Bruins make MVP-sized blunder

Normally the National Hockey League’s awards ceremony is a time to reflect upon the season that was—and applaud the players who have made outstanding contributions to both their team and the sport of hockey.
But as was the case with most things associated with the NHL this past season, this year’s awards ceremony last Thursday night was anything but normal.
Case in point: Hart Trophy winner Joe Thornton.
The eventual winner of the NHL’s Most Valuable Player award this season was traded midway through the campaign by the Boston Bruins to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart, and Wayne Primeau.
The deal was massive. It’s rare in any sport that a superstar gets dealt, but it is especially strange when it happens mid-season.
I actually remember where I was and what I was doing when I first heard Thornton had been dealt. I was chatting to a buddy of mine online when he asked if I’d heard the news.
He then proceeded to tell me the particulars of the trade.
My first impression? There was no way he was telling the truth.
Why would you ever trade a 6’4”, 225-pound offensively-gifted 26-year-old centre for three skilled but not overly talented players?
It was like trading a dollar for 50 cents. There was no logic to the move.
While I knew immediately that San Jose had gotten the better of the deal, what I didn’t know was just how badly it was going to go for the Bruins.
Thornton caught fire in San Jose, scoring 92 points in only 58 games—and finishing first in league scoring with a career-high 125 points.
The Sharks—tragic underachievers early in the season—went 36-15-7 to finish in fifth spot in the Western Conference.
And then there was Johnathon Cheechoo. Cheechoo scored 49 of his 56 goals playing on a line with Thornton, shaking the underachiever label to become widely recognized as one of the league’s best young goal scorers.
Meanwhile, back in Boston, the Bruins floundered after the trade going 21-24-11. They finished the season with 74 points—good for 13th spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins’ ownership was so embarrassed by the trade, and their team’s subsequent poor play, that they fired general manager Mike O’Connell with a month to go in the season.
O’Connell forever will be remembered in the New England area as the man who traded away the NHL’s MVP. Then again, he can take solace in knowing he’s not the first, nor will he be the last, GM to make a terribly one-sided trade.
The NHL is littered with examples of truly awful deals. The following are some of my favorites:
•the Edmonton Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky, Marty McSorley, and Mike Krushelnyski to the L.A. Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, $15 million, and first-round picks in 1989 (Jason Soules), 1991 (Tyler Wright), and 1993 (Jason Arnott).
Easily the worst deal in hockey history. Edmonton owner Peter Pocklington should have just showed up at the press conference with a giant sack of money and laughed at the Oiler fans for an hour.
•the Ottawa Senators traded Alexei Yashin to the N.Y. Islanders for Zdeno Chara, Bill Muckalt, and the number-two overall pick in the 2001 draft (Jason Spezza).
Ottawa gave up its moody Russian forward for the most physically imposing defenceman in the game (Chara) and a can’t miss prospect (Spezza). What makes the deal even better is the fact the Islanders gave Yashin a $90 million contract.
•the Islanders traded Roberto Luongo and Olli Jokinen to the Florida Panthers for Oleg Kvasha, Mark Parrish, and the right to draft first in the 2000 entry draft (Rick DiPietro).
Luongo and Jokinen are both on the verge of stardom (more on Luongo in a second). Kvasha now plays in Phoenix while Parrish is with the L.A. Kings.
DiPietro—the reason Isles GM Mike Millbury made the deal in the first place—has been inconsistent at best thus far in his career.
•Speaking of Luongo, this past weekend’s trade involving him, Lukas Krajicek, and a sixth-round draft choice for Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld, and Bryan Allen is going to go down as a terrible deal for the Florida Panthers.
The Canucks finally got the goalie they’ve longed for since Kirk McLean retired while Florida got a marginally-talented goalie in Auld, a serviceable defenceman in Allen, and a power forward in Bertuzzi whose head hasn’t been in the game since the Steve Moore incident.
I understand the Panthers couldn’t lose Luongo for nothing in free agency next summer, but there had to be a better deal available than the one they accepted.
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Before I wrap up this week’s column, I’d like to take a moment to thank Larry Wood for lending me his tape of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final.
Larry graciously brought the tape in when he read that I’d missed the game last Monday night.

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