Other than the displaced players and their families, everyone else loves trades! They’re an exciting way to change the makeup of a team with an instant swap of assets. The makeup of a perfect team is a formula long debated by fans and management and will continue to be the large source of attention. Just look at what TSN has done with Trade Deadline Day. They’ve turned Cup contenders picking up extra defensemen into a National event.
The old adage is that whichever team receives the best player in the deal is the winner. For all but one of these trades I would agree to that logic. The one exception being Boston dumping Thornton to San Jose which led to the Bruins signing Chara and Patrice Bergeron taking over as top center. But even in that case you could easily argue that San Jose won the deal.
Hindsight is 20/20 with these lopsided deals as many players didn’t have their breakout years until after the trade in question. Players develop at different rates and predicting future stars can be like playing the stock market. However, many of the deals on this list involved established stars who were already doing quite well with their original team. Issues with management, contract disputes, or poor team success were often the culprits in those cases. Often times timing plays the largest role. If a team is rebuilding it’s often better for the long term to move a star out for young talent and high draft picks. This list shows both sides of that equation with a few future stars being exchanged for aging vets on their last legs.
Phew, what a complicated mess all this trading can become. It gets even more interesting if you trace these trades through the years and see the butterfly effect they can have on a franchise. The Cam Neely to Boston trade for example eventually netted Boston Milan Lucic so many years later.
So let’s take a look at the Top 15 times players were traded for nothing.
14 Joe Thornton
If you look strictly at regular season points than you could safely say San Jose won this deal by a landslide. Sending Wayne Primeau, Brad Stuart, and Marco Sturm have absolutely nothing on the scoring prowess of Thornton.
But if you’re a fan of the Boston Bruins and shared in the glory of their 2011 Cup win, you make this trade every time.
Moving Thornton did two critical things for Boston. It elevated Patrice Bergeron to no.1 center and it freed up the money to sign free agent and future captain Zdeno Chara. Bergeron and Chara set the tone of the new-look Bruins as a tough, defensive team that could grind out wins.
Thornton on the other hand set the tone for San Jose: regular season success and playoff disappointment.
13 Chris Pronger
After the 2004 lockout, St. Louis was looking to dump salary to make it easier to sell the team. Pronger was the biggest contract on the books so they shipped him off to Edmonton. When looking at what they had to give in the trade, the Oilers paid a very low price.
Eric Brewer was solid and was even named Blues Captain for a season, but Pronger was a dominant force for most of his career, taking Edmonton and every other team he played with to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Worth mentioning are the other small returns on subsequent Pronger trades.
Edmonton traded him to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, and a few picks, one of which become Jordan Eberle.
Anaheim traded him to Philadelphia for Joffrey Lupul (again), Luca Sbisa, and a few more spare parts.
The only fair trade involving Pronger was Hartford trading him to St. Louis for Brendan Shanahan.
12 Kris Draper - For $1
Insert ‘bang for their buck’ joke here. Kris Draper is a Detroit legend. He won three Cups in six years (four total) playing on the iconic ‘grind line’ with Darren McCarty and Kirk Maltby. Their line went head to head with Philadelphia’s Legion of Doom trio in the 1997 Final, limiting Lindros to one meaningless goal. When superstars like Modano, Sakic and Forsberg were on the ice, you could be sure Draper and his linemates would be out there checking them.
Though he wasn’t flashy, his legacy with the franchise is impressive. Draper is one of five Red Wings to play more than 1,000 games for the franchise. He sits behind Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Alex Delvecchio, and Nicklas Lidstrom.
And he’s such a nice guy that he even gave Detroit owner Mike Ilitch his dollar back.
11 J.S. Giguere
One of Craig Button’s first moves as Calgary GM was not a shining moment. With young Freddy Brathwaite and old Mike Vernon in net, he traded Giguere to Anaheim for a 2nd round pick (Matt Pettinger).
Giguere would become the Ducks franchise goaltender for several years, bringing them to the Finals twice and winning the Cup (and Conn Smythe) once.
Pettinger bounced around to Washington, Vancouver, Tampa Bay, back to Vancouver, and ended up playing in Germany for the Hamburg Freezers. He finished with 123 career NHL points.
10 Markus Naslund
At the time of this deal Alek Stojanov had just one assist in 58 games. He would give Pittsburgh four more assists and two goals before his NHL time was up.
Markus Naslund on the other hand had 52 points in 66 games in his last season with Pittsburgh and would go on to be one of Vancouver's most prolific scorers in franchise history. So why would they move him?
There’s always more to the story than a snapshot of statistics. Naslund had struggled with Pittsburgh for two seasons previously, spending time with Pittsburgh’s IHL affiliate as well. He was even given the name “Mr. September“ for his tendency to start strong and fade throughout the season.
But with Pittsburgh losing Luc Robitaille and Kevin Stevens, Naslund was finally able to move up the depth chart and play with Jagr and Lemieux. And wouldn't you know it he started producing. But by this time the relationship with the team had soured and Naslund had already requested a trade. Thus, one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history occurred.
9 Doug Gilmour
A few years after their last franchise Stanley Cup, this trade happened and set the Flames up for several dark seasons before Iginla and Kiprusoff would restore credibility.
At the time, Gilmour was a two-way force and one of the best players in the NHL. He thought he deserved more money but the Flames disagreed strongly. An arbitration hearing turned ugly with a rumour that Gilmour was almost in tears after the Flames presented their case against him. The arbitrators awarded Gilmour just $750,000 and the damage was done. He wanted out.
Gilmour went on to score score 452 points in 393 games in Toronto, winning a Selke as well.
The main piece that went back to Calgary in the multi-player trade from Toronto, Gary Leeman was a solid scorer at the time but none of the players involved were more than bit players for Calgary.
8 Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy, one of the all-time greatest goaltenders is a passionate and proud man. After allowing five goals on 17 shots in a first period he was pulled from the net. But instead of watching the rest of the game from the Montreal bench he was instead sent back out to let in another four. This was enough for Roy who dramatically declared he would never play for the Canadiens again. He was right.
Roy went on to win two Stanley Cups (bringing his total to four) with Colorado while Montreal hasn’t been to a Final since the trade. Oh and the Habs threw their captain Mike Keane into this trade. Andrei Kovalenko, Martin Rucinsky, and Jocelyn Thibault were nowhere near an adequate return.
7 Phil Esposito
It seems incredible that a team would give up on Phil Esposito but that’s exactly what happened. Chicago was frustrated with recent playoff disappointments and placed much of the blame on Esposito. Incredibly, they questioned his drive to win and decided he couldn’t lead them to a Stanley Cup.
They were half right. Esposito would instead lead Boston to two Stanley Cups, destroying the records for single-season scoring along the way. He broke the record for goals with 76, and points with 152. Both records stood until Wayne Gretzky and the 80s arrived.
Esposito also led Team Canada in scoring at the Summit Series in 1972 and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. At the time of his retirement he was behind only Gordie Howe in career goals and points.
It's safe to say a return of Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris was nowhere near what the Blackhawks should have gotten in return.
6 Rick Middleton
Ken Hodge was a dynamite scorer for Boston but at this point was a shadow of his former self. He gave New York just one full season before being sent to the minors the year after.
Rick Middleton would pay off immediately for Boston, scoring a hat trick in his first game. The goals would keep coming as he scored 40 or more in five straight seasons. Not just a scorer, he was also named co-captain with Ray Bourque in 1985, holding the honor until his retirement. He finished his Bruins career with 898 points in 881 games, and is the President of the Boston Bruins Alumni.
5 Larry Murphy
Murphy was undervalued a few times in his career. Although he provided the L.A. Kings with three 60 points seasons and excellent defense, he butted heads with incompetent coaches for not using his large frame to hit and fight. He was traded for spare parts to Washington.
A few teams later and Murphy was playing for a horrific Toronto roster. Murphy was the highest paid player on the team and the ‘fans’ booed him like crazy. They got their wish and Murphy was traded to Detroit for future considerations (cash) in March of 1997.
Murphy would win back-to-back Cups with Detroit, just like he did with Pittsburgh several years earlier.
Murphy is a winner, that's probably why he didn't fit in Toronto.
4 Marcel Dionne
Long before Detroit had some of the highest payrolls of the late 90s and early 00s they decided they'd rather lose future Hall of Famer Marcel Dionne rather than pay him.
Dionne had just scored 121 points for Detroit and was only 24, but the team was struggling. He was frustrated with the lack of success and wanted more money. Detroit’s solution was to send him to L.A., who paid Dionne $300,000 per year, the richest deal in hockey history at the time. Detroit got Terry Harper, Dan Maloney, cash, and draft picks in return. Not exactly a fair return for someone who would be the sixth highest scorer of all time.
Although he was richer, Dionne had the same issues in L.A. He scored buckets of points but still lacked team success. He even technically beat Gretzky for the Art Ross Trophy on a tie breaker as Dionne had more goals.
As the Kings moved to a younger roster Dionne finished his career with the Rangers, even playing a season with fellow legend Guy Lafleur.
3 Jaromir Jagr
In the late 90s the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise was in trouble financially. Jagr was making $10 million at the time and he went to the GM suggesting they trade his salary elsewhere. Pittsburgh took his advice but forgot to get anything of quality in return. Jagr today at 43 is still worth more than Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk.
Jagr’s new team in Washington had no trouble ponying up the cash, signing him to an seven-year deal worth $77 million, an NHL record at the time. Jagr scored less than 80 points in each of his first two Washington seasons and was traded to the Ranger$ partway through the third for Anson Carter and the agreement that Washington would retain $4 million per year of Jagr’s salary.
Jagr fared much better in New York, storming back with seasons of 123, and 96 points while also taking over the captaincy from Mark Messier.
3. Roberto Luongo
It’s a testament to how bad of a GM Mike Milbury was that this is only his second-worst trade.
At the 2000 draft the Islanders were sitting pretty with the no.1 overall pick. With Roberto Luongo coming along nicely the Islanders could have drafted either Marian Gaborik or Dany Heatley to add to their core.
But Milbury couldn’t do things the easy way. He was intoxicated with goaltender Rick DiPietro, drafting him while trading away the promising Luongo. He lost two key pieces to draft an injury prone disaster. Along with Luongo went Olli Jokinen to Florida for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha.
Milbury predicted his demise with this quote at the draft.
"In the end, we thought the quality that DiPietro will bring is just a notch above Luongo. If we're wrong, we may have made an unbelievable mistake. It'll be bonehead city. It's my job. If we're not a better team immediately, off with my head. I've been here five years, and I'm tired of losing."
One of the few times Milbury has been right.
2 Cam Neely
The trade that still haunts the Canucks to this day. Not only did the Canucks give up Neely for Barry Pederson, but they also threw in a first-round pick. To be fair, Barry Pederson was a two-time 40 goal man at the time of the trade and Neely was still developing. But in hindsight this trade is a total disaster for Vancouver and is still paying off for Boston in 2015.
Neely became a 50 goal man and one of the most popular Bruins ever, currently serving as Team President. The draft pick in the trade was used on Glen Wesley and eventually became Milan Lucic, who was recently traded for even more young assets. .
Oh the reason Vancouver traded Neely was because they didn’t like how he played defense.
1 Brett Hull
Since he was drafted in the sixth round this was the second time Brett Hull was acquired for a bargain. Pretty insane considering he’s one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time. The man had 86 goals in one season, behind only Gretzky’s 92 and 87.
He was drafted late so perhaps he was still developing in Calgary right? Is a rookie season of 50 points in his first ever 52 games bad? No it’s not. The only thing bad was Calgary’s terrible management in this deal.
Hull would score 741 goals and 1,391 points. Which is about 800 more than Rob Ramage, the forward who went back to Calgary in the deal.