Friday, December 18, 2020

Is Iginla for Nieuwendyk the greatest win-win trade in history?

This weekend will mark the 25-year anniversary of one of my favorite trades of all time: the Joe Nieuwendyk for Jarome Iginla blockbuster that reshaped two franchises.

It’s just such a great deal. You couldn’t ask for more star power, with both players going on to become Hall of Famers. It was the sort of big, gutsy move that used to happen back in the pre-cap days but has faded out of favor over time. And to this day, it still holds up as just about the archetypal veteran-for-prospect deal.

Like most legendary deals, it didn’t go down quite the way most of us remember it. For one thing, it wasn’t a one-for-one trade, even as important piece Corey Millen has largely been written out of the retellings. It was somewhat overshadowed at the time by the repercussions of an even bigger trade that had gone down just a few days earlier. The deal wasn’t exactly a Day 1 hit in Calgary, where a local newspaper ran a headline reading “Jarome Who?” And there’s the small matter of Nieuwendyk’s season-long holdout, one that had helped get Flames GM Doug Risebrough fired just weeks earlier. That part makes the story a little more complicated, and often gets left out.

But that’s all fine, because Jarome Iginla and Joe Nieuwendyk were both awesome. And that’s the real beauty of the trade: It worked out just about perfectly for everyone involved. Iginla went on to become quite possibly the greatest player in Flames history, while Nieuwendyk led the Stars to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup a few years later, winning the Conn Smythe along the way. Both sides got exactly what they were hoping for.

Most NHL blockbusters, in hindsight, have a winner and a loser. The Hawks got taken to the cleaners when they sent Phil Esposito to Boston, the Kings clearly won the Wayne Gretzky sale trade, the Leafs robbed the Flames in the Doug Gilmour deal, and so on. Most aren’t quite so lopsided, and a strong pair of homer glasses can occasionally make things seem a little better, but we can almost always look back and know which team would do the deal again and which might prefer a do-over.

But every now and then, we get a deal that works out for everyone. Is Iginla/Nieuwendyk history’s top trade in that category? Let’s try to figure that out, as we remember five more big deals that both sides would happily do all over again.

And we might as well start with another famous Flames trade …

The Brett Hull trade

The setup: Heading into the 1988 trade deadline, the Flames were a very good team two years removed from a loss in the Stanley Cup Final and well on their way to the best regular season finish in franchise history. But they still had Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers looming in the playoffs, and GM Cliff Fletcher wanted to load up on veteran depth for what he hoped could be a Cup run. If that meant he had to move a rookie sharpshooter with a famous last name and a shaky work ethic, he was willing to do that.

The trade: The Flames sent 23-year-old Brett Hull and Steve Bozek to the Blues for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley.

The impact on the Blues: Reasonably positive. Hull scored 40 goals in his first full year in St. Louis, then exploded for 228 over the next three seasons, leading the league each time. He won the Hart in 1991 and ended up scoring 527 goals in 11 seasons with the Blues

The impact on the Flames: Calgary lost to the Oilers again in that year’s playoffs, but that summer’s Gretzky trade opened the door, and Ramage and Wamsley helped the team finally take home the Cup in 1989.

Why it might be the best: On the surface, this is basically the early prototype of the Iginla/Nieuwendyk trade, as one team gives up a future stud but wins a Cup shortly after.

Why it might not: Wamsley was a decent backup during the 1988-89 season, but made just one quick relief appearance in the playoffs as Mike Vernon shouldered the load. Ramage was a dependable piece who ate minutes and could play at both ends. Neither guy was exactly a “Nieuwendyk wins the Conn Smythe” sort of impact. Do the Flames still win without them? They might, yeah.

Bottom line: Hull was so good for so long that this might be one of the only trades where a team that quickly won a championship might still want to at least think about a mulligan. I don’t mind keeping it in the win-win category because a Cup is a Cup, but the Iginla/Nieuwendyk deal checks all the same boxes and does them better.

Heatley for Hossa

The setup: Coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, Dany Heatley needed a fresh start after his role in tragedy in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Marian Hossa signed a three-year deal with Ottawa because he wanted to stay with the Senators, which meant he was in for a surprise.

The trade: Hours after getting the 26-year-old Hossa’s signature on an extension, the Senators flipped him to Atlanta for the 24-year-old Heatley. In a nice bit of symmetry with the Iginla/Nieuwendyk trade, this is another one of those deals that people incorrectly remember as being one-for-one, with defenseman Greg de Vries playing the role of Corey Millen.

The impact on the Senators: Heatley was everything the Senators were hoping for, slotting in on a formidable top line with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson and recording back-to-back 50-goal seasons, the only times in franchise history anyone has hit that mark. The good times lasted four seasons before a bitter fallout led to a trade demand and eventual deal to San Jose.

The impact on the Thrashers: Hossa clicked nicely with Ilya Kovalchuk, nearly matching Heatley’s offensive output while being the far better two-way player. He was traded at the end of his third year in Atlanta (for a disappointing return), but still had nearly a decade of excellent hockey left in him.

Why it might be the best: Considering this move was basically forced on one of the teams involved, it worked out about as evenly as it possibly could have, with both teams getting exactly what they were looking for.

Why it might not: The two stars combined to spend less than seven full seasons with their new teams, and neither turned into much on the way out of town, so the long-term influence here isn’t all that impressive.

Bottom line: This is a solid contender, and could take the title of best win-win trade of the cap era. I don’t think it beats Iginla/Nieuwendyk for overall impact, though.

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