Tuesday, February 12, 2019

What’s the most important trade in NHL history that didn’t happen?

Last​ week, we had​ some​ fun​ with​ a few​ of​ the contenders​ for the title​ of second most​ important​ trade ever made.​​ These weren’t just the biggest trades in terms of the talent involved on the impact on individual teams – they were the deals that actually changed the course of NHL history.

But to paraphrase the old cliché, sometimes the most important trades are the ones you don’t make. So what about those? What are the most important trades in NHL history that didn’t happen?

Now clearly, we could get a little silly here. Wayne Gretzky for Mario Lemieux was a huge trade that wasn’t made. Same with Rocket Richard for Gordie Howe, or Sidney Crosby for Alexander Ovechkin. Any one of those deals would have changed the course of history, but none of them happened. There’s also no evidence that any of them were ever even discussed, so it feels ridiculous to spend any time thinking about them.

But there have been other blockbuster non-trades that really did come close to happening, or at least seemed that way at the time. So today, let’s look at eight deals that didn’t happen, but that we know were at least considered. I’ll give you a legitimate source for the trade and you let me speculate wildly about the rest. Do we have a deal?

If so, we’re one step ahead of these teams. But a few of them at least came close. Here are eight contenders for the most important NHL trade that didn’t happen.

1992: Eric Lindros to the Rangers

The trade: The Quebec Nordiques send Lindros to New York in exchange for cash, draft picks and a package of players including names like Tony Amonte, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov, James Patrick and John Vanbiesbrouck.

Unlike many trades-that-weren’t, this one was actually a done deal. The problem is that it wasn’t the only Lindros trade the Nordiques made that day.

The source: There’s some question over the specific names involved in the deal; for example, Mike Richter occasionally shows up instead of Vanbiesbrouck. But we know the Rangers and Nordiques had a deal of some sort, because it was at the center of the arbitration case that transfixed the hockey world during that 1992 offseason.

Why it didn’t happen: Blame Larry Bertuzzi. The NHL arbitrator ruled that the Nordiques had made their deal with the Flyers first and would have to abide by it.

But what if it did?: If Bertuzzi sends Lindros to New York – which is what most observers had expected at the time – then we change the next decade or more of history for at least three franchises. The Flyers don’t get Lindros, but they also don’t dismantle their team to do it, and they hold onto the rights to Peter Forsberg. The Rangers land the biggest prospect in NHL history, but might not have enough depth left over to win the Stanley Cup in 1994. And without Forsberg turning into one of the best two-way centers ever, the Nordiques/Avalanche might not win it all in 1996 and 2001.

As for Lindros himself, he’d have had the chance to start his career while playing behind and learning from the player he was most often compared to, Mark Messier. And maybe he avoids all the off-ice battles that defined his time in Philadelphia.

1962: Frank Mahovlich to Chicago

The trade: Maybe “trade” isn’t the right word. This one was a sale. Specifically, the deal would have seen the Maple Leafs send Mahovlich to the ‘Hawks in exchange for $1 million.

The source: This one was splashed all over the front page of sports sections around North America in the days after the deal, given that the two teams had agreed on it and word leaked out to reporters. The story has since been repeated often; here’s a detailed look back from NHL.com.

Why it didn’t happen: The deal was struck between Leafs co-owner Harold Ballard and ‘Hawks owner James Norris during a late-night meeting in which they were, in the words of immortal Toronto sportswriter Milt Dunnell, “fortified by the gargle.” In other words, they were both hammered, and that led to some second thoughts on the Leafs side, with Stafford Smythe claiming that “we never rolled a drunk yet and we don’t have to start now.”

That noble high-road stance lasted for all of a few days, at which point the Leafs realized that there was a million dollars on the line. They tried to rekindle the deal, but by that point Norris’ brother Bruce had talked him out of it.

But what if it did?: Mahovlich and Bobby Hull were the two best left wingers of the era, and this trade would have put them both on the same team. If the ‘Hawks didn’t go bankrupt from the payout, they almost certainly would have challenged for another Cup or two over the decade to come. And the Leafs may not have won the three more Cups they’d capture with Mahovlich, including that famous 1967 win.

But the trade’s impact would have been even bigger, not just in the NHL but throughout the sports world. The $1 million price tag wasn’t far off from what some teams made in ticket sales in a year, and would have been unprecedented for a single player – as Stan Fischler put it a few years ago, imagine Sidney Crosby being sold for $95 million today. The sale would have redefined how professional athletes were viewed, and would’ve probably made it much tougher for owners to hold down salaries on what would now be million-dollar assets.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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