The first thing to remember about Deadline Day deals is this: They don't always work.
The NHL trade deadline has become Christmas in March for hockey fans, a day where they wait to see what kind of presents they'll get from their favorite team. But for every deal that sees a team add the missing piece for a long playoff run or a Stanley Cup championship, there are many more than turn out to be more hype than help.
Still, the lure of finding the missing piece brings teams back ever season, hoping they'll land the right player to help get them to the next level, whether that means making the playoffs or winning a championship.
Here's a look at seven of the best Deadline Day (and close to it) deals over the past 30 years (ranked from No, 7 to No. 1).
2008: Pittsburgh acquires forwards Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from Atlanta for forwards Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Angelo Esposito and a first-round Pick (Daultan Leveille) --
The Penguins had Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
, but GM Ray Shero
knew he needed more than that for his franchise to move into the NHL's elite. Hossa, whose contract was up at the end of the season, was one of the biggest names being dangled on Deadline Day, but the Penguins weren't among the teams being mentioned as a destination -- until the deal was announced just before the 3 p.m. deadline.
Hossa was injured in his first game as a Penguin and missed a couple weeks. But he did everything the Penguins could have asked for in the playoffs, scoring 12 goals and 26 points as
Pittsburgh made the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 16 years.
Ironically, Hossa then opted to sign a one-year deal with Detroit -- which beat Pittsburgh in the 2008 Final -- saying that the Wings offered the best chance to win a Cup. Instead, he wound up on the wrong end of the receiving line again last spring when the Penguins (including Dupuis) upended Detroit in seven games.
To date, no one that the Penguins surrendered in the deal has come back to bite them.
1997: Detroit acquired defenseman Larry Murphy from Toronto for future considerations --
Murphy already owned two Stanley Cup rings from his days with the Penguins in the early 1990s. But his career appeared to be winding down with Toronto, where his finesse-first style of play hadn't been a big hit with Leaf Nation after he was acquired before the 1995-96 season. Fans took out their frustrations by booing the Toronto native, so there wasn't much of a stir when the Red Wings brought in the 36-year-old for the nebulous price of "future considerations."
But being dealt from the struggling Leafs to the talented Wings -- and not being asked to do more than he was capable of doing -- revived Murphy's career. Murphy and Nicklas Lidstrom
formed a solid defense pairing as the Wings ended a 42-year Stanley Cup drought that spring and repeated as champions a year later. He had 26 points in 42 playoff games during those two seasons while finishing plus-28.
Murphy finished his career with the Wings in 2001 having played 1,615 games, the most ever by a defenseman at the time (a mark now held by Scott Stevens
). He is a four-time Stanley Cup champion and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
1990: New York Rangers acquired forward Mike Gartner from Minnesota for forward Ulf Dahlen, a fourth-round pick and future considerations --
With a new general manager (Neil Smith) and a new coach (Roger Nielson), the Rangers had surprised everyone with their performance through the first three-quarters of the 1989-90 season. With a chance to finish first in the Patrick Division -- a major achievement for a team that hadn't finished first anywhere since 1941-42 -- Smith was more than willing to surrender Dahlen, a solid forward who had never turned into the big scorer the Rangers wanted, for Gartner, one of the most consistent goal-scorers in NHL history.
Gartner did exactly what the Rangers brought him to New York to do -- score goals. He connected 11 times in 16 games as the Rangers went on to win the division and end their 48-year drought. He scored 49 and 40 goals in two full seasons with the Blueshirts, helping them to win the Presidents' Trophy as the regular-season champions in 1991-92.
2006: Carolina acquired forward Mark Recchi from the Pittsburgh Penguins for forwards Niklas Bordgren and Krys Kolanos and a second-round pick in 2007 --
Recchi was no longer the 50-goal, 100-point scorer he'd been in his early days. But he was still a productive forward with a Stanley Cup ring on his resume, and that was more than enough to interest Carolina GM Jim Rutherford, whose team was enjoying its best season since moving from Hartford a decade earlier. He dealt a couple of young players and a draft pick to Pittsburgh to bring in the 38-year-old.
Recchi didn't fill the net in Carolina, but he was a useful top-six forward who provided leadership and offense (7 goals and 16 points in 25 games) on the first and only Cup-winning team in franchise history. He returned to Pittsburgh that summer having done exactly what Rutherford brought him in to do -- win a championship.
1994: New York Rangers acquired forwards Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan from Chicago for forward Tony Amonte and the rights to Matt Oates; acquired forward Glenn Anderson, the rights to Scott Malone and a fourth-round draft pick from Toronto for forward Mike Gartner --
There's a sentiment in sports that any deal you make that brings home a championship is a good one -- and Rangers GM Neil Smith definitely subscribed to that theory.
The Rangers had spent most of the 1993-94 season atop the NHL standings, but they were slumping as the trading deadline approached. With his franchise's Stanley Cup drought now well into its second half-century, Smith rolled the dice and went for it all, dealing a two-time 30-goal scorer (Amonte) to Chicago for worker bees Noonan and Matteau, then sending Gartner to Toronto for Anderson, who joined a number of former Oiler dynasty teammates in the Big Apple.
The deals gave the Rangers the kind of spark Smith hoped they would. Matteau scored the game-tying goal at Calgary in his debut and went on to score a pair of double-OT winners in the Eastern Conference Finals against New Jersey. Anderson got two of the four game-winners in the Final as the Rangers won their first Cup since 1940.
Both Amonte and Gartner had several more productive seasons after leaving New York, but there's not a Ranger fan in the world who would undo those deals.
1991: Pittsburgh acquired center Ron Francis and defensemen Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings from Hartford for center John Cullen, forward Jeff Parker and defenseman Zarley Zalapski --
There are times when an injury to your star player can turn out to be a good thing. Such was the case with the 1990-91 Penguins, who spent much of the season waiting for Mario Lemieux
to get healthy. During that time, Cullen was putting up near-Lemieux numbers playing for the high-scoring Penguins.
But with Lemieux getting healthy, GM Craig Patrick
started looking for a better two-way center who would be productive in a second-line role. He had plenty of offensive defenseman, but needed a crease-clearer -- something the Penguins hadn't had for years.
Thus was born the trade that turned the Penguins into a two-time Stanley Cup winner. Francis, a Hall of Famer in his own right, became one of the greatest No. 2 centers ever -- and Samuelsson gave the Penguins the kind of nastiness they needed in their own end. Unfortunately for the Whalers, neither Cullen nor Zalapski put up the kind of numbers in Hartford that they had with Pittsburgh -- though Francis did return to the Whalers-turned-Hurricanes for the 1998-99 season and played all but the last 12 games of his career there.
1980: New York Islanders acquired center Butch Goring for forward Billy Harris and defenseman Dave Lewis --
Why is this trade still the gold standard for Deadline Day deals 30 years later? Because it's still the only one that filled in the missing piece for a dynasty.
The Islanders spent the first five months of the 1979-80 season trying to shake off an upset loss to the archrival Rangers in their semifinal series the previous spring. GM Bill Torrey had yet to find an effective second line to go with the "Trio Grande" of Bryan Trottier
, Mike Bossy
and Clark Gilles -- mostly because he hadn't found the right man in the middle.
That man turned out to be Goring, a career King who added speed, scoring and penalty-killing skills. With U.S. Olympian Ken Morrow
turning pro after the 1980 Games, Torrey was willing to deal Lewis, a solid defensive defenseman, and Harris, the Isles' first-ever draft pick in 1972 and a solid player but not a star, to the Kings.
Goring's impact was immediate. The Isles went 8-0-4 in their 12 regular-season games after the trade, then beat Los Angeles, Boston, Buffalo and regular-season champion Philadelphia for the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. They repeated in 1981 (with Goring winning the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP), '82 and '83 -- and got to the 1984 Final before losing to Edmonton.
Truly, it was a trade that cemented a dynasty.