Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The biggest trade involving each Canadian team combo, ranked

With less than a month to go until the trading deadline, the seven Canadian teams in the North Division are facing a dilemma. How do you work around a mandatory 14-day quarantine for players crossing the border from the United States?

Do you make your trades early so that you can still get some use out of a player down the stretch? Do you work on deadline day with an eye towards the playoffs, all but writing off the rest of the regular season? Reduce your offers to reflect that change in value? Resign yourself to riding out the year with what you already have, flaws and all, because at least those guys are already here?

Or maybe, you make the only sort of deal that won’t have to worry about quarantine. Maybe all the Canadian teams need to figure out a way to trade with each other.

That’s apparently what they may be doing, according to Craig Custance. That could create an interesting dynamic, because the history of all-Canadian trades is a decidedly mixed one. Some teams almost never trade with each other, while others have hooked up on multiple big moves. It’s all over the map.

That feels like the sort of thing that’s ripe for a ranking. So today, we’re going to go back and find the biggest trade between each of the existing Canadian teams, a total of 21 possible combinations. Then we’re going to rank them from least to most important. Along the way, we’ll meet a few of the bigger trades in NHL history, a few more that will trigger an “Oh yeah, I remember that one” moment, and some that you probably have no recollection of at all unless you were one of the players involved.

But first, a few ground rules. We’re only looking for trades involving players here, because draft pick swaps are boring. More importantly, this list is for the seven existing teams only – sorry Nordiques fans, as well as any old-timers hoping for some Montreal Wanderers content today. Did I make this rule specifically so that I wouldn’t have to relive the Wendel Clark trade? I cannot confirm or deny.

Finally, as always, we’re counting both versions of the Jets as one team, and ignoring anyone who wants to get pedantic about franchise lineages. (This also makes it possible to do a full list, since the post-Thrashers version of the Jets have yet to make any trades with a few Canadian teams.)

We’ll be digging into the NHL Trade Tracker database, with some support from Hockey Reference. Let’s start with the smallest biggest deal we can find and work our way up.

(Thanks to reader James for suggesting the idea.)

21. Calgary/Winnipeg: Akim Aliu for John Negrin

This midseason trade from 2012 didn’t get much notice at the time, because Aliu had yet to crack the NHL and Negrin had been there for just three games back in 2009. If you heard about the deal at all, it may have been because of a neat quirk: Aliu had previously been loaned to the Flames AHL affiliate that Negrin was already playing for, meaning this was technically a case of two teammates being traded for each other.

Aliu would debut for the Flames later that year, and played a total of seven games in Calgary. Negrin never made it back to the NHL.

So why does this deal make our list as the biggest ever player trade between the Jets and Flames? Because it appears to be the only one. The original Jets never made a deal with the Flames once they arrived in Calgary, and this deal is the only one they’ve made since the NHL returned to Winnipeg. I guess when these two teams get together they spend all their time taking about hockey not working in Atlanta and none of it talking trade.

20. Montreal/Ottawa: Mike Reilly for a fifth

The Habs and Senators have apparently only made three player trades in three decades. We’ve got this one from last year, the Matthew Peca deal, or Andreas Dackell for an eighth-round pick. Reilly’s at least a regular in Ottawa these days, so this one pretty much wins by default.

19. Calgary/Ottawa: The Sens get a second for Curtis Lazar

Lazar was a first-round pick who’d been hyped as a solid prospect, but by 2017 he was spinning his wheels in Ottawa. His name surfaced at the deadline, and reports that the Sens would want a high pick for him were mostly met with eyerolls – this was a guy with one point in 33 NHL games that year. Somehow, Pierre Dorion got the Flames to pay up, landing a second-round pick he turned into Alex Formenton. For their part, Calgary got 70 games and three goals out of Lazar. That’s not much, but it’s enough to nudge out a handful of even smaller Sens/Flames trades, like Nick Shore three years ago, Alex Chiasson in 2016 or the big Mark Osiecki/Chris Lindberg blockbuster from the early 90s.

18. Vancouver/Winnipeg: Ivan Hlinka for Brent Ashton

Do you know who Artur Oktyabrev or Dan Ratushny are? No? Then we’re pretty much left with this 1981 trade, which at least features two recognizable names. NHL fans probably remember Hlinka as the future coach of the Penguins, but he was a Czech legend who had a couple of 60-point seasons as a Canuck after the Jets sent his rights to Vancouver for Ashton, a useful journeyman who was immediately flipped to the Rockies for Lucien DeBlois.

17. Edmonton/Ottawa: Ales Hemsky for picks

These teams love to get together on classic “let’s remember some guys” deals involving names like Frantisek Musil, Brian Glynn and Eric Gryba. Their most recent deal was Tyler Ennis a year ago, but I’m going with the Sens’ 2014 deadline pickup of Hemsky, who was in his 11th year in Edmonton. He was OK down the stretch in Ottawa but couldn’t get them into the playoffs before departing as free agent; the Oilers got a third and a fifth for him but neither pick has played in the NHL.

16. Ottawa/Winnipeg: Dylan DeMelo for a third

Our only other option seems to be the 1993 Dmitri Filimonov trade, but this 2019 deal was a reasonably decent one that saw the Jets land a player who remains a key piece. The Senators used the pick on goalie Leevi Merilainen, who Scott Wheeler thought was a minor reach.

15. Edmonton/Vancouver: The Canucks get Gretzky’s wingman

Like most of the Smythe Division rivals, there isn’t as much of a trade history here as you might expect. There are a few deals, including the 2019 Ryan Spooner/Sam Gagner swap, but not many with an impact. I’ll go with a 1981 deadline deal that saw the Oilers send Blair MacDonald to Vancouver for Garry Lariviere and Ken Berry; none of those guys were stars, but they were three decent NHLers and MacDonald was just one year removed from a 94-point season that demonstrated the life-changing power of being Wayne Gretzky’s linemate. He couldn’t match those numbers in Vancouver, but was part of their surprise run to the 1982 final.

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