The Other Gretzky Trade: That Deal That Worked For Neither Team

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The St. Louis Blues made a major deal on Friday night.  It had been 18 years and one day since the Blues had seen a trade deadline move this high profile, and we look back on that move.  In 1996, the Blues acquired the greatest hockey player of all-time, in a move that will forever be known as The Other Gretzky Trade.

Over the years, in the days leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline day, we have seen many deals that have paid off for teams in some way or another, be it an immediate contribution from an acquired player, or a deal that pays off for a team in the future. The most obvious example of the quick fix would be the New York Islanders 1980 trade, in which they acquired Butch Goring from the L.A. Kings. Goring gave the Isles added depth at centre, and helped propel them to four straight Stanley Cups between 1980-1983. A more recent example would be the Kings picking up Jeff Carter from Columbus, with Carter becoming a key contributor on the Kings Stanley Cup run in 2012.

An example of a swap that became a future success would be the St. Louis Blues deal made in the days prior to the 1988 deadline. They dealt a fine defenseman in Rob Ramage to Calgary, but the deal was worth it, as the skater they got in return, Brett Hull, scored 72 goals in 1989-90, and 86 more in 1990-91. Another more recent example would be the Montreal Canadiens shipping quality defenseman Craig Rivet to San Jose for Josh Gorges and a 1st round pick in 2007, a pick which turned out to be Max Pacioretty.

Rarely does a trade work out for neither team, though it has happened, with the most glaring high profile example in my mind being the Wayne Gretzky trade to St. Louis on Feb. 27th, 1996.

Leading up to the deal, the Kings were floundering. They had not made the playoffs since their Stanley Cup appearance in 1993, in danger of missing the playoffs again, and were reeling financially after having just been bought out of bankruptcy court. They were going to have to rebuild, but Gretzky wanted out. He wanted a chance to win that elusive fifth Cup, and wanted to be moved to a contender.

When he was ultimately dealt to St. Louis, this was a move that was supposed to make the Blues contenders in the West alongside Colorado and Detroit. The Blues now featured a core of Gretzky, Brett Hull, Shayne Corson, a defense unit including Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger, and goalie Grant Fuhr, who set an NHL regular season record by starting in 79 games. Gretzky was far from being finished in terms of production either, as he had 81 points in 62 games in Los Angeles, and he quickly added another 21 points in 18 games with St. Louis. But the Blues struggled after acquiring The Great One. They were in a fairly comfortable playoff position on February 27th, but went 6-10-5 after dealing for #99. They were able to squeak into the playoffs, and were able to get by the Maple Leafs in the first round, but could not overcome the powerhouse Red Wings in the West semi-finals, losing game seven on Steve Yzerman’s heroic double OT winner (a play that started from a Gretzky turnover).


The Blues may have made it to the second round with the help of Gretzky (and solid goaltending from Jon Casey who replaced an injured Fuhr), but that is all they would get from The Great One. The Blues had given L.A. quite a lot of potential in the Gretzky deal, yet all they would get from #99 was 18 regular season games and 13 playoff games. He had no interest in re-signing in St. Louis, and after rejecting an offer from Vancouver, having his deal with the Leafs squashed by owner Steve Stavro, Gretzky inked a three-year deal with the New York Rangers, while the Blues were hampered by lack of depth in 1996-97, losing to Detroit in the first round in six games.

The Blues did give up a lot of potential in order to nab Gretzky, yet it would not come back to haunt them. In the deal, the Blues sent Craig Johnson, Roman Vopat, Patrice Tardif, a first-round pick in 1997, and a fifth-round pick in 1996. Of those players, including the draft picks, none had any major effect in a Kings uniform. Johnson spent eight years in L.A., never scoring more than 38 points in a season, though he became a decent role player. Vopat notched all of 12 points in 57 games as a King, Tardif lasted all of 15 games in L.A., while the two draft picks, who turned out to be Peter Hogan and Matt Zultek, never played for the Kings. Hogan, the 5th rounder in 1996, never played in the NHL, while Zultek, the 1st rounder from 1997, refused to sign with Los Angeles, and was re-drafted by Boston in 1999.

You could argue the Kings were fleeced in the trade for the greatest player of all-time, yet considering the fact the Blues were only able to get 31 games out of Gretzky with no championship, this could truly be considered a deal that worked for neither team.


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