Welcome to Part Five in a series examining the worst trades in Toronto Maple Leafs history. We’re in the home stretch now, the “Top” Ten. These are the trades that set the franchise back, and help establish some fantastic benchmarks and how-to guides in terms of asset mismanagement and diminishing returns. And without further ado, here are trades #10 through #6 of the Top 25 Worst Toronto Maple Leafs trades of the modern era.
#10: Toronto allows the Tampa Bay Lightning to claim Brian Bradley in the 1992 Expansion Draft (June 18th, 1992)
While this is technically not a trade, it follows the general theme of this list (and the loophole that saw me put Craig Muni and Gerry Cheevers on the list): the Leafs had the option to leave anyone they wanted available in the expansion draft for Ottawa and Tampa Bay, and they chose to expose Bradley. Mike Krushelnyski was nearing the end of the road, as was Mike Foligno. Joe Sacco was a marginal prospect of limited potential. Mike Eastwood, Dave McLlwain, Ken Baumgartner. You get the idea. Now granted, I’m not 100% certain who was protected, but there had to be someone else besides Bradley that could be protected. He finished sixth on the club in scoring in 91-92! But for whatever reason, the Leafs let Tampa Bay snag him. And what happened? He scored 42 goals and 86 points for the Lightning in their inaugural season, and ended up scoring 300 points in 328 games over six seasons before retiring due to injuries. He was the face of the Lightning until Vincent Lecavalier came along, and he lead the Bolts from game one to their first-ever playoff berth in 1996. And the Leafs let him walk for nothing. Just to put Bradley’s 300 points in perspective; do you know how many Leafs have scored 300 points in a Toronto uniform? 32 players. In 72 YEARS. Phil Kessel is the closest active Leaf player to the 300-point mark, and he only had 201 points coming in to the 2012-13 season.
#9: Toronto trades Jason Smith to the Edmonton Oilers for a 2nd Round Pick in 2000 (Kris Vernarsky) and a 4th Round Pick in 1999 (Jonathon Zion) (March 23rd, 1999)
For whatever reason, Leafs’ GM/Coach Pat Quinn was not a fan of Jason Smith, and shipped him off to Edmonton. And you know what we kept hearing in Toronto media over the next few years? “We could really use a big, physical defenseman to clear the net and project (Curtis) Joseph in goal.” Gee, where can we find one of those? Wait, I know… EDMONTON. Jason Smith became one of the most popular Oilers since Doug Weight and Ryan Smyth, playing 542 games and eventually being named team captain. When he was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton’s Ethan Moreau said, “I didn’t even ask who we got. I don’t really care right now if we’re better or worse, it’s more the human side of it. You lose a great friend and a great leader, the longest standing Oilers captain of all time.” Smith was obviously a very talented, and highly respected player. He was also a strong leader. So the Leafs must have gotten something good in return, right? Well, since we’ve already ventured into the Top 10 of this list, you know the answer is a resounding “no”. Jonathon. Zion (who sounds like a secondary character from a bad Sci-Fi film) never played in the NHL. Kris Vernarsky played 17 games… but not in Toronto. The Leafs traded him to Boston for Ric Jackman. And RIGHT before Jackman became a decent defenseman for a few seasons, the Leafs traded him for the return of Drake Berehowsky. So in summation, the Leafs traded an additional 682 games of Jason Smith for a total of 51 games and 11 points from Ric Jackman and Drake Berehowsky. Huzzah.
#8: Toronto trades Darryl Sittler to the Philadelphia Flyers for Rich Costello, a 2nd Round Pick in 1982 (Peter Ihnacak) and Future Considerations (Ken Strong) (January 20th, 1982)
This was a dark day for the Toronto Maple Leafs. They traded away their captain, their most talented player since Dave Keon, and a man just 84 points away from becoming the first Toronto player ever to record 1,000 points in a Maple Leaf uniform. And he would have done it for SURE; he recorded 178 points in 191 games as a Flyer, and then added one last season in Detroit before retiring and going on to the Hall of Fame. And it’s heartbreaking when you realize just how little a return his trade netted the franchise. Ken Strong? 15 NHL games, and then he disappeared to Austria for a decade. Rich Costello? 12 NHL games. Only Peter Ihnacak made a lasting impression on the Leafs. He scored a respectable 28 goals and 66 points in his first year as a Leaf, but he only once cleared 20 goals and never again cleared 50 points over the next 6+ seasons. He ended up with 102 goals and 267 points in 417 career games in Toronto. But Ihnacak was a regular forward on some of the worst hockey teams in Toronto (and NHL) history. A dark day, a bad trade… and a team that will likely not see a 1,000 point scorer in our lifetime; Sundin topped out at 987 points as a Leaf, and Dave Keon was the only other Leaf to hit 800. And let me remind you… Phil Kessel is the highest active Leaf at just 201.
#7: Toronto trades Doug Jarvis to the Montreal Canadiens for Greg Hubick (June 26th, 1975)
This is a trade that had to be pointed out to me. And the second it was, I was first shocked, then horrified, then sadly… not all that surprised. Jarvis was drafted in the 2nd round by the Leafs in the 1975 Entry Draft, 24th overall. His final year of junior indicated he was a fantastic prospect, so naturally when Montreal asked about him, the Leafs said he was available. They dealt him for Hubick, a fourth-round pick from 1971 who had spent the past three seasons in the AHL. He played 72 games as a rookie on the Toronto blueline, scoring 10 points, before disappearing into the ethers of the CHL (he played five final games for Vancouver in ’79-80, but that was all she wrote for his NHL career).
Jarvis on the other hand immediately jumped to the NHL level from junior hockey, playing seven seasons in which he never missed a single game. This trend continued in Washington for three-and-a-half seasons, followed by another season-and-a-half in Hartford. He played five final games in the ’87-88 season for the Whalers, and retired as the NHL’s Iron Man, having played a record 964 consecutive games. Interestingly, he broke the previous record of Gary Unger, who was also an ex-Leaf prospect (and also went on to bigger and better things post-Toronto, courtesy of the Frank Mahovlich deal). Jarvis was one of the best two-way forwards of his era, winning the Selke trophy in 1984 and the Bill Masterson trophy in 1987. He was a threat for 10-20 goals and 35-40 points during his time in Montreal, and was only a minus rating twice in (+/-) in 12 seasons. And instead, we opted for one season of Greg “Who?” Hubick.
#6: Toronto trades Russ Courtnall to the Montreal Canadiens for Jon Kordic and a 6th Round Pick in 1989 (Mike Doers) (November 7th, 1988)
Poor Gord Stellick… he’ll never live this trade down. I wonder if he ever thinks, “maybe I can get those radio call-in listeners to ask about Brian Curran instead?” Anyways, the Leafs decided that needed a goon to compete in the very physical Norris division. Unfortunately, their team was largely made up of young, speedy and smallish forwards. It’s amazing how similar this situation was to Pat Quinn’s Leafs team of the late 90s, with Mike Johnson, Steve Sullivan, Sergei Berezin, etc.
Anyways, the Canadiens had Kordic available, and set their sights on Russ Courtnall. And apparently rather than haggle, the Leafs’ responded with “Sure, why not.” Courtnall was coming off three seasons of at least 22 goals, and point totals of 60, 73 and 49. Kordic had played 109 games, scoring 7 goals and recording 312 penalty minutes. And how did the trade work out? Sadly, even worse than its reputation. Kordic lasted just 104 games as a Maple Leaf, five fewer than he played for Montreal. He did manage to increase is “output” to 446 penalty minutes adding 10 goals and 16. Meanwhile, Courtnall gradually improved over parts of four seasons with the Habs. He peaked with a 26-goal, 76 point season in ’90-91, and ended up contributing 82 goals and 195 points in 250 games for the Canadiens.
Look at the next stage of the trade makes things even worse. The Leafs shipped Kordic and Paul Fenton to Washington for a 5th round pick that turned into Alexei Kudashov… dead end. The Canadians flipped Courtnall to Minnesota for Brian Bellows, who scored 40 goals during the Habs cup-winning season of ’92-93. Courtnall had a few more productive seasons in him, and ended up playing in 1,029 career games (scoring 744 points). Tragically, Kordic died of heart failure at the age of 27, thanks to a mix of steroids, cocaine and alcohol. He recorded 997 penalty minutes in 244 career games.
The numbers, while terrible, aren’t as depressing as other deals on this list. But this is one of those trades that just lives on (and on) in Toronto sports infamy. To make matters worse, the Leafs have had very, VERY few scoring wingers over the past 20 years, and barely a handful that were homegrown players drafted and developed in Toronto. And with all due respect to Gord, I hope this trade remains high on this list. Because if it gets bumped down, then that means the Leafs have made an even WORSE trade in the here-and-now.
Well folks, we’re almost there: we’re closing in on the five WORST trades in Leafs history. Which deal will end up #1? Check out the final chapter, the “best” of the worst, trades #1-5!