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MacTavish knows trades from both ends

by Mike G. Morreale /

Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish certainly understands the intricacies of NHL trades from both sides of the bench.
Craig MacTavish certainly understands the intricacies involved in wheeling and dealing in the NHL.

He was Wayne Gretzky's teammate in Edmonton when "The Trade" went down with the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 9, 1988. He was part of a major deadline-day deal orchestrated by New York Rangers General Manager Neil Smith on March 21, 1994, that put an end to a 54-year Stanley Cup drought and, for the past nine seasons, he has played a big part in the decision-making process as coach of the Oilers.

"Trading is not a great part of the job but, then again, there are a lot of things that aren't very pleasant as a manager or coach but you just have to deal with it," MacTavish said. "It speaks to the loyalty that you should have as a coach to your players. Obviously, when you trade somebody, it's an infringement of that loyalty, so it's never pleasant."

MacTavish feels fans will never again witness a deal with the enormity of the Gretzky trade.

"It really does highlight the differences in eras," MacTavish said. "Very seldom can you make a trade of any magnitude, let alone trading the best player in the League, without the media knowing. But nobody caught wind of this, and that was probably the biggest surprise. I never heard anything (about the deal) until it was announced that he had been traded. It was stunning.

"The parties involved knew, but nobody really said anything," MacTavish recalled. "As a coach or manager today, we work really hard to be the first to notify a player of a trade before it's announced on TSN (The Sports Network). It's bizarre to me how the information gets out so quickly, but I guess a lot of that can be attributed to the job the media does in terms of building relationships with the club managers."

According to former New York Islanders General Manager Bill Torrey, the mastermind of the dynasty-creating 1980 trade that brought center Butch Goring to the Isles from the Kings, "deals are always surprising when it involves other teams because you're not in the loop of what's going on day to day. You're busy running your own team so in a sense, any trade is a surprise.

"When I think back on (Edmonton owner) Peter Pocklington and (Kings owner) Bruce McNall, and knowing those individuals as I did at the time, I can't say it was a total shock," Torrey continued. "The key to that deal was obviously that a significant amount of money ($15 million) went to Peter Pocklington from Bruce McNall and McNall had to arrange the financing. Of course, the bank he used at the time was the same bank for the Islanders, so I was aware there were negotiations going on."

Unlike an offseason blockbuster such as the Gretzky trade, deadline deals are better for teams that need complementary pieces for a good core group, Smith said.

"The most important thing in a trade is to fortify what you already have on your team," he said. "I don't think the trading deadline is a time to reinvent your team by bringing in core pieces."

Fortifying his team was precisely what Smith did when he rolled the dice at the 1994 deadline by acquiring right wing (and former Oiler) Glenn Anderson from Toronto, MacTavish from Edmonton and wingers Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan from Chicago. The cost was forwards Mike Gartner, Tony Amonte and Matt Oakes, as well as center Todd Marchant.

"I knew the trade was happening since, at the time, (Edmonton GM) Glen Sather asked me what I wanted to do since we weren't going to make the Playoffs," MacTavish said.  "I told him I wanted to compete in the Playoffs because I was getting to the end of my career and wanted that opportunity. Luckily for me, I went to New York and won the Cup.

"When you're in a playoff run, especially in the current era of NHL, you could be beat at any time, even those great teams in Edmonton. To win a Stanley Cup, a lot of things have to fall into place and the capability was certainly there (for the Rangers) based on their record during the regular season and those additions at the trade deadline. We survived a couple of really good scares, certainly against New Jersey in Game 6 and then in Game 7. Our series with Vancouver and, in particular, Game 7, was incredible."

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