Thursday, December 13, 2018

A brief history of players being told that they wouldn’t be traded and then being traded

It’s​ been almost two​ weeks​ since​ the​ end​ of​ the William​ Nylander contract saga,​ with its twists​ and​ turns and last-minute​​ buzzer-beater resolution. As the round-the-clock coverage fades into more reasonable daily updates, we’re trying to sort through the various details that are emerging on how this deal was put together.

One of those details is Nylander’s apparent belief that Kyle Dubas has promised not to trade him.

Because of the way the CBA works, the personal word of his GM is the only sort of trade protection Nylander can get; players aren’t eligible for no-trade or no-movement clauses until the reach their UFA-eligibility seasons. So Nylander has to rely on Dubas to hold up his end of the bargain here.

And Dubas probably will – after all, trading Nylander wouldn’t make much sense for the Leafs, and this is a rookie GM who’d no doubt prefer to establish a reputation as a straight-shooter. Assuming Nylander’s version of the conversation is accurate and Dubas really did give his word, there’s no reason to think that the young winger has anything to worry about here.

But just to be safe, he might want to stop reading right about now.

Because as it turns out, NHL history is filled with players who’ve believed they’d been given the same sort of assurance that Nylander says he got from the Maple Leafs. And more than a few times, those promises turned out to not be quite as ironclad as the player would have hoped.

So today, let’s look back at a few of the (many) trade scenarios in hockey history that started with a firm handshake or at least a perceived wink and nudge and ended with a player angrily mumbling about loyalty while packing a suitcase.

1975: The Bruins trade Phil Esposito to the Rangers

We’ll start with what may stand as the most famous example of the genre: the 1975 blockbuster that saw the Bruins trade Esposito and Carol Vadnais to the Rangers for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and a minor-leaguer. It was a monster deal, one that saw New York acquire the player who’d led the league in goals in each of the last six seasons. And it didn’t make Esposito very happy.

That was because he’d signed a new contract that summer that he assumed would let him finish his career in Boston. He’d reportedly been offered $2.5 million on a five-year deal to join the WHA’s Vancouver Blazers, but took roughly half that to stay with the Bruins. According to Esposito’s version of events, Harry Sinden promised him that he wouldn’t be traded, and even offered to write a no-trade clause into the deal, which at the time was rare. Esposito says he told the GM not to bother, and that his word was enough. Weeks later, he was gone.

The trade, of course, ended up being a steal for the Bruins. Esposito played well in New York, but Park became the best player in the deal. And it got even more lopsided when the Rangers decided to reunite Esposito with center Ken Hodge, and sent a young Rick Middleton to the Bruins to get him. Park and Middleton became key parts of the late-70s Bruins teams that nearly won the Cup.

At the time of the trade, Esposito told reporters that he was “crushed” and that “I thought I had a home in Boston.” But he said he had “no regrets” toward Sinden or the Bruins. That tone would change over the years, as Esposito carried the grudge well past retirement. In 2013, almost 38 years after the trade went down, he was asked about the Bruins facing the Blackhawks in the Cup final and responded that “This series doesn’t mean shit to me.”

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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