In 2001, months after he won the Art Ross Trophy, the Penguins traded Jaromir Jagr to the Capitals. The return didn’t pan out for Pittsburgh, but they’re not the only team to get hosed when trading a scoring champion.
Across a four-season span, beginning in 1997-98 and culminating in 2000-01, Jaromir Jagr was an unstoppable offensive force. Then captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jagr was right in the unmistakable prime of his career and he had the numbers to show for it. He was the league’s highest scorer over those four campaigns, netting a whopping 173 goals and 446 points — nearly 100 points more than Joe Sakic, the second-highest scorer across the same period — and Jagr closed the four-year stretch of dominance with a 52-goal, 121-point Art Ross Trophy victory. It was his fourth in a row.
And then, on July 11, 2001, mere months after the season closed, Jagr was traded.
The trade was the result of combination of a number of things, including a high salary and cash-strapped Penguins franchise, but it was a blockbuster, nevertheless. Jagr was at the top of his game, a perennial Art Ross winner who was looking to become only the second player in league history to win five-straight scoring titles, and the trade made an interesting piece of history. With Jagr shipped off to the Washington Capitals, it marked the first time in league history that the Art Ross winner had been traded in the summer following the scoring championship.
The expectation, however, would be that trading someone such as Jagr, especially at that point in his career, would have netted the Penguins a few stars — or promising futures — in return. As Pittsburgh faithful can surely attest, though, that was far from the case. In return for Jagr, who was traded along with Frantisek Kucera, the Penguins received three prospects, each of whom had been selected within the top 35 selections of the 1999 draft.
Leading the return was Kris Beech, the seventh-overall selection in 1999, who had played in four games with the Capitals to close out the 2000-01 season. A standout with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen prior to coming to the NHL, Beech found his way into Pittsburgh’s lineup full time in the coming campaign, scoring 10 goals and 25 points. And his one full season with the Penguins was more than could be said for either Michal Sivek, selected 29th-overall in 1999, or Ross Lupaschuk, who was taken with the 34th-pick in 1999. Together, Sivek and Lupaschuk played 41 games for Pittsburgh over the course of their respective careers.
And while there are no trades similar to that of Jagr, which is to say he remains the only player to be traded almost immediately after winning the scoring title, there are a handful of Art Ross winners who have been traded not too long after capturing the hardware. And when comparing those swaps to the Jagr deal, each of those trades at least netted a more impactful player in return.
Here are three other instances of scoring champions being traded shortly after winning the Art Ross, and a look at the impact of the trade return:
Martin St-Louis, 2013-14
While Jagr is the only scoring champion to be traded within months of leading the league in scoring, St-Louis is the next-closest to going through a similar situation. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, St-Louis was tremendous in Tampa Bay, blasting home seven goals and racking up a remarkable 43 assists in 48 games. His 60 points were enough to capture the second Art Ross of his career, eight seasons after he had taken home his first, but the season would end up being his final one with the Lightning.
By the time mid-season rolled around, St-Louis had requested a trade out of Tampa Bay, with some reports pointing to his snub from the Olympic team as the reason. Later, it was reported there was far more to the story, and as the 2013-14 trade deadline approached, St-Louis was shipped to the New York Rangers. In return, the Lightning landed Ryan Callahan and two first-round draft picks, which were later flipped and netted Tampa Bay four selections.
So far, the swap has effectively been a St-Louis-for-Callahan deal, as none of the pick have developed into NHL regulars yet, and while he may be overpaid, Callahan has managed 42 goals and 97 points in 188 games in Tampa Bay. He was also an integral part of two deep post-season runs and will likely be a contributing member of the roster in 2016-17.
Wayne Gretzky, 1988-89
It’s hard to argue against the first Gretzky trade as most notable trade in hockey history. At the time he was traded, Gretzky was coming off of a fourth Stanley Cup in five seasons and his second Conn Smythe Trophy victory after he scored 12 goals and 43 points (!) in 19 playoff games. That’s not to mention Gretzky had already scored 583 goals and 1,669 points in 696 games in the NHL. But in the summer of 1988, little more than two years after Gretzky had won his seventh-straight Art Ross, he was shipped to the Los Angeles Kings.
The return was sizeable for the Oilers, as Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas and three first-round picks headed to Edmonton, but the impact of the pieces received were — as one could guess — nothing compared to what Gretzky produced.
The most impactful piece of the return was Carson, but not because he scored 49 goals and 100 points in his first season as an Oiler. Rather, it’s because Carson was flipped the following year for a package that included Petr Klima, Joe Murphy and Adam Graves, a trio with which the Oilers would win the Stanley Cup in 1989-90.
Gelinas was the next best of the bunch, skating as part of the 1990 Stanley Cup winning squad and scoring 60 goals and 120 points over his 258 games in Edmonton. Meanwhile, not a single first-round pick would have any impact in Edmonton. The 1989 selection was traded to New Jersey for Corey Foster, the 1991 selection was used on Martin Rucinsky and Nick Stajduhar was taken with the 1993 pick. Rucinsky’s two games in Edmonton were the only appearances in an Oilers jersey by any player acquired using the first-round selections.
Phil Esposito, 1975-76
The first time Esposito was traded, from the Chicago to Boston, it was a deal that had to leave the Black Hawks kicking themselves. In the seven years following that trade, Esposito went on to win the Art Ross five times, outscoring the rest of the league by nearly 200 points over the course of those seven campaigns. Not only that, but Esposito’s 392 goals between 1967-68 and 1973-74 were 130 more than the next-best goal scorer.
But the second time Esposito was traded — less than two years after winning his fifth Art Ross in 1973-74 with 68 goals and 145 points — the deal actually worked out quite well for both sides. The New York Rangers were looking to add some scoring, and Esposito was coming off of a 61-goal, 127-point campaign in 1974-75. It made him the perfect target to add to the lineup, and the Rangers were also able to get the Bruins to throw in defenseman Carol Vadnais by sweetening the trade offer.
Going the other way, though, were some excellent players. The highlight of the package for Boston, who had warranted concerns about Bobby Orr’s health, was stud defenseman Brad Park. Considered arguably the second-best defenseman of the era, Park was a serious score for the Bruins, and he continued to be a standout in Beantown. Over his 500-plus games as a Bruin, he scored 100 goals, 417 points and continued to be a perennial contender for the Norris. He finished second in voting in 1977-78, top 10 in 1978-79 and 1980-81 and had two more top-15 finishes in 1981-82 and 1982-83, his final two years as a Bruin.
Additionally, the Bruins nabbed Jean Ratelle in the Esposito trade. A league MVP back in 1971-72, Ratelle may have been getting up there in years — he was 35 when he came over to Boston — but he was still a steady contributor. He managed 31 goals and 90 points in 67 games with the Bruins that first season in town, and over the next five seasons, the final five of his career and all spent with Boston, Ratelle notched 124 goals and 360 points.