Mark Messier for Brett Hull, straight up? It almost happened along with these other proposed blockbuster deals.
The 2016 offseason began with a bang, as two of the biggest trades in recent NHL history went down
within minutes of each other on June 29. But since then, apart from the occasional move, the trade talk around the league has gone largely quiet. Or has it? After all, just because blockbuster deals aren’t being made doesn’t mean they’re not being discussed. Hockey history is filled with monster trades that almost happened and that we only find out about after the fact. We covered
five of the biggest near-misses a year ago, with names like Steve Yzerman, Corey Perry, Pavel Datsyuk, and even P.K. Subban and Carey Price (in the same deal). Today, let’s look back at a few more. But first, the obvious disclaimer. While all of these deals were reported by reasonably trustworthy sources, we’ll never know how close they actually came to happening. When it comes to the “near” in near-miss, mileage may vary.
But with that out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff. Here are five NHL blockbusters that apparently really did almost happen.
Steven Stamkos to the Rangers Until the one-for-one trades started flying, Stamkos had been the focus of the 2016 off-season. His stay-or-go decision with the Lightning had dragged on all season, and he was reportedly the top target for several teams if he’d made it to free agency. He’s widely considered one of the best players in hockey. So it’s easy to forget that, at one point early on in his career, Stamkos was viewed as a bit of a bust. The top pick in the 2008 draft, Stamkos arrived in Tampa with
plenty of hype. But he got off to a slow start, scoring just twice in his first 21 games. He struggled under Lightning coach Barry Melrose, at one point seeing as little as
six minutes of ice time. He just didn’t look ready for NHL action. And within weeks, according to Larry Brooks of the NY Post, the
Lightning had decided to trade him. The deal was struck with Glen Sather and the Rangers, and according to Brooks would have seen the future all-star sent to New York in exchange for “two or three from a wish list that featured Michael Del Zotto, Evgeny Grachev, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Dan Girardi.” According to Sather, the deal was done and sealed with a handshake. The problem: That handshake was with Lightning co-owner Len Barrie. When general manager Brian Lawton found out about the discussion, he wanted no part of the deal. Barrie still wanted to go forward, according to the report, but co-owner Oren Koules refused, and the deal died. Melrose was fired, Stamkos was a 50-goal scorer by his second year in the league, and the rest is history.
Cory Schneider for Gilbert Brule According to
former Columbus GM Doug Maclean, this swap was apparently proposed back in 2008. And it was Dave Nonis and the Canucks who made the offer. In hindsight, the deal would have been one of the most lopsided in recent memory. Brule never amounted to much in the NHL and hasn’t been seen in the league in two years, while Schneider has established himself as one of the best goaltenders in the world. But back in 2008, things weren’t so clear. Both players were considered top prospects at the time, albeit slow-developing ones; Brule had struggled through three seasons in Columbus after being
the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft, while Schneider had yet to make his NHL debut after being taken 26
th in 2004. A change of scenery for both players may have been just what they needed to finally make an impact. Instead, Maclean and the Blue Jackets turned down the Nonis offer, instead choosing to send Brule to the Oilers for Raffi Torres in a deal that didn’t really work out for either team. The Canucks saw Schneider blossom, then shipped him to New Jersey for a first-round pick as part of
the whole Roberto Luongo fiasco.
Claude Giroux for Paul Ranger This one almost seems too ridiculous to be true. One of the league’s best centers, straight up for a former sixth-round pick who topped out at 31 points? But apparently the offer was made – and
it was the Flyers who made it. So what were they thinking? Let’s remember that while Giroux was a first round pick in 2006, he wasn’t viewed as a sure-thing prospects, going 22
nd overall (and then seeing Bobby Clarke
forget his name). He didn’t blossom into a full-fledged star until his third full season at the age of 23, so it’s not inconceivable that the Flyers may have had thoughts about moving him before then. As for Ranger, he played his way up through the Lightning system and seemed well on his way to establishing himself as a solid two-way defenseman before
leaving the team for personal reasons in 2009. So yes, there was a time where he may well have been the sort of player you traded for an offensively gifted prospect who hadn’t put it all together yet. Or, in the case of the Lightning, the sort of player you turned down that sort of deal for.
Harold Ballard sells Frank Mahovlich Frank Mahovlich is one of the most beloved Maple Leafs of all-time, so it stands to reason that Harold Ballard tried to ship him out of town. And it’s also not especially surprising to find out what Ballard wanted in return – not a similar player or a boatload of prospects, but cold hard cash. The offer was made back in 1962, when the 24-year-old Mahovlich was well-established as one of the game’s best players. Chicago owner James Norris was
having a few drinks with Ballard when the topic came up, and soon the two had a deal. The Hawks would buy Mahovlich for a million dollars – at the time, the highest sum ever paid for a pro athlete. The offer was
reported in the media, which treated it as an offer under consideration. But it was more than that – the two men had made a deal. But once word got out, Norris’s brother Bruce stepped in to try to block the move. He enlisted the help of Leafs’ legend Conn Smythe, whose son Stafford was working alongside Ballard, and the two were able to
talk everyone out of going forward. Mahovlich went on to play six more years in Toronto, including four straight in which he was named to the league’s first or second all-star team, before being traded to the Red Wings in 1968. Meanwhile, Ballard learned his lesson and never did anything crazy ever again.
Mark Messier for Brett Hull The Blues and Rangers shared a bizarre 1994 offseason, one in which Cup-winning coach Mike Keenan bailed on New York to join St. Louis in a move packed with questionable
behind-the-scenes maneuvering that eventually led to
fines and suspensions. But things almost got even weirder on the eve of the 1994-95 season, when reports surfaced that the teams were considering a mega-trade involving their captains. While a Messier-for-Hull deal sounds unthinkable today, the pieces seemed to line up at the time. Messier was embroiled in a contract dispute with the Rangers, one that
saw him hold out to try to force management’s hand. And Hull was rumored to
want no part of playing for Keenan, a notorious hard-nose who could be tough on his stars. A deal to reunite Messier and Keenan while sending the talkative Hull to the bright lights of Broadway made a lot of sense. And apparently, the deal was discussed, and
may have been close. Just how close is up for debate – Rangers GM Neil Smith later
denied the reports – and the speculation died down once training camp ended and the first of Gary Bettman’s lockouts began. Once the season finally started months later, Messier ended his holdout and any trade talk came to an end. So could the deal have really happened? It’s worth mentioning that Hull ended up being right about not getting along with Keenan, and rumors of a deal that would send him to New York
continued for years. As for Messier, he did end up reuniting with Keenan a few years later. But it was in Vancouver, and
the less said about that, the better.