Every once in a while, there's a trade that rattles an entire sport, in some cases, the entire sporting world.
The Edmonton Oilers
' 1988 trade of Wayne Gretzky
to the Los Angeles Kings
was like that.
The trade in which the Boston Bruins
sent their captain, Joe Thornton
, to the San Jose Sharks
for three former first-round draft picks, Brad Stuart
, Marco Sturm
and Wayne Primeau
, jolted the entire League too.
Debate has raged over who got the better of the deal. Does one star center best three very good players or vice versa. But what about the human aspects, the effects on the players involved?
Thornton was informed by former Bruins GM Mike O'Connell while having dinner with his parents. Stuart, Sturm and Primeau were called off the ice during a pre-game warm-up and told they wouldn't be playing for San Jose anymore. All four were jolted, but all knew changes were coming to their teams, due to their last-place records at the time.
Hall of Fame center Phil Esposito
has an inkling of how Thornton felt. Esposito had led the NHL in scoring the previous four years and five of the previous six when he was packaged with defenseman Carol Vadnais
by the Bruins in a Nov. 7, 1975 trade to the New York Rangers
for defensemen Brad Park
and Joe Zanussi
and center Jean Ratelle
Esposito and Park, a fellow Hall of Famer, recalled their emotions in the moments and days following the trade.
"Like Joe, I was leading the team in scoring and I was captain, yet I still got traded," Esposito said. "I couldn't fathom it. It took me probably a year to accept that I wasn't part of the Boston Bruins
Esposito recalled a reaction he had to the Rangers' sweater after shaving in the dressing room before a game.
"I remember pulling on the sweater and thinking, 'What is this? Where's the spoked B and my No. 7?" Esposito said. "Prior to being traded, all I knew about New York was between 7th and 8th Avenues and 33rd and 34th Street, Madison Square Garden. We stayed at the hotel across the street and flew home on the shuttle after games. When I did learn the city, it was, oh my God, the greatest city and the greatest fans and we had some good years."
Park said he was strongly motivated to show up the Rangers and prove they made a mistake. He did a good job of it over the years, but few have done what Esposito did in his second game back in Boston.
"I loved the Boston fans and we had won two Stanley Cups there," he said. "I was hoping they wouldn't boo me when I returned because it wasn't my choice to leave. They were great. When I stepped on the ice for my first game there as a Ranger, they cheered me like crazy. It was great, but we lost the game. The next game, I scored a goal early and they cheered me. I scored another and they cheered a little less. I got the hat trick and there were hardly any cheers and when I got my fourth goal, they booed! I loved it. I loved them then and I still do."
"When they call you at 7:30 in the morning, it's not to talk strategy. We were on the road and they said report to the coach's office, so I knew I was traded, but didn't know where. Ron Stewart was the coach and when he told me it was Boston, I was in complete shock. I was the captain ... I felt like I was the heart and soul of the team."
-- Brad Park
"I was in shock in the minutes right after I learned I'd been traded," Park said. "When they call you at 7:30 in the morning, it's not to talk strategy. We were on the road and they said report to the coach's office, so I knew I was traded, but didn't know where. Ron Stewart
was the coach and when he told me it was Boston, I was in complete shock. I was the captain ... I felt like I was the heart and soul of the team.
"Once the shock wears off, you have to deal with some issues," Park said. "The biggest for me was telling my wife, family and friends before they heard it on the radio. I broke down and cried during the call with my wife. After that, I came around to thinking one team doesn't want me and one team does. Eventually, I got mad at the team that traded me and I wanted to prove them wrong."
The trade marked a big roster reshuffling for both teams.
"Harry Sinden knew Bobby Orr
was leaving, but we didn't," Esposito said. "So, he traded to get the second-best defenseman in hockey. Park had been an All-Star every year."
"I was so hated in Boston before the trade, I got mail from someone threatening my wife and I," Park recalled. "For a year and a half, the FBI escorted us when we were in Boston. To this day, people tell me they hated me when I was with New York, but they loved me in Boston. It was a turning point in my career. I went to a very stable situation in Boston, while the Rangers went through a period of management changes. Plus, I got to play for Don Cherry
! That was very entertaining. He knew how to motivate a veteran team. It was more motivation than strategy and Xs and Os and we had success.
So, Brad, how long did it take to get over your anger at the Rangers?
"I'm still ticked!"