Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
It’s still discussed as an era-changing moment in Maple Leafs lore. Although its impact never brought about a single Stanley Cup Final, it did awaken a slumbering (or infuriated) fanbase, and create a whole new set of memories for the next generation that came around a little late for those made by Sittler, MacDonald, and Salming.
It also meant the absolute end of a great Calgary Flames era, really. A Flames era that had seen numerous Smythe Division titles and playoff battles with the great Edmonton Oilers, and a window after the Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky in summer 1988 to Los Angeles, to really own the division and the Western Conference.
25 years ago today, the Maple Leafs and Flames executed a 10-player trade on the second day of 1992 so unique, and so influential, it’s still celebrated (in Toronto, at least). Here are 20 things you thought you knew or didn’t know about what led up to it, the trade itself, and how it impacted two of the six Canadian franchises — Ottawa was to come into existence the next season in 1992-93.
1. Doug Gilmour was looking to get out of Calgary the moment the puck dropped on the 1991-92 season. A second straight first-round exit for the Flames in 1991 (in 7 games to Edmonton) had left a sour taste among the Flames, their fans, and management. This wasn’t how it supposed to go after their 1989 Stanley Cup Final win. While defending champs, they lost to Gretzky’s Kings in the 1990 Smythe Division semi-finals, after being 25 points better than Los Angeles during the regular season. Gilmour only tallied a goal and assist in the 1991 defeat to the Oilers, and was due for a big raise in pay. The Flames saw it differently and took him to arbitration. Gilmour’s request was $1.2 million US/year, the Flames offered a (relatively) paltry $580,000. The arbitrator saw fit to settle far more in favour of Calgary, and awarded Gilmour a one-year deal worth $750,000 — a relative bargain for a point-per-game player at the age of 28.
2. Gilmour asked to be traded, but fulfilled his undervalued contract. Despite it being an era of star holdouts and trade demands (Jimmy Carson had sat home from Edmonton, eventually being traded to Detroit in a lopsided deal in the Oilers favour, Pat LaFontaine worked his way off of Long Island to Buffalo, and Mark Messier got from Edmonton to Broadway to play for the Rangers, all within the span of a couple seasons), Gilmour showed up at training camp for Calgary and was suited up Opening Night against Edmonton, while demanding a trade from new GM Doug Risebrough.
3. Feeling no progress was getting made, Gilmour left the Flames three days before the trade to Toronto.
Gilmour had a goal and assist in a 3-2 Calgary win at the Saddledome against Montreal, and following that game, informed the team he would go home and await a trade. He’d finish the Flames portion of his season with 11 goals, 27 assists in 38 games.
4. The Flames weren’t actually too concerned at the time about making a big “splash” to make a playoff run. In fact, they were in 3rd place in the Smythe Division (playoffs were still contained within divisions so Conference standings were meaningless). Calgary was 16-17-5 for 37 points in 38 games. Not great, but ahead of the Oilers (36 points) and the Kings (35 points) on New Year’s Eve, although both clubs did have a game in hand on Calgary. Vancouver led the division with a fantastic start, accumulating 50 points in their first 41 games in Pavel Bure’s rookie season.
5. The Maple Leafs’ new GM was quite familiar with Gilmour & what he could bring to a team. Cliff Fletcher ran the Calgary Flames all through the 1980s, coming with the club when they moved from Atlanta, and, thus, acquired Gilmour from the St. Louis Blues just a couple years earlier. Gilmour’s work and results made an impression on Fletcher during a hard-fought Western Conference Final in 1986 (the Blues had eliminated a not-very-deep Maple Leafs team in the Norris Division Final to advance). Two years later, in what was truly a lopsided trade, Calgary got Gilmour, scoring veteran winger Mike Bullard, and tough guy Craig Coxe, for Steve Bozek, Mark Hunter, and prospect Mike Dark. Hunter and Bozek would combine to play another 469 NHL games, while Gilmour would play a full 1094 regular season games following his trade from the Blues.
6. Fletcher had already made some interesting moves to re-shape a Maple Leafs team that had been bad for a long time. Following the death of longtime Leafs owner Harold Ballard in April 1990, the Leafs had actually begun to spend more money and infrastructure on scouting, their farm clubs, treadmills and Nautilus (!) machines for their players, and that spending also was apparent in the budget for players. During the 1991 Canada Cup, Fletcher made a blockbuster deal with another Alberta team, the Edmonton Oilers to get highly-paid and well-established goalie Grant Fuhr, veteran scorer Glenn Anderson, and enforcer Craig Berube. It wasn’t without a cost though as 23-year old star forward Vincent Damphousse (still on a relatively inexpensive deal despite some very productive seasons) was sent the other way, along with a recent #3 overall pick in Scott Thornton (doh!!!! — Bill Guerin was taken two picks later!!!), backup goalie Peter Ing, and defenceman Luke Richardson, who the Leafs fans never really took in four full seasons after being a seventh-overall pick.
7. Very few Leafs fans were in support of moving Damphousse. This is quite understandable — Damphousse (and Daniel Marois, his linemate) had become real crowd favourites, along with Wendel Clark and Gary Leeman. All Damphousse had done was step in as a sixth-overall pick in 1986, score 21 goals and add 25 assists, and keep getting better year after year. His 89-90 season was pure brilliance, posting up 94 points (33 of them goals) as a 21-year old, and being of great help to Gary Leeman (especially on Leafs’ powerplays) having the 51 goal season he had. Sure, there was some offensive slippage in the 1990-91 season, with Damphousse regressing to 73 points, but that was to be expected given what a terrible year it was for the Leafs, and the utter turmoil within the organization with players coming and going (and coaches coming and going) following a start which saw the team 4-21-1 in the standings near the end of November.
8. Gary Leeman’s struggles were utterly confounding and Cliff Fletcher was determined to get value for him, and a change of chemistry for his team’s dressing room. Leeman wasn’t known as a bad apple, but there were some issues and rumours of turmoil with teammates, that much can’t be denied. Some of the issues may have been more tolerable to Leeman’s coaches and to management if he’d been able to continue producing as he had during his 51-goal season, but his production utterly dried up, no matter who he played with, or how many minutes. There aren’t too many examples of 50-goal scorers in the NHL in the league’s history (at the age of 25, no less), hitting the skids as Leeman did. No one had any answers, least of all Leeman. In 89-90, he had 10 multi-goal games. The following year, he scored 17 in total, scoring a pair in one game ONCE, in a late-season game in Hartford. Before he was traded to Calgary (with 7 goals in 34 games), he’d gone through a October/November slump which saw him score once in 19 games.
9. Doug Risebrough saw Leeman as a player who could finish what the Flames’ centres started. The Flames weren’t “rebuilding” by any sense. Though underachieving, this was still a frighteningly talented team with many stars and future Hall of Famers in their prime. Risebrough saw Leeman as a victim of circumstance amidst a rising tide of fan and media discontent. The harder Leeman tried to produce, the less success he had, getting swallowed up in a classic chicken-and-egg scenario. Leeman could come to Calgary (Western-born kid, former Regina Pat), feel fresh and alive, and whether it be with Joe Nieuwendyk, the brilliant Sergei Makarov, Gary Roberts, or young future stars like Theo Fleury or Robert Reichel, there’d be a muse to light Leeman’s fire.
10. Cliff Fletcher also determined he needed more strength on the blueline. That aforementioned Oilers trade came with a price. Luke Richardson, though not gifted offensively, logged an awful lot of penalty-kill and even-strength minutes. Suddenly, there was a real void in Toronto, which led to some awkward periods of adjustment, including an October seven-game losing skid where the Leafs were outscored 30-13, and twelve power-plays goals were allowed against. Dave Ellett and Todd Gill were thought of, fairly, as offensive-minded defencemen. Acquisitions from the season before struggled. Michel Petit didn’t fulfill expectations, Bob Rouse needed more help in his own end, and 21-year old Soviet Alexander Godynyuk was like many Eastern European players at the time, finding his way while slowly adjusting in a marketplace that often doesn’t accept immediate and impactful results.
11. The Flames had plenty of defensive depth to move out. In part because of a logjam, and in part to avoid paying pending free agents in the summer of 1992 (or losing them for nothing), Doug Risebrough was willing to move older, veteran defencemen in a prospective deal, as long as he’d get a promising defender back. That promising defender was Godynyuk. Logical reasoning there being that the Flames were a team that had integrated Europeans quite well in their history. Kent Nilsson was truly the first excellent Swedish forward to play in the NHL. Jiri Hrdina and Sergei Priakin were both playing in the NHL before the famous 1989 importing of Slava Fetisov to New Jersey, and Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov to Vancouver. Godynyuk would come into a dresssing room with Soviet legend Makarov, and Czechs Robert Reichel and Frank Musil.
12. Fletcher wanted two defencemen who could bring winning experience. Given the icetime logged by Al MacInnis and Gary Suter, and, at the time, former Canadian Olympian Trent Yawney, and knowing Godynyuk would be in the deal, Risebrough was comfortable sending both stay-at-home blueliner Jamie Macoun, and the more versatile Ric Nattress to Toronto. Macoun was only 30, played some junior hockey in Newmarket and was Hamilton-born, so it’d be a homecoming of sorts, and Nattress was also from “the Hammer” and played his OHL with the Brantford Alexanders. They knew Toronto and what the pressure was like, and already being Stanley Cup champions, a couple seasons removed, they’d be perfect to add to a Toronto room where they were already learning from the likes of Fuhr and Anderson about winning Cups.
13. The slide the Leafs were on leading to “The Trade” necessitated Fletcher to do something. Cliff Fletcher and head coach Tom Watt weren’t under a “win now” edict, but there were expectations among ownership, given Fletcher’s prior success, the addition of Fuhr and Anderson, and the prior season’s additions of Dave Ellett, Mike Foligno, and Peter Zezel, that the team wasn’t going to be a bottom-feeder. But after an impressive 6-3 win over Vancouver at home on December 7th to bring their record to 9-16-4, the Leafs hit a huge dry patch, going 1-9-1 to finish the 1991 calendar year, including a 12-1 (yes, TWELVE!) Boxing Day loss in Pittsburgh to the defending Cup champs. Mario Lemieux had 7 points, and both Joe Mullen and Kevin Stevens had 6 points each. Both Daniel Marois and Mike Bullard were a minus-6 on the evening. And how this happened and we don’t talk about it more, I have no idea, but Grant Fuhr was in net for all 12 goals — making 20 saves on 32 shots. He must have felt decades away from having the 1987 Canada Cup squad in front of him, that’s fairly certain.
14. Leafs coach Tom Watt may have survived a New Year’s firing only by virtue of the trade itself. You won’t find a nicer man or more honest man in hockey than Watt — I’ve interviewed him several times in person and on radio. He expressed relief behind closed doors at “The Trade” taking place given it took a ton of the emphasis off him at the time. The Leafs had already fired Doug Carpenter in November 1990 and replaced him with Watt, and given the virtual revolving door of players, Fletcher, though he inherited Watt, basically, as head coach, didn’t want to use his bullet there if he didn’t have to. Watt would be gone at the end of the season, with Pat Burns abruptly departing Montreal in that famous summer 1992 moment, but without this ten-player deal, the calls for his firing would have grown louder.
15. What’s a mega-hockey deal without some backup goalies involved? Sure, I agree! Good point! The Leafs put 24-year old Jeff Reese into the deal to send to Calgary to back up Mike Vernon, and more-established 31-year old Rick Wamsley was brought in to spell Fuhr, when necessary. Wamsley would only get 10 Maple Leafs starts over the span of the next season-and-a-half, given Fletcher wanted a better look at Toronto’s 1990 2nd-round selection in the NHL Entry Draft — a certain Felix Potvin. Potvin got four starts near the end of the 1991-92 season and by Christmas 1992, he’d won the starting job away from Fuhr, and within a matter of weeks, Fuhr was headed down the QEW to become a Buffalo Sabre, with Dave Andreychuk, a first-round pick, and fellow goalie Daren Puppa coming back — another Fletcher lopsided swindle, at the hands of the Sabres.
16. The Leafs got a future in a deal that already seemed quite lopsided in their favour. It is the element of the trade that I often debate with others. What if Kent Manderville had really turned into a good-to-great NHL power forward. That was the plan when the already roster-deep Flames drafted him 24th-overall in the ’89 Draft just weeks after winning the Stanley Cup. Manderville went straight from getting picked to play NCAA hockey at Cornell University, and as the trade happened, was preparing along with the rest of the Canadian Olympic team to play in Albertville, France the following month. Along with the then-infamous Nordiques’ property, Eric Lindros, and other future NHLers like Joe Juneau and Jason Woolley, and veterans like Dave Tippett and Dave Hannan (another future Leaf), Manderville scored 3 points in the Olympic tournament to help Canada to a rather unheralded silver medal against, well, the “Unified Team”, made up of six former Soviet republics, and including future Leafs, Nik Borschevsky and Dmitri Mironov. I recall genuine excitement about Manderville becoming a Leaf and his first game in his hometown of Edmonton on March 4th, 1992 had a bit of a buzz to it.
17. The trade began a decline for the Flames in the same way it began a renaissance for the Maple Leafs. It really did signify the end of a great 7-8 year period for the Flames with a Stanley Cup title in 1989, and a Final appearance in 1986, breaking up a potential Oilers run of five straight Cups (Edmonton against Montreal with Claude Lemieux and Patrick Roy as rookies would have been tons of fun though, yes?). Despite maintaining a core of: Nieuwendyk, Roberts, Fleury, Suter, Reichel, and Vernon for the next few seasons, that group never found its way back to glory. After “The Trade”, the Flames would win only 15 of their next 42 games, and a last-place finish in the Smythe Division left them out of the playoffs for the first time since arriving in Calgary, and the franchise’s first miss since Atlanta didn’t qualify in 1974-75! They’d be first-round losers the next four seasons, and by then, Gary Roberts had been forced to retire (temporarily, thankfully) with neck and back problems, Vernon had been given away in another bad Flames trade (straight up for the late Steve Chiasson, the Red Wings defenceman), and both Gary Suter and Al MacInnis would be traded in deals that never really helped the Flames in the short-term or long-term. Calgary would miss the playoffs for seven straight seasons until riding the magic of the 2004 Playoffs and getting all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against eventual winners, Tampa Bay.
18. Doug Gilmour’s impact on Toronto was notable, but the magic would have to wait for at least one spring. The diehards know this, but the casuals may not recall it. Gilmour’s Leafs made a notable run to make the playoffs in spring 1992 but fell short. Of course, missing the postseason was cause for much more embarrassment and soul-searching then given 16 of 22 teams (San Jose was an expansion team in 1991-92) qualified. Gilmour had a goal and assist in his first Leafs game, a 6-4 loss in Detroit on January 3rd. But the team was 2-5-0 in Gilmour’s first seven games, burying the team deep in the Norris Division basement. Matters hadn’t been helped by Wendel Clark’s nearly year-long knee injury, leaving him unavailable to the Leafs for all of November and December. In fact, his return to the lineup was in that January 3rd game that was Gilmour’s debut. The Leafs went on a remarkable (and attention-getting) tear going 8-1-0 between January 23rd and February 11th, working themselves back into at least a conversation about a playoff spot. But a 1-5-1 spurt after the streak sunk their chances, and they finish with 77 points, three behind the fourth-place Minnesota North Stars, who were a stunningly-awful 7-16-1 in their final 24 games, nearly allowing the Leafs to catch them.
19. Jamie Macoun got lots more playoff hockey than he would have had he stayed in Calgary. Macoun not only became a gritty favourite on the Leafs blueline, appearing in 39 playoff games in the springs of 1993 and 1994, but during the subsequent Leafs teardown in the mid-to-late 1990s, he found himself a Detroit Red Wing in 1998 on Trade Deadline Day, and appeared in 22 playoff games for the defending champion Red Wings, even adding 4 points to the cause, and winning himself a second Stanley Cup ring. He and Gary Leeman were the only two players of the ten from “The Trade” to win a Stanley Cup as a player, after the deal was consummated, although Jeff Reese collected a Stanley Cup ring as a Tampa Bay Lightning goalie coach, as they defeated….yes, as mentioned, Calgary. Two other members of the Leafs’ popular defence corps would win Stanley Cups later that decade, Sylvain Lefebvre in Colorado in 1996, and Bob Rouse in 1997 and 1998 with Detroit.
20. Amazingly, there were no draft picks involved, and no rumours of any being pulled from the deal. We all know how shocked we’d be if two NHL teams made a midseason 10-player deal ever again, but we’d be even more-shocked if draft picks weren’t involved. Remember, at this time, the NHL Draft was ELEVEN rounds! Surely, either Fletcher or Risebrough blink if a 10th-rounder from 1993 gets tossed into the mix here. But no, 5 NHLers for 5 NHLers, and each team with a goalie involved. It’s the type of trade we used to make up with buddies in the schoolyard, and even in bars, and I’m not even sure this happens anymore because we knows teams won’t be doing these deals.
Look, this isn’t about who won or lost “The Trade”, it’s more about how much, really. I’m not sure the deal devastated Flames’ fans given how much winning they’d done in the previous several years, and the fact that the organization’s demise was based on several subsequent bad deals made by both Risebrough, and his successor, Al Coates, who took over dealings for the club in 1995.
Though the Leafs’ run with Gilmour was somewhat short-lived and really limited to two great months in April and May of 1993 and 1994, it did create memories for young and old alike, even before the Leafs returned to consistent playoff runs from 1999-2003 with a core of Sundin, Roberts, Mogilny, Kaberle, McCabe, and either Joseph or Belfour in net. The point is, the trade came out of nowhere, and so did the passion for the Maple Leafs once again. It exorcised many of the Ballard years during the 1980s when all hope seemed lost. It created an iconic Leaf hero in Gilmour, who quickly became as popular a player as Wendel Clark, and if anything, Gilmour enhanced Clark’s status and vice-versa because there aren’t playoff runs without either player or the contributions of Glenn Anderson, the soon-to-be-acquired Dave Andreychuk, or Felix Potvin — for all the missteps by the Maple Leafs at the NHL Draft in the past four decades, grabbing Potvin in the second-round was a true winner.
Bottom line, it’s hard to see how there could be any complaints. Though there have been numerous lopsided trades involving, say, 2-4 players, not many are this lopsided involving this many players. Sure, teams can be pointed at and targeted for trading 1st-round draft picks for playoff rentals that don’t work out in the long run, but that’s the furthest thing from what this one was. Gilmour ascended to legendary status in Toronto and for a two-year period played as well as any Leaf ever has, including Dave Keon, including Darryl Sittler, including Mats Sundin, and maybe someday including Auston Matthews (editor’s note: almost certainly!). No player that left Toronto amounted to very much with the Flames, Godynyuk was out of the NHL by 1995-96, leaving few positive memories for either Flames or Whalers fans, and Leeman, shockingly, would score only 21 more NHL goals in a total of 93 NHL games (though he was a member of the 1992-93 Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens, in a limited role.). The Flames made quick work of moving Leeman, trading him in late January 1993 to the Canadiens for the hard-working Brian Skrudland. The less reminders of the prior year’s robbery by Cliff Fletcher, the better, I suppose.
So it’s probably Kent Manderville. Though Manderville got some youthful indoctrination into the Maple Leafs’ playoff lineups for their big runs in 1993 and 1994, he contributed little – scoring twice, with no assists in 30 games. His best chance to be a consistent Leaf was the 48-game short season starting in January 1995, and he was dreadful, adding just one assist in 36 games. By the following season, he was back in the AHL, and soon to be traded to Edmonton for Peter White and a 4th-rounder in 1996 who never played in the NHL. Encouragingly for Manderville, something must have clicked because he started contributing offensively and ended up with a 646-game NHL career when all was said and done with Hartford/Carolina, Philadelphia (going to the Eastern Conference Final in 2000), and Pittsburgh before heading to Sweden to play in 2003-04.
But complaining about Manderville, given all the riches the trade did bring seems rather petty, in retrospect. It’s a trade other organizations’ fans may mock Maple Leafs’ supporters for commemorating, but it’s clearly one of the most significant and stunning transactions in franchise history.