The Greatest Trades In Devils and Rangers History


With the official start of the summer upon us in the heat of two closely fought Stanley Cup Semifinals, I decided to look back at the ’92-93 Canadiens on hockey-reference.com.

I don’t know why, but maybe seeing how close the current Habs are to reaching their first Stanley Cup Final since that year had me thinking. They were very close to taking a three games to one lead on the Golden Knights last night. Nicolas Roy changed that in overtime. Will Montreal regret losing Game Four? That remains to be seen. The current roster is here due to the brilliance of Carey Price. Similar to Patrick Roy in ’93 when he carried Les Habitants to a record 24th Cup. The last time a Canadian franchise won.

As I navigated through that ’92-93 championship roster, the names of Kirk Muller, Vincent Damphousse, Brian Bellows, Eric Desjardins and Mathieu Schneider were recognizable. So were Guy Carbonneau, Mike Keane and John Leclair. It’s easy to forget that they had a good roster with both Damphousse and former Devil Muller topping 90 points. They led the way for the Canadiens in the postseason along with overtime heroes Leclair, Desjardins and of course Roy, who went an incredible 10-1 in sudden death. He won his last 10 overtimes that postseason en route to the Conn Smythe.

As I looked back at that team, my mind wandered to two former Habs who won the Stanley Cup with the ’95 Devils. Of course, I’m referring to Claude Lemieux and Stephane Richer. I decided to look at who they were acquired for. While the Devils parted with Muller in the Richer deal which benefitted both teams, former Team President and GM Lou Lamoriello stole Lemieux for former 30-goal scorer Sylvain Turgeon.

Astonishingly, the brother of Pierre Turgeon once hit 40 goals twice with the Hartford Whalers. He scored 30 or more four times including his one season in New Jersey. In 72 games, he had 30 goals and 17 assists in ’89-90. Originally acquired by Lamoriello for Pat Verbeek, he atoned by getting the clutch Lemieux. Unfortunately, Turgeon never recovered from an abdominal injury early in his career. He only scored 14 goals in 75 games with Montreal before being taken by the Ottawa Senators in the Expansion Draft. He lasted three more seasons before finishing his career overseas.

As for Lemieux, a Stanley Cup winner with the ’85-86 Canadiens and runner-up in ’89, he became a significant player for the Devils. The super pest who could raise his level in the playoffs scored 30 or more three times as a Devil including a career best 41 in ’91-92. Best known for his Conn Smythe performance in helping lead the Devils to their first Cup during 1995, he rebounded from only scoring six goals in the shortened season by notching 13 during that run. That included the crushing goal at the Flyers in Game Five where he beat Ron Hextall through the wickets. The Devils wrapped up the Eastern Conference Final at home in Game Six.

Following a successful five-year run in the Garden State, Lemieux held out as a restricted free agent. Lamoriello moved on by sending him to the Islanders for Steve Thomas in a three team trade that saw Lemieux luckily wind up on the Colorado Avalanche in their first season after leaving Quebec. They sent Wendel Clark to the Islanders to complete the transaction. Lemieux wound up winning back-to-back Cups. Eventually, he returned to the Devils in ’99-00 with Lamoriello acquiring him from Colorado for Brian Rolston and a swap of first round picks plus an Avalanche second. As fate would have it, Lemieux played a secondary role on his third Cup winner in 2000, winning twice in New Jersey.

Looking back at what the Devils originally traded for Lemieux, it has to go down as one of the greatest trades in franchise history. He not only was productive. But antagonized opponents with his agitating style. He also nearly did in the ’93-94 Rangers in the memorable Game Seven of the Conference Finals. It was his second effort that resulted in Valeri Zelepukin tying the game with 7.7 seconds left in regulation to send it to overtime. He really was a good player. You despised him if he was playing against your team. But loved him if he was on your side. Something I’m sure well respected Devils blogger Hasan would echo. They don’t win that first championship without Pepe.

Now that I’ve illustrated the art of a lopsided deal that helped one area local to go on and win, it’s time to delve further into the topic. What are the greatest trades the Devils and Rangers have ever made? What I’ll do is highlight a few each time I post. In this debut, let’s look at some trades that worked out well for each team. Since I already started with one of the best moves the Devils ever made, let’s do the Rangers.

As a diehard fan of the Blueshirts for over three decades, I’ve seen my share of good and bad trades. However, this isn’t about the negative. We know that quite well. I’m going to focus on the positives. Something that’s hard to do considering they’ve won one Cup in the last 80 years. Absurd. They did come close a few times prior to winning in ’94. They couldn’t quite close the deal.

Luck was part of it with Hall of Famer Jean Ratelle returning hurt for the ’72 Stanley Cup Final they lost to Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the Bruins. In fact, our father was in the building the night the Bruins skated the Cup at Madison Square Garden. Hard to fathom. Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there! I hope it treated you great. We are very lucky to have such a great Dad. That Theo Fleury photograph taken at the old Borders bookstore remains one of my favorites of us.

I’ve heard many tales of the worst trades in Rangers history from our Dad. It’s been gone over time and time again. You could spend hours upon hours. I’ve experienced a few of these trades. It sure explains a lot. So, where to start. It would be easy to begin with the most obvious one. I’m not going there in this first post. Instead, I’ve decided on a couple of different moves that turned out good for the franchise.

In the summer of ’91, Adam Graves was a year removed from helping the Oilers win their fifth Stanley Cup. Part of the famed Kid Line with Joe Murphy and Petr Klima, who were all acquired by Edmonton from Detroit for Jimmy Carson, Kevin McClelland and a ’91 Edmonton fifth round pick, Graves played a key secondary role in winning the Cup in 1990. He tallied 11 points (5-6-11) in 22 postseason games. Only 23, he turned a restricted free agent the following summer.

Having been the Director of Scouting for the Red Wings who took him number 22 overall in the 1986 NHL Draft, Rangers Team President and GM Neil Smith thought enough of Graves to sign him to a five-year offer sheet worth $2.44 million. While it was a signing, I consider it a trade due to the compensation the Oilers received. In return for Graves, Edmonton got back Troy Mallette.

At the time, the 21-year old Mallette was actually an established enforcer with scoring touch. In his first couple of seasons, he hit double digits in goals and topped 20 points like Graves. The biggest difference was he had a combined 557 penalty minutes. Back then, those kind of tough guys had value. So, it essentially became Graves for Mallette, who only lasted 15 games as an Oiler before being shipped to New Jersey in ’91-92. What a turn of events that was for Edmonton, who would later have a much bigger botch.

As for Graves, Smith was ultimately proven right. He went from 25 points in his last year for Edmonton to 26 goals, 33 assists, 59 points, 139 penalty minutes, plus-19 and four shorthanded goals in his first season on Broadway. Originally deployed as a checking forward, Graves was so successful that he finished fifth for the Selke Trophy in ’91-92. A key part of the President’s Trophy team, a controversial suspension in the frustrating Patrick Division Final defeat to the whiner Mario Lemieux and the Penguins helped prevent the Rangers from possibly winning the Cup that year.

Despite that, Graves would go onto become a good finisher who topped 30 goals four times including a then single season franchise record 52 goals during the ’93-94 campaign. During their Cup run, he scored 10 goals and added seven assists for 17 points. The most memorable came in Game Seven when he scored a power play goal versus the Canucks to make it 2-0. The Rangers would hang on for a 3-2 victory at MSG to win the franchise’s fourth Cup.

For a decade, the generous Graves who was the best at giving back to the community (King Clancy Winner), scored 280 goals with 227 assists for a total of 507 points in 772 games as a New York Ranger. He concluded his career with the Sharks and retired at 35. Graves currently serves for the Rangers as a special assistant with Prospect Development and Community Relations.

Throughout the 50’s and early 60’s, Andy Bathgate was known as a star for the Rangers. An established forward who led the team in scoring eight straight years including tying for the league lead in scoring with Bobby Hull who won the Art Ross due to more goals, the popular Bathgate got tired of losing in the big city. The Rangers sent the former Hart winner (’58-59) to the Maple Leafs on Feb. 22, 1964. The full trade was Bathgate and Don McKenney to the Leafs for Arnie Brown, Bill Collins, Dick Duff, Bob Nevin and Rod Seiling.

While Bathgate helped Toronto win the Cup in 1964 on his way to the Hockey Hall of Fame and named as one of the NHL’s Top 100 Players All-Time, both Nevin and Seiling along with Brown became key players on contending Rangers’ teams that were successful. Nevin scored an overtime winner against the Leafs in ’71 that sent the Blueshirts to the Semifinals against the Blackhawks. The same playoffs where Pete Stemkowski scored two overtime winners including his memorable triple overtime goal at The Garden to extend that series. Ultimately, they fell short losing to Chicago in six. Seiling became a good defenseman for the Rangers, who was part of the ’71-72 team that lost to the Bruins for the Cup. Brown was swapped for center Bruce MacGregor, who had a good stint with those Emile “Cat” Francis teams.

Had Jean Ratelle been healthy for that Stanley Cup, it could’ve been a different outcome. He basically returned and played on one leg, producing only an assist. The Rangers lost to the Bruins in six games. It remains a heartbreaking memory for people like our father and the older generation. Those were some great teams.

So, I highlighted two key trades that steered different Rangers’ teams in the right direction. One led to a Cup while the other just came up short. Now, I’ll do one more Devils trade.

An underrated move by the Devils that helped bring credibility to the struggling franchise came when Lamoriello in his first year over from Providence College decided to trade for forward Patrik Sundstrom. A proven five-year veteran with the Canucks who once had 93 points in a season, the Swedish center was acquired on Sep. 17, 1987. The full deal included both Greg Adams and Kirk McLean going to the Canucks with an ’88 second round pick for Sundstrom, a second and fourth round pick in the same draft. None of the draft picks panned out.

While both Adams and McLean became very successful players in Vancouver by helping them reach the Cup Final in ’94, Sundstrom helped change the Devils. Once called by Wayne Gretzky as a “Mickey Mouse Organization,” that changed during their first season under Lamoriello and coach Jim Schoenfeld. Once Schoenfeld took over for Doug Carpenter, the Devils made a remarkable run. After squeezing into the playoffs for the first time on John MacLean’s overtime winner at Chicago on the final day of the season, the Devils went on a Cinderella run.

After eliminating the Islanders in six games, they defeated the Capitals in the Division Finals by winning in seven games. The biggest highlight was a record performance from Sundstrom. In a 10-4 win over the Caps on Apr. 22, 1988, he set a playoff record by recording eight points with a hat trick and five assists in Game Three of that series. That broke Gretzky’s record of seven points, which he did three times with Edmonton. That eight-point game helped Sundstrom pace the Devils in scoring with 20 points (7-13-20) that postseason. Along with former USA gold medalist Mark Johnson, MacLean, Sean Burke, Aaron Broten, Muller, Verbeek and a variety of other key players including Ken Daneyko and Bruce Driver, the Devils went all the way to the Wales Conference Final before losing to the Bruins in seven. It was an amazing run.

Condolences go out to the family of Tom Kurvers. The former Devils’ defenseman who was a key part of that run passed away at age 58 earlier today. He succumbed to lung cancer. Even though Kurvers was better known for a Lamoriello trade to Toronto that turned into future Hall of Famer and four-time Stanley Cup champion Scott Niedermayer, Kurvers was a good player who did well that season. He led all New Jersey defensemen with 15 points (6-9-15) that postseason. That included seven against Boston which paced the club in that series. He also was part of the ’92-93 Islanders’ run to the Conference Finals.

Sundstrom spent four more years playing for the Devils where he continued to produce well. In five years with New Jersey, he wound up with 86 goals, 160 assists and totaled 246 points. At 30 in ’91-92, Sundstrom only got into 17 games, tallying a goal and three helpers. He left the NHL to return home to Sweden where he concluded his career playing for IF Bjorkloven for his final two years.

Without players like Sundstrom and Kurvers, the culture in New Jersey might not have changed. Along with former Quebec Nordiques legend Peter Stastny, they helped provide the leadership that developed into a Devils juggernaut over the next decade.

That’ll do it for this post. We’ll call it Part 1. There’ll be more to come. Enjoy tonight’s crucial Game Five between the Islanders and Lightning in Tampa. The series is tied at two games apiece. The pressure is squarely on the Bolts. We’ll see if the defending champs can respond. In the other Stanley Cup Semifinal, Vegas evened it up by coming back to defeat the Canadiens 2-1 in overtime. Nicolas Roy got the OT winner. Game Five is tomorrow at Vegas.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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