Prior to the start of the 1988-89 NHL season, Minnesota North Stars winger Dino Ciccarelli sought a five-year, $2 million contract from his team. The North Stars balked at that figure, claiming that Washington’s Mike Gartner was a comparable player who was being paid less.
Coming into that season, Gartner had averaged 41 goals over nine NHL seasons while Ciccarelli had averaged 38 goals over eight seasons.
It was certainly ironic then, that less than six months later the two players were traded for each other.
On March 7, 1989, Caps general manager David Poile swapped Gartner and defenseman Larry Murphy – another longtime Capital – to the North Stars in exchange for Ciccarelli and defenseman Bob Rouse.
At the time, Gartner was the Capitals’ all-time franchise leader in most offensive categories: games played, goals, assists, points, power play goals, shorthanded goals and hat tricks, to name just some. But even with Gartner’s tremendous contributions on the ice (not to mention off the ice), the Caps had won just one best-of-seven playoff series since he joined the team as Washington’s first choice (fourth overall) in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft.
“That was a huge deal because it was for Larry Murphy and Mike Gartner, two longtime Caps, and it involved three guys that could be in the Hall of Fame,” says Poile, nearly 20 years after the deal was made. “That was a deal that was made just because we were trying to go in another direction. It certainly was no reflection on Mike or Larry.
“It’s just that we needed a different element, different pizzazz. At the time, Dino certainly gave us that. [In 1990] we went further in the playoffs than we ever had to that point with Dino and he really became a crowd favorite. I think he really energized our team and our franchise.”
Getting traded for the first time was a shock for Gartner. It was less so for Murphy, who had been swapped to Washington from Los Angeles early in the decade.
“It’s the first time he’s been traded,” said Murphy, in the March 8, 1989 edition of The Washington Post. “The first time is always the biggest shock. He was a little shocked at first. He’s been here a lot of years. But now he looks forward to it, too.”
“I guess my disappointment is that I couldn’t finish what we started,” lamented Gartner himself at the time.
Gartner and Murphy learned that had been traded while they were in the middle of an afternoon practice with their Capitals teammates at the Forum in Montreal.
“I’m going to miss the guys,” said Gartner. “I’m going to miss a guy like Bobby Gould. I’ve been friends with Bobby seven years now. He was disappointed. But you can’t get too morbid about this.
“We had some laughs. It was a good parting.”
With the benefit of nearly two decades worth of hindsight, Gartner still admits to feeling some sting over that trade.
“I would have preferred to remain in Washington,” he admits. “I was shocked. I hadn’t heard any rumors prior to that. I thought everything was going well and it was a real blow thinking back on it. It’s funny because it’s been almost 20 years since that happened, and it still kind of stings me sometimes when I think back on it. The quick answer is I probably would have loved to remain a Capital.”
Having spent nearly a decade as a Capital, he accumulated a number of memories along the way.
“I think the first time we made the playoffs,” he says when asked to recount his best memories from his days in D.C. “When I got to Washington the team had not made the playoffs in the history of the franchise up to that point. It took us a couple of years to finally turn the corner and make the playoffs and become a playoff team, and we did that for a number of years in a row after that.
“From a personal standpoint, it was probably the only time that I ever scored 50 goals was in the 1984-85 season. Getting two goals in the last game to hit that 50 mark for the first and only time in my career was certainly a career highlight.
“How about that five overtime period game that we played against the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs in 1987? What a tiring but great experience that was to be part of that.
“My two older children were born in Maryland and we’re very proud that they were able to be part of my time there from that standpoint, raising our young family at that time. So I really do have some very fond memories of both living in the Washington, D.C. area and playing for the Capitals.”
Along with Murphy, Rod Langway and Scott Stevens, Gartner is one of four Hockey Hall of Famers who spent the better part of the 1980s wearing the red, white and blue in Washington. Even with all that talent, the Caps were never able to advance past the second round of the playoffs with those luminaries in the lineup.
“We had great teams,” recalls Gartner. “I think that if the playoff format was a little different back then and we didn’t have to play [in the first round] against the Islanders when they were winning Stanley Cups or Philadelphia when they were finishing first overall, I think things would have been different. I think we would have been able to build a little bit of confidence through the playoffs and kept going. One year we were the best team in the league by about 30 goals or something like that. That’s kind of unheard of.
“I look back on those teams and think, ‘Man, we should have won.’”
If Ciccarelli ever gains enshrinement into the Hockey Hall of Fame, that March 7, 1989 trade will go down as one of the few ever that involved three Hall of Famers. As it stands, Gartner is one of a very few players who has been involved in more than one trade with multiple Hall of Famers during his career. At the 1994 trade deadline, the New York Rangers traded Gartner to Toronto for Glenn Anderson, who gained enshrinement in the Hall just last month.Here is a list of previous trades in which more than one Hockey Hall of Famer was involved. (List includes only deals that involved players enshrined as players, not players who were later enshrined as “builders.”)September 18, 1922:
Montreal traded Newsy Lalonde (HOF) to Saskatoon (WCHL) for $3,500 and the rights to Aurel Joliat (HOF). October 20, 1924:
Ottawa traded Clint Benedict (HOF) and Punch Broadbent (HOF) to the Montreal Maroons for cash. January 7, 1927:
Detroit traded Frank Fredrickson (HOF) and Harry Meeking to Boston for Duke Keats (HOF) and Archie Briden. October 7, 1927:
Montreal Maroons traded Punch Broadbent (HOF) and $22,500 to Ottawa for Hooley Smith (HOF). December 21, 1928:
Boston traded Frank Fredrickson (HOF) to Pittsburgh for Mickey MacKay (HOF). October 3, 1934:
Chicago traded Lionel Conacher (HOF), Leroy Goldsworthy and Roger Jenkins to Montreal for Lorne Chabot, Marty Burke and Howie Morenz (HOF). July 11, 1935:
Detroit traded Conney Weiland (HOF) and Walt Buswell to Boston for Marty Barry (HOF) and Art Giroux. January 15, 1936:
Chicago traded Art Coulter (HOF) to the New York Rangers for Earl Seibert (HOF).
May 18, 1939:
Toronto traded Busher Jackson (HOF), Buzz Boll, Doc Romnes, Jimmy Fowler and Murray Armstrong to the New York Americans for Sweeney Schriner (HOF). July 13, 1950:
Detroit traded Harry Lumley (HOF), Jack Stewart (HOF), Al Dewsbury, Pete Babando and Don Morrison to Chicago for Metro Prystai, Gaye Stewart, Bob Goldham and Jim Henry.
November 16, 1950:
Boston traded Fern Flaman (HOF), Ken Smith, Phil Maloney and Leo Boivin (HOF) to Toronto for Bill Ezinicki and Vic Lynn.
November 23, 1954:
Chicago traded Bill Gadsby (HOF) and Pete Conacher to the New York Rangers for Allan Stanley (HOF), Nick Mickoski and Rich Lamoureux.
June 10, 1957:
Detroit traded John Bucyk (HOF) and cash to Boston for Terry Sawchuk.
July 23, 1957:
Detroit traded Glenn Hall (HOF) and Ted Lindsay (HOF) to Chicago for Johnny Wilson, Forbes Kennedy, Bill Preston and Hank Bassen.
June 4, 1963:
Montreal traded Jacques Plante (HOF), Don Marshall and Phil Goyette to the New York Rangers for Gump Worsley (HOF), Dave Balon, Leon Rochefort and Len Ronson.
February 22, 1964:
Toronto traded Dick Duff (HOF), Arnie Brown, Bob Nevin and Bill Collins to the New York Rangers for Andy Bathgate (HOF) and Don McKenney.May 20, 1965:
Traded to Detroit by Toronto traded Andy Bathgate (HOF), Billy Harris and Gary Jarrett to Detroit for Marcel Pronovost (HOF), Eddie Joyal, Larry Jeffrey, Lowell McDonald and Aut Erickson.
March 3, 1968:
Detroit traded Norm Ullman (HOF), Floyd Smith, Paul Henderson and Doug Barrie to Toronto for Frank Mahovlich (HOF), Pete Stemkowski, Garry Unger and the rights to Carl Brewer.
November 7, 1975:
Boston traded Phil Esposito (HOF) and Carol Vadnis to the New York Rangers for Jean Ratelle (HOF) and Brad Park (HOF). March 7, 1989:
Washington traded Larry Murphy (HOF) and Mike Gartner (HOF) to Minnesota for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse.September 19, 1991:
Edmonton traded Glenn Anderson (HOF), Grant Fuhr (HOF) and Craig Berube to Toronto for Vincent Damphousse, Peter Ing, Scott Thornton and Luke Richardson.March 21, 1994:
Toronto traded Glenn Anderson (HOF) and their 4th round choice (Alexander Korobolin) in 1994 Entry Draft and the rights to Scott Malone to the New York Rangers for Mike Gartner (HOF).Almost:
February 5, 1960:
Detroit traded Red Kelly (HOF) and Billy McNeill to the New York Rangers for Bill Gadsby (HOF) and Eddie Shack. The trade was cancelled two days later when Kelly and McNeill refused to report to the Rangers. On Feb. 10, the Wings dealt Kelly to Toronto for Marc Rheaume.
Hall of Famers never traded (in reverse order of enshrinement):
Scott Stevens, Clark Gillies, Mario Lemieux, Bryan Trottier, Bobby Bauer, Borje Salming, Larry Robinson, Edgar Laprade, Billy Smith, Woody Dumart, Bob Gainey, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Clint Smith, Bill Barber, Gilbert Perreault, Herbie Lewis, Tony Esposito, Bobby Clarke, Jacques Laperriere, Serge Savard, Stan Mikita, Yvon Cournoyer, Rod Gilbert, Lynn Patrick, Bobby Orr, Henri Richard, Alex Delvecchio, George Armstrong, Ace Bailey, Dickie Moore, Chuck Rayner, Jean Beliveau, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Gordie Howe, Tom Johnson, Bill Cowley, Neil Colville, Butch Bouchard, Elmer Lach, Red Horner, Bill Mosienko, Bill Durnan, Joe Primeau, Syl Apps, Maurice Richard, Milt Schmidt, Sylvio Mantha, Ching Johnson and Georges Vezina.