Dozens of trades happen every season in the NHL, but there are only a handful that stick out like these do. These, in my mind, are the five most important trades in NHL history:
5. 1957: Detroit trades Ted Lindsay and Glen Hall to Chicago for John Wilson, Forbes Kennedy, minor leaguers and cash
Glenn Hall's accomplishments are impressive, but the real important thing here was Ted Lindsay. Lindsay was a great player -- a member of the production line in Detroit with Gordie Howe and Sid Abel -- and he was one the most well-known players in the NHL. There weren't a ton of trades in a six-team League, so a trade was pretty big news and one with a star involved was even bigger. The reason he was traded is the most important thing, though. He was starting a player's union and this move was made strictly to get him out of Detroit and keep him from organizing the Red Wings' locker room. Detroit was one of the top teams in the NHL and Chicago was one of the worst, and they wanted to quiet him and quiet his influence and it worked. After he went to Chicago, the union folded and didn't get started again for several years. Ted knew it would affect his career, he knew it would have consequences, and he did it anyway. He didn't have to, either. He was a star and one of the most well-paid players in the League, but he did it to help out everyone else. This trade showed what lengths the old owners would do to stop a players' association from being founded.
As well, his influence on the young players in Chicago had an impact as they moved toward the Stanley Cup in 1961 even though he was no longer on the roster. He was a warrior. That Chicago team in 1961 definitely had his influence.
4. 1992: Quebec trades Eric Lindros to Philadelphia for the rights to Peter Forsberg, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Steve Duchesne, a 1993 first-round pick (eventually Jocelyn Thibault), a 1994 first-round pick (later traded to Toronto and then Washington) and $15 million.
Lindros said he would rather not play for Quebec after being drafted by them and Lindros actually made the NHL buckle. This was huge not just because the NHL caved and allowed him to refuse to play there, but the trade was so bungled that Quebec had actually worked out deals with two different teams -- Philadelphia and the New York Rangers. It was a crazy series of events and it changed things because not long after the Sedin twins said they would only play on the same team and the NHL buckled again and allowed Brian Burke to work out the trades he did to bring both of them to Vancouver.
Still, Lindros was the first to test the NHL's resolve and call its bluff. Gretzky didn't do it, Lemieux didn't do it, but Lindros did. He wouldn't go to a bad team and he got the trade he wanted. As well, there's no doubt that that trade won the Cup down the road for Colorado by either giving them players they needed or players that could be traded for draft picks to later help build depth. It also was a step back for the Rangers because the players that were going to be dealt became public knowledge. The Rangers had originally agreed to send Quebec Doug Weight, Tony Amonte, Alex Kovalev, John Vanbiesbrouck and three first-round picks before an arbitrator ruled the deal invalid. If I was a young Alex Kovalev and I heard I was almost dealt, it would have changed how I felt about the organization I played for. This deal had a lot of components, and a lot of impact that changed the landscape of the NHL.
3. 1967: Chicago trades Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge and Fred Stanfield to Boston for Pit Martin, Gilles Marotte and Jack Norris.
All the players Boston got in this deal were huge, but Esposito changed the Boston Bruins. This is also ahead of Lindros because I think Espo was a bigger player than Lindros. This move completely changed the balance of power in the NHL. Esposito was a good player in Chicago and he became arguably the second best player in the NHL in Boston, certainly the best offensive player. He led the League in scoring, Boston won two Stanley Cups and people would say "God shoots, Esposito scores on the rebound." It just completely changed the culture of the Boston Bruins and it really made Esposito into an icon.
In 1972, he was also the face and the conscience of the 1972 Summit Series team for Canada and it all started with this trade to the Boston Bruins.
2. 1995: Montreal trades Patrick Roy and Mike Keane to Colorado for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko.
Patrick Roy beats Espo because I think he's the more important player in the history of the NHL. For Montreal to trade a French-Canadian goaltender in his prime, who had just won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe three seasons earlier, was just shocking. To keep the coach and trade Patrick Roy was pretty amazing. The whole thing was pretty poorly handled by everyone -- the coach, the team and Patrick Roy. If everyone had taken 24 hours off and calmed down, I don't think it would have happened. It changed Montreal. They haven't really been a consistent contender since, and Colorado got the piece they were missing. They won the Stanley Cup that year and became a perennial contender.
1. 1988: Edmonton trades Wayne Gretzky, Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski to Los Angeles for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million, a 1989 first-round pick (later traded to New Jersey), a 1991 first-round pick (Martin Rucinsky) and a 1993 first-round pick (Nick Stajduhar).
Wayne Gretzky was the greatest player who ever played and no one ever thought he could be traded. Whenever something crazy happens in the NHL, people say, "Well, Gretzky got traded," meaning anything can happen. He was in the prime of his career, Edmonton had just won four Cups in five years and the team was still together. I remember the first time I heard a rumor that he could be traded and I just laughed. I thought it was crazy. Now whenever I hear a rumor I just think, "Well, Gretzky was traded."
More importantly, if Gretzky doesn't get traded, do we have a team in San Jose? Do we have a team in Anaheim? In Texas? Two in Florida? Would we have ever had another team in Atlanta? Gretzky going south showed everyone that NHL buildings could fill in the south and draw well in south. Gretzky didn't just change two teams -- he changed the entire concept of a league. He changed the game of hockey on the ice and he changed the game off the ice. He was that big. Once he goes to L.A. he gets on Saturday Night Live, he's on SportsCenter every night -- that would not have happened if he stayed in Edmonton.