two years earlier.

The result: This trade allowed Simpson to become the first player to ever score 50 goals in a season split between two teams. But over time, Coffey had the greater impact, including three 90-point seasons, and he helped the Penguins win their first Stanley Cup.

The lesson: Sometimes, your hand is forced and you just have to bite the bullet and do the best you can. Under the circumstances, the Oilers did OK on this deal.

Rob Blake

The trade: In February 2001, the Kings sent Blake and Steve Reinprecht to Colorado for Adam Deadmarsh, Aaron Miller, a player to be named later and two first-round picks.

The reason: Blake was a pending UFA and wanted big money, so Kings ownership decided to move him even though the team was contending for a playoff spot.

The result: The deal worked out great for the Avs, who won the Cup that year and then re-signed Blake for five more seasons. The Kings didn’t get much from the deal – Deadmarsh had his career cut short by injuries and the picks turned into Dave Steckel and Brian Boyle – but did get Blake back for a few years at the end of his career.

The lesson: When a Norris-calibre player becomes available, sometimes going all-in pays off. The Avalanche had already traded for Bourque the year before, so they were firmly in all-or-nothing mode. They ended up with “all”, and have a banner to show for it. Remember that when contenders start to hem and haw about the asking price for Karlsson or Ekman-Larsson being too high.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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