Former Flyers GM Bob Clarke and I recently participated in a panel discussion and were asked about trades we had made together. Recalling our pre-draft day trade of June 21, 2002 reminded me that NHL GMs must have the courage of their convictions and concern themselves only with acting in what they believe to be the best interests of their franchise. Consequences and public opinion be damned.
Prior to the draft, John Tortorella made it clear to me we needed legitimate NHL players now, not potential players for the future. For my part, I had made it clear that I was prepared to part with our pick at No. 4 overall. Since this was my very first NHL Entry Draft, there were 29 other GMs licking their chops at the prospect of helping me part with that prized asset.
Going into the draft, I had non-stop discussions with my fellow managers; various options and scenarios were presented. The deal that piqued my interest most was moving our pick to Philadelphia for Ruslan Fedotenko and two second round picks. I had watched Fedotenko for some time and was convinced he could play as a top-six forward on our team and would be a consistent 20-goal scorer.
With that deal in my back pocket, I tried to acquire another legitimate NHLer for one of the second round picks. Former Dallas Stars GM Doug Armstrong was willing to part with defenseman Brad Lukowich for a second round selection.
For purely personal (and reputation-based) reasons, I wanted to roll both deals together and announce them June 22 on the draft floor. Unfortunately, Clarkie had other plans. He insisted our deal be done on the night of June 21.
Sensing I couldn’t change his mind, I went back to Dallas and asked ‘Army’ if he would be willing to close the Lukowich deal that night. For his own reasons, Doug assured me we had a deal, but said he wouldn’t consummate it until the next day at the draft.
I faced the prospect of announcing the deal as the No. 4 pick overall in exchange for third-liner Ruslan Fedotenko and two second round picks. My own scouting staff questioned my managerial acumen and, indeed, three of our amateur scouts resigned at the end of that draft because they had more confidence in following Rick Dudley to South Florida than they did in my ability to turn around the Lightning.
Immediately upon the deal being announced I was ridiculed across North America. The wily veteran, Bob Clarke, had taken the punk rookie for a ride and my trade was called one of the worst of all-time in the NHL. The pundits had a field day.
At the draft the next day, I completed the Dallas trade. I had parlayed the fourth pick overall (Joni Pitkanen) into two legitimate NHL players, Ruslan Fedotenko and Brad Lukowich and a second round pick. Fedotenko and Lukowich helped us win the Southeast Division during both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons and also the Stanley Cup in 2004. In fact, Fedotenko not only scored 12 goals in the 2004 playoffs, but scored both goals in our 2-1 Game 7 Stanley Cup clincher over Calgary.
Interestingly, the only person to congratulate me at the time was John Tortorella who said, “Had you stepped to the microphone and made a pick, we would have been toast!”
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.