Vancouver Canucks Best Deadline Deals in History

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Trade deadline day is a favourite of fans and hockey media alike. Players and general managers? They aren’t so hot on it. Not to tell them how to do their jobs or anything, but we decided it was time to select the Vancouver Canucks best deadline deals of all time.

Canucks Best Deadline Deals Since 1980

The first deadline day was March 11, 1980. It wasn’t terribly eventful unless you were trading with the Los Angeles Kings.* Before then, there was no particular time limit, with teams bringing in players days before the playoffs began. There is a bit more mystery now, with teams making hard decisions before they know where they’ll finish.

NHL free agent frenzy

Some teams can sucker themselves into thinking they are good enough to make the playoffs. A little win streak before the deadline – but a month out from the playoffs – can be a dangerous thing. The Canucks, for instance, had a pretty good February. Their upcoming schedule looks relatively easy. They could well have another solid three weeks and be in a playoff spot come March 21st this year. That shouldn’t stop them from making moves.

The fans don’t want one lucky playoff run, not after the pain of the last decade. But there could still be pressure from ownership to keep the team as high in the standings as possible. The longer they’re in the playoff race, the better attendance, after all. Teams have lost a LOT of money over the past couple of seasons. Getting some of that back is understandable. That being said, building a team that regularly competes in the playoffs without needing a lucky run will fill Rogers Arena more frequently. It’s easy to say “Penny Wise, Pound Foolish” when you aren’t talking about millions of dollars.

One Deal To Rule Them All

The first Canucks deadline day wasn’t, really. They tried moving some of their future out – giving Toronto Maple Leafs their first 50-goal scorer and a point-per-game player for a tough guy and a defensive winger – that year, but that was a month before the 1980 deadline. A month is obviously too WAY too far in advance to consider a real “deadline” deal. Some say two weeks, but we’re going with two days. The pressure of deadline day has to be there before it counts!

There is only one best, of course. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t other good moves made at the deadline. Any team that is around long enough has a variety to choose from, and 40 years of deals should give quite a selection. But it doesn’t. Our built-in restriction – deadline deals ONLY – makes some of the team’s best moves off-limits. We want to encourage team management to not only get inspired, but get dealing.

In chronological order, then:

1990

The Canucks were not a good team in 1989-90. They would finish dead last in their division for the fourth time in six seasons. In the other two, they finished second from the bottom. Perfect time to move out a second-round draft pick, right? When it brings Jyrki Lumme back, yes. And then general manager Pat Quinn felt the same.

That second-round pick wasn’t even the Canucks’ but had belonged to the St. Louis Blues¬†earlier that day. The Blues were one of the top-two teams in the Norris Division for a few years, so the pick moved was eventually the 43rd overall. The Montreal Canadiens picked Craig Darby while the Canucks kept their own selection and got 800+ NHLer Jassen Cullimore. But more than that, the Canucks absolutely stole Lumme, who remains their third-highest scoring defenceman of all time.

1991

Pat Quinn once again made a deadline deal with the St. Louis Blues. This time, they went much, MUCH bigger. Vancouver gave up the high-scoring centre Dan Quinn and stalwart defenceman Garth Butcher. Coming back were high-scoring winger Geoff Courtnall, high-scoring centre Cliff Ronning – both local boys – skilled brawler Sergio Momesso, and stalwart defender Robert Dirk. Oh, and a fifth-round pick. We don’t really know how this one happened, but there it is.

1994

This is really turning into a love-fest for Quinn – Pat, not Dan – here. Or to the St. Louis Blues, who were once again the Canucks deadline partner. In 1993 the two teams must have had a falling out, as the deal that year was sending Robert Kron and a third for Murray Craven and a fifth. The Blues and Canucks didn’t so much make up the next year as get forced together by arbitration.

The Blues had signed then-Canuck Petr Nedved, and an arbitrator gifted Craig Janney to the Canucks. No one liked that, so the rights to Janny were sent back to St. Louis in return for whip-fast defenceman Jeff Brown, defenceman Brett Hedican, and speedy centre Nathan Lafayette. Now, obviously, the best player in the deal was Janney. But he didn’t want to come to Vancouver, and frankly the Canucks needed help on the blue line. So this all was in return for the Blues signing a player who also didn’t want to play for the Canucks – Petr Nedved.

That’s a pretty good haul. But more to the point, this team that Pat Quinn had assembled went on their Cinderella Run in 1994. Of all the players mentioned coming to the Canucks, only Robert Dirk wasn’t part of that run. Believe it or not, none of those was the Canucks best deadline trade.

1996

This is the big one. On March 20, 1996, the Canucks moved enforcer Alek Stojanov to the Pittsburgh Penguins for skilled forward Markus Naslund. Naslund was unhappy with Penguins management, and Stojanov was… very big? He was also picked seventh overall in 1991, the same draft Naslund was selected 16th. So it was like moving up in the draft or something.

To be honest, we got nothin’ here. It was a bewildering move at the time, never mind how their respective careers turned out. Stojanov was unfortunately hampered by injury trouble, playing just 107 NHL games. Naslund, of course, is currently the Canucks’ third-highest scorer of all time with 346 goals and 756 points in 884 games with the team.

2000

It’s Brian Burke’s turn, even if it’s not his most famous deal. Alexander Mogilny is one of two players to score 50 goals for the Canucks, but the deadline deal that moved him out did more for the team. When he was shipped to the New Jersey Devils, Mogilny was clearly tired of not reaching the playoffs. His friend Pavel Bure had been shipped to the Florida Panthers, and he just wasn’t having much fun. The team agreed to move him and arranged a deal with the Devils that brought back two players. One was Denis Pederson, who moved on after a couple of years. The other was Brendan Morrison, yet another local boy who centred what was briefly the best line in the NHL.

The Verdict

A few obvious facts arise, here. If the team is going to bring players in, getting ones who were born in the province seems to work out pretty well. Hiring Pat Quinn was an excellent move. And why don’t we trade more with St. Louis?

As nice a deal as getting Brendan Morrison was, it’s going to be one of Quinn’s moves. The odds were 4-1 anyway, so it’s just a matter of which deal gets the prize – and the target on its back for Jim Rutherford to hit. So which will it be?

It’s very tempting to go with 1994. After all, getting three players for essentially nothing – Nedved wouldn’t play for the Canucks, remember – is the definition of a one-sided deal. But the most skilled of those players was Brown, and he didn’t stay long. Getting the most skilled defenceman the team ever had (hat tip to the brief appearance of Paul Reinhart) in 1990 for a second-round pick is pretty good, too. The years of use Vancouver got from their 1991 haul from St. Louis compared to what the Blues got back? Those are some wildly unbalanced scales, there.

But at the end of the day, it’s got to be the nearly incomprehensible swap of muscle for skill. The 1996 fleecing of Pittsburgh brought Vancouver a top-five Canuck of all time. A deal like that isn’t going to happen anymore, but a deal for picks that could produce that result? It could happen.

*They supplied the New York Islanders with their “final piece” in Butch Goring and moved the pick that would become Phil Housley to the Buffalo Sabres. Ouch.

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