The NHL never stops exciting fans, with the offseason mirroring the season in entertaining drama. Key to this is the trades that take place. Alongside the always exciting draft, the NHL trading system allows teams to trade players, bringing in fresh faces to fill weaknesses in their squad, all while offloading those no longer needed for their vision. This creates a refreshing and exciting new NHL each season, where everything is up in the air.
However, sometimes teams get trades wrong. Really wrong. Often for off-the-rink reasons, great or underrated players get traded for poor ones, and management makes decisions that see fantastic franchises fall from their former heights.
We have reviewed all of the league’s most historic trades and made a list of some of the most controversial decisions NHL teams have ever made.
Brett Hull: Calgary Flames to St. Louis Blues, 1988
One of the greatest snipers and NHL goal scorers of all time, ‘the Golden Brett’ was traded away from Calgary Flames in 1988, despite having a stellar rookie season in Calgary.
After joining the St. Louis Blues, Hull would quickly make a mark, scoring a prolific 228 goals in 3 seasons from 1988 to 1991. This included an 86-goal tally in the 1990 – 91 season, the third highest for a single season ever in the NHL, and placing him behind only Wayne Gretzky. The consequences of such trade can be fascinating, and luckily, bookie Bovada offers some of the best odds for top scorers.
Often seen as the best goaltender ever to play the game, in hindsight (as with all of this list), it’s hard to see why the trade was ever made. Famous for his butterfly style of puck-stopping, which is now common throughout the NHL, Roy had been playing for the Canadiens for 11 years when former roommate, Mario Tremblay, became Montreal’s new head coach in 1995.
Bearing a heated relationship with Tremblay, things came to a head as Montreal suffered a terrible 11-1 loss, where Roy flipped out because of an alleged attempt at humiliation by Tremblay after leaving Roy in net for all the goals. Four days after the incident, inexperienced GM Réjean Houle traded Roy away to Colorado Avalanche without an attempt at mediation.
The trade was immediately seen as a mistake by fans, and the results quickly proved them right. Roy played a vital role in the Avalanche’s 95-96 Stanley Cup win, finishing runner-up in the Vezina Trophy (for best goaltender) award that year, as he used his excellent goaltending to win the Avalanche points. His excellent play over the years with the Avs would go on to win him an MVP award and a final Stanley Cup in 2001.
Markus Naslund: Pittsburgh Penguins to Vancouver Canucks, 1996
Markus Naslund, referred to lovingly as Nazzy by Canuks fans, is famed for his trade from Pittsburgh to Vancouver for the massive one-sidedness of the deal. Swapping with Alek Stojanov, Naslund would dominate the left wing for the Canucks for 12 years, playing 884 games and achieving 3 NHL first-team All-Stars in that time. In comparison, Stojanov only played 45 games and scored two goals for the Penguins leaving them thoroughly on the wrong end of the deal.
The Canucks certainly haven’t always got it right, though. Cam Neely was drafted 9th overall in the 1983 NHL draft by the Vancouver Canucks. In his rookie year, his coaches saw his lack of defensive play, which caused him to see little game time. With the Canucks electing to trade him in 1986 for Barry Pederson, it quickly materialized that Vancouver had underestimated Cam Neely.
Scoring 36 goals in his first season with the Boston Bruins, Neely would go on to be a dominant power forward in his following years with the Bruins, using his 6ft 1’ height and powerful 215lb frame to over power opponents before using his quick and hard releases to score. Because of this, he came to define the ‘power forward’ before his career was cut short by injury, and he earned the name “Bam-Bam Cam” for his exploits.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most controversial trade in history, the infamy of “the trade” lives on to this day. By 1988 Gretzky was the most dominant player in the NHL and already largely recognized as the greatest in NHL history. In his 9 years at the Edmonton Oilers, he’d broken all the records, won eight consecutive MVP trophies, five times led the NHL in goals scored, and won the Stanley Cup four times, the last time just months before his trade.
Oilers owner Peter Pocklington, however, was going through a financial crisis and quickly needed cash to sure up his other businesses, so for $15 million cash, traded Gretzky to the LA Kings.
Such was the unpopularity amongst Canadians of their national hero Gretzky getting traded south of the border, politicians attempted to block it in parliament, and effigies were burned of Pocklington. In fairness, Jimmy Carson, who came the other way, was not at all a bad player and played a role in the Oiler’s 1990 Stanley Cup win. But he was no Gretzky. Winning MVP in his first season in LA, Gretzky’s 8 years as a King were a success, but perhaps not quite as much as they should have been. Despite breaking the all-time career goal-scoring record there, he would not win another Stanley Cup, and the Kings would struggle to make playoffs during his latter years there. Nevertheless, “the trade” elicited a reaction not seen before or since in the NHL.