Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Eight traded NHL stars who didn't want to go

With the hockey off-season staying quiet and the Toronto Blue Jays flatlining, the biggest news in Canadian pro sports continues to be the Toronto Raptors‘ recent blockbuster. By adding Kawhi Leonard, the team may have improved their chances of winning the Eastern Conference next year. But the deal came at a cost, with the popular DeMar DeRozan heading to San Antonio in the deal.

That’s a tough spot for an organization, because DeRozan didn’t want to be traded. He made that clear before the trade, and especially so in the days immediately after. Sports is a business, as we’re constantly reminded, but it’s difficult for a fan to see a popular player leave town against his will.

Every now and then, we see something similar in the NHL. Most big hockey deals are pulled off with at least some cooperation from the player, and some are outright forced by a star who wants to be elsewhere. But occasionally, a star is traded against his will. Here are eight times it happened, and how it worked out for everyone involved.

1. Wayne Gretzky, 1988

The player: Wayne Gretzky. You may have heard of him.

We may as well start with the obvious example of a player’s grief at being dealt. Gretzky’s press-conference breakdown, complete with his quip about how he’d “promised Mess I wouldn’t do this,” is burned into the memories of a generation of hockey fans.

The trade: The Oilers — or more specifically, owner Peter Pocklington — sent Gretzky to Los Angeles along with Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley in exchange for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first-round picks and a truckload of cash.

How unhappy was he? That’s a matter of at least some debate; Pocklington would later infamously accuse Gretzky of shedding “crocodile tears” at the press conference. It’s true that by the time the deal was officially made, Gretzky wanted to go to L.A. — according to one version of the story, he was given the chance to back out of the move that morning and chose to go through with it. But all of that came after it had been made clear that Pocklington had been working on a trade for a while, and it’s hard to blame Gretzky for eventually going along with the inevitable.

How’d that work out for them? On the one hand, the trade was a disaster for the Oilers. Carson was good but lasted only one full season in Edmonton, Gelinas was just OK, and none of the three firsts turned into franchise players. Meanwhile, Gretzky won the Hart in his first year in L.A. and added three scoring titles.

On the other hand, the Oilers won the Stanley Cup in 1990, while Gretzky and the Kings never did combine for a championship. So who really won the trade? [Checks notes.] Right, the Kings won by a mile.

We’ll be back in Edmonton a little later in this piece, but for now let’s skip ahead a few decades to a different Canadian team…

2. P.K. Subban, 2016

The player: Subban had won the Norris in 2013 and been a finalist in 2015. But he was also carrying a $9-million cap hit, the highest of any defenceman in the league at the time, and had a no-trade clause that was days away from kicking in.

The trade: As part of the craziest 23 minutes in NHL off-season history, the Canadiens shocked everyone by swapping Subban straight up for Nashville’s Shea Weber.

How unhappy was he? He certainly didn’t want to be moved — that’s why he’d negotiated that NTC. And he’d put down roots in Montreal, including making a $10-million donation to a local children’s hospital. He seemed to take the move personally, and earlier this week, he empathized with DeRozan’s situation.

How’d that work out for them? Habs fans will claim that it’s too soon to tell, and maybe it is. But in the two years since the deal, the Predators have been to a Stanley Cup final and won a Presidents’ Trophy, while the Canadiens haven’t won a round and are coming off a miserable season that has some calling for them to blow it up and start all over. Meanwhile, Subban just posted yet another Norris-caliber season, while Weber missed most of last year and will be out for the first half of this coming season.

We’ll just mark that down as “Advantage: Nashville” so far. But the good news for Montreal is that Weber still has eight years left on his deal, so there’s plenty of time to turn things around.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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