March 28, 2013 4:55 pm
Updated: March 28, 2013 4:57 pm

The 5 biggest trades in NHL history

Calgary Flames superstar Jarome Iginla surprised many with the announcement Thursday that he was being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins after 16 seasons in Calgary.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This morning, hockey fans awoke to some surprising news: Jarome Iginla, captain of the Calgary Flames and one of the team’s most well-known stars, has been traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The move caught fans off guard because Boston, not Pittsburgh, had long been rumored to be Iginla’s destination. The Flames announced Iginla would be a healthy scratch just hours before the puck dropped Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche, further fueling speculation that the team was looking to shop their franchise player.

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It seems that speculation was right on the money.

It’s a risky, all-or-nothing play by Penguins GM Ray Shero, who now forks over college prospects Kenneth Agostino, Ben Hanowski, and Pittsburgh’s first-round pick at the 2013 draft.

In exchange, he’ll get a 35-year old winger with 16 seasons worth of mileage on his odometer, and the injury history to show for it. He’ll also get one of the most consistent scorers in the league, and one of the game’s true locker room leaders.

It’s clear that Shero is going “all in” on this season by reuniting Sidney Crosby with Iginla, who provided the assist on Crosby’s famous “golden goal” in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

In light of this move, and with trade deadline day fast approaching, Global News takes a look at the five biggest trades in NHL history – and who really got the better end of the deal.

5 – Phil Esposito to Boston




May 15, 1967

Phil Esposito
Ken Hodge
Fred Stanfield

Gilles Marotte
Pit Martin
Jack Norris

Decades worth of hindsight has not been kind to this deal, one of the biggest trade “steals” in NHL history.

After a disappointing end to their 1966-67 season, the Blackhawks were looking to make an upgrade on defence, and had their sights set on Boston’s Gilles Marotte.

In exchange for Marotte, a solid-producing centre in Pit Martin, and backup goaltender Jack Norris, the Bruins got 25-year-old centre Phil Esposito, and a pair of rookie forwards in Hodge and Stanfield.

Esposito would go on to have a Hall of Fame career in Boston. He scored over 100 points in six of his eight seasons as a Bruin, and led the league in goals five of those seasons.

Hodge and Stanfield would both break out in Boston as well, with Hodge notching two 100+ point seasons and Stanfield consistently averaging a point per game during his stay in Beantown.

The Bruins would win the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972. Meanwhile, while Pit Martin would develop into a solid player in his 11 seasons in Chicago, Marotte never panned out for the Blackhawks, and Norris barely saw the ice.

4 – Cam Neely to Boston

DATE                      BOSTON RECEIVED              VANCOUVER RECIEVED
June 20, 1992            Cam Neely                                  Barry Pederson
First-round draft pick

The Bruins make back-to-back appearances on this list – and once again, they’re somehow able to convince another team to give up on a future Hall of Famer too early.

Right-winger Cam Neely was drafted ninth overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1983 draft. The Comox, B.C. prospect seemed like a natural fit for the team.

Yet Neely struggled in his first three seasons, failing to score more than 39 points while racking up penalty minutes. The Canucks eventually decided to ship Neely, along with their first-round pick (third overall) in the 1987 draft for proven centre Barry Pederson.

Neely’s career exploded once he donned Bruins black. The prototypical power forward known as “Bam Bam Cam” racked up three 50+ goal seasons before his career was cut short due to injury. Pederson, meanwhile, saw his production fall off in Vancouver, and he never again topped 100 points in a season.

Making matters worse: the Bruins used Vancouver’s first-round pick to draft Glen Wesley, who would play seven seasons in Boston, during which the team would make two appearances in the Stanley Cup final. Boston would eventually trade Wesley to the Hartford Whalers for three first-round picks, making the Neely trade a gift that truly kept on giving.

3 – Eric Lindros to Philadelphia




June 20, 1992

Ron Hextall
Steve Duchesne
Kerry Huffman
Mike Ricci
Peter Forsberg
Chris Simon
Two first-round draft picks
$15 million

Eric Lindros


There may not be a better example of how a few good trades can completely reinvigorate a franchise than the Quebec Nordiques of the early 1990s.

The Nordiques had drafted Lindros with their first pick in the 1991 NHL draft, despite Lindros publicly stating he did not want to play for them. This led to Lindros sitting out the 1991 season, before the Nordiques finally agreed to deal the promising centre.

In exchange for Lindros, the Nordiques got quite a haul, including future standouts Mike Ricci and Steve Duchesne, star goalie Ron Hextall, future Hart Trophy winner Peter Forsberg, two first-rounders, and plenty of cash.

It’s easy to classify this trade as lop-sided. But remember that Lindros was possibly the best player in the NHL his first few years with Philly, winning a Hart Trophy and scoring over 40 goals his first two seasons.

Eventually though, injuries would take their toll on his potential. The Nordiques, meanwhile, would get many of the pieces in place to become one of the top teams of the mid-1990s.

But not all the pieces. With one of the two first-round picks snagged in this trade, the Nordiques drafted goaltender Jocelyn Thibault, who, as we’ll see, would play a big part in another Nordiques-centered draft.

2 – Patrick Roy to Colorado




December 6, 1995

Patrick Roy
Mike Keane

Andrei Kovalenko
Martin Rucinsky
Jocelyn Thibault

By the start of the 1995 season, Montreal’s Patrick Roy was arguably the top netminder in the league, having already won two Stanley Cups with the Canadiens.

But that relationship ended on December 2, 1995, after Montreal head coach Mario Tremblay chose to leave Roy in net against the Detroit Red Wings, where he ultimately allowed nine goals in two periods.

The Habitant faithful mercilessly jeered Roy, who felt Tremblay had left him to struggle in net just to embarrass him. Later that night, he informed team president Ronald Corey that he would never again play for the Canadiens.

Four days later, the Canadiens would deal Roy to the Quebec Nordiques, who had relocated that season to Denver to become the Colorado Avalanche. In exchange for Roy and Canadiens captain Mike Keane, the Avalanche dealt a pair of forwards in Andrei Kovalenko and Martin Rucinsky, as well as recently acquired goaltender Jocelyn Thibault (see above).

The addition of Roy was just the spark the Avs needed to put them over the top. They won the Stanley Cup that spring, and would win another one in 2001 with Roy between the pipes.

He would retire in 2003 as the winningest goalie in NHL history.

The Habs didn’t get anything close to the same level of impact in this trade, and have been shut out of the Stanley Cup finals ever since in what some Montreal sportswriters call “the curse of St. Patrick.”

1 – Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles




August 9, 1988

Jimmy Carson
Martin Gelinas
Three first-round draft picks
$15 million

Wayne Gretzky
Marty McSorley
Mike Krushelnyski

Drop the words “The Trade” to any hockey fan, and they immediately know what you’re talking about.

There’s no doubt that the mammoth 1988 deal that sent Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles is the biggest (and most controversial) trade in NHL history.

Fresh off a 1988 Stanley Cup victory (his fourth with the Oilers in five years), “The Great One” was at the height of his powers, and was the face not only of his team, but of the sport itself.

Yet with one year left on Gretzky’s deal, cash-strapped Oilers owner Peter Pocklington decided to trade the man widely regarded as the greatest to ever play the game.

The hand wringing hasn’t stopped in the 25 years since this deal took place. Yet the real outcomes for either team weren’t as dire as the legend of “The Trade” would have you believe.

Despite losing Gretzky, the Oilers would win another Stanley Cup in 1990, signifying that “The Trade” was hardly the franchise deathblow it is usually portrayed as.

And Gretzy’s signing with the L.A. Kings kick-started interest in hockey in an area where it had previously been stagnant. A team that had once had difficulty selling tickets now boasted regular sellouts. And Gretzky made a big impact on the ice as well, leading the Kings to the Stanley Cup finals in 1993.

The NHL would soon bring two more teams to California (the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks), and many observers today credit Gretzky with popularizing hockey in parts of the United States where the sport had never enjoyed mainstream success.

Think we forgot a trade on this list? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below and tell us what YOUR five biggest trades in NHL history are. 

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