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1991 NHL Draft Retrospective: C'mon, Let's Make a Deal

The Big E and J.R. together on the Hawks? Niedermayer or Lidstrom on the Avs? It’s not as far-fetched as you might think. Before the Flyers got their man, several other suitors had come close to landing Lindros from the Nordiques.
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Rewind_Lindros2

Thirty years ago, Lindros was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques, and every hockey fan of a certain vintage remembers the saga leading up to his trade in 1992.

 The final deal saw the Philadelphia Flyers send a package to the Nordiques that included highly touted prospect Peter Forsberg, forwards Mike Ricci and Chris Simon, defensemen Steve Duchesne and Kerry Huffman, goalie Ron Hextall, two first-round picks and $15 million. In the lead-up to that swap, however, the Nordiques had spent the better part of a year negotiating with several other clubs, some of which offered packages large enough to reshape the NHL for a generation. Some of these deals never came close to fruition, but others were just an owner’s thumbs up away from being triggered. In the interest of what could have been, let’s take a look at what other clubs were in on the action, the packages they offered and how those deals may have panned out.

In the midst of negotiations with Detroit, Quebec demanded a package (outrageous with the benefit o􀀀 hindsight) that included Sergei Fedorov, Nicklas Lidstrom, Steve Chiasson, Martin Lapointe, Tim Cheveldae and draft picks. Red Wings GM Bryan Murray cut off talks fairly quickly.

At the same time, Calgary was close to its own deal for Lindros. The Flames offered Mike Vernon, a choice of Al MacInnis or Gary Suter and one of centers Joe Nieuwendyk or Robert Reichel. Quebec said it wasn’t enough, however, so Calgary backed out. If that deal had gone through, Calgary wouldn’t have had the need, or the assets, to deal for future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla a few years later.

Peter Forsberg

Peter Forsberg

Wanting to keep Lindros in his home region, Toronto offered up a package of Felix Potvin, Wendel Clark, Dave Ellett, Craig Berube, multiple first-round draft picks and $15 million. But when Quebec insisted on Doug Gilmour being included as well, Toronto politely declined. Considering the Maple Leafs came one victory away from making it to the Stanley Cup final the following season, they likely made the correct choice. Plus, had they made the deal, Mats Sundin never would’ve become a Leaf two years later.

In the closest deal that never was, Quebec went back and forth with Chicago for some time. The Blackhawks essentially told the Nordiques to piece together any package of players from their roster that didn’t include Jeremy Roenick. The Nordiques obliged, and the two sides agreed on Chicago trading Ed Belfour, Steve Larmer, Steve Smith and two draft picks in exchange for Lindros and three Quebec draft picks. When the Nordiques, struggling to finance their own operation, asked for $5 million in cash as part of the trade, stingy Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz put the kibosh on the entire ordeal. 

If he hadn’t, Chicago could’ve had a Lindros-Roenick one-two punch down the middle dominating the United Center ice for a decade. In negotiations with the New York Rangers, Quebec was offered Alexei Kovalev, Tony Amonte, Sergei Nemchinov, James Patrick, a choice of John Vanbiesbrouck or Mike Richter, multiple first-round picks and $20 million. Of course, the Nordiques notoriously agreed to a trade with the Rangers minutes after agreeing to the Flyers deal, leading to the in-famous arbitration that would determine who owned Lindros’ rights. Although Lindros would have shined under the bright lights of New York City, the deal would have essentially decimated a Rangers roster that went on to win the Stanley Cup just a couple of years later.

Ultimately, it was the Flyers who, from the beginning, were the most determined to get the young phenom. Nearly 15 years earlier, with WHA superstar Wayne Gretzky put up for sale by the Indianapolis Racers, Flyers owner Ed Snider was egged on by his family to make a pitch for the 17-year-old in an attempt to bolster a fading roster a few years removed from winning back-to-back Stanley Cups. 

But Snider was at the forefront of the NHL’s attempts to make peace with the rival league, and he didn’t feel it was right to pursue a deal that would get him excoriated by his colleagues on the board of governors. Instead, he watched as the Racers traded Gretzky’s rights to Edmonton, resulting in one of the most dominant dynasties the game has ever seen.

Fast forward to 1992, and Snider was determined not to make the same mistake again. With his son, Jay, running the team, the two agreed to pursue the league’s next franchise player with a fire that was missing from most of the other teams’ negotiations. If the deal hadn’t been agreed upon (or if the arbitrator had awarded Lindros to the Rangers), the Flyers would have missed out on their Legion of Doom line (Lindros, John LeClair and Mikael Renberg) that dominated much of the 1990s. 

On the other hand, they would’ve experienced Forsberg at his peak and a few additional years of Hextall in his prime, along with some quality depth players in Simon and Ricci. And those two draft picks might have been used to nab a player such as Saku Koivu, Jason Allison, Mattias Ohlund or Todd Bertuzzi, all of whom were still available when those two first-round picks were on the clock.

Instead, the Flyers reached the Cup final just once during the Lindros years (1997) and watched as the Colorado Avalanche used the assets from that blockbuster trade to charge their way to Stanley Cups in 1996 and 2001. 

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