Trades #6-10 of the 25 Worst Trades in the modern history of the Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadians have a long and storied history in the NHL. They have won many Stanley Cups, and a large number of Hall of Fame hockey players have worn their colours. However, they have also made their share of outright bone-headed trades (the bulk of which occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s), which has resulted in their failing to win a Stanley Cup victory in 20 years (a drought Leafs fans would happily accept instead of our 46-and-counting tally). I have taken a look at Montreal’s trades in the Modern Era of the NHL (post-1967), and compiled a list of the 25 Worst Montreal Canadiens Trades of All Time. One thing to mention as a qualifier: I largely ignored whomever the Canadiens’ trading partner selected with the draft pick received, as there is no guarantee the Canadiens would have chosen that player. I put the most weight on ex-Habs who went on to great things (post-Montreal), Montreal draft picks that didn’t pan out, and the failure to make the most of players/assets in the long-term. With that, here are the trades that ranked #6-10.
#10: Montreal trades Andrew Cassels to the Hartford Whalers for a 1992 2nd Round Pick (Valeri Bure) (September 17th, 1991)
There’s something about brothers of star NHLers that just rarely seems to even out… Brett Lindros, Brent Gretzky and Marcel Hossa come to mind. The major exceptions are families with several brothers (like the Sutters or Staals), or twins who divided the gene pool evenly (the Sedins). With Pavel Bure making a name for him, Valeri made his way to the NHL. He ended up being okay-ish for the Habs. In his first full season (’95-96), he scored 22 goals and 42 points. But he scored just 21 goals and 64 points combined over his next two seasons (114 games), so he was flipped to Calgary with a fourth-round pick for Jonas Hoglund and Zarley Zalapski in a trade that didn’t do much for Montreal.
Andrew Cassels, on the other hand, became the Hartford Whalers’ #1 centre for six seasons. While he would have been better suited as the #2 centre on a good team, Cassels played well on some weak Hartford teams. He had four seasons of 40+ assists, including a high of 64 assist in ’92-93. He hit the 20-goal mark three times, and had four seasons of at least 58 points (including a high of 85 in ’92-93). He had a negative +/- rating four times in six years, but Hartford was hardly a dynasty during his time there. When Hartford moved to Carolina, Cassels was traded to Calgary along with J-S Giguere for Gary Roberts and Trevor Kidd. He ended his Hartford tenure with 253 assists and 350 points in 438 games. He also played for Calgary, Vancouver, Columbus and Washington before retiring. He was still productive, scoring 50-68 points per season over a four-year stretch for the Canucks and Blue Jackets. In total, he scored 355 points in 517 games post-Hartford. He finished his NHL career with 204 goals, 528 assists and 732 points. Quite respectable totals, and definitely not worth the fairly meagre return (46 goals from Valeri Bure). To add insult to injury, Bure blossomed with the flames, scoring 88 goals and 183 points over a three-year span; he had 128 goals and 290 points in 406 games post-Montreal. Everybody won except Montreal, which failed to experience the prime playing years of either player.
#9: Montreal trades Craig Conroy, Rory Fitzpatrick and Pierre Turgeon to the St. Louis Blues for Murray Baron, Shayne Corson and a 1997 5th Round Pick (Gennady Razin) (October 29th, 1996)
This is a trade that I will never, ever understand. Pierre Turgeon was French Canadian, a highly skilled offensive player, and the team captain (after Mike Keane was traded to Colorado in the Patrick Roy deal). Turgeon seemed to love playing in Montreal, and he represented the team at the 1996 all-star game. He scored 38 goals and 96 points in his one (and only) full season in Montreal, his best offensive totals since ’92-93. He even added six points in six playoff games. Clearly he fit the team well, leading them in points and tying with Vincent Damphousse for the team lead in goals. He was also +19, third on the team. But for some reason, the Canadiens decided they wanted to trade him. It makes absolutely no sense.
The core of the deal was a Shayne Corson-for-Pierre Turgeon swap. Corson wasn’t the offensive star that Turgeon was, but he had some skill. Unfortunately, he was no longer 25-30 goal threat he had been in his first tour with Montreal in the late 80s/early 90s. He scored 21 points in 47 games during an injury-shortened ’96-97 season. Corson bounced back for 21 goals and 55 points the following season, but scored just 20 goals and 60 points total over the next two. Overall, he scored 47 goals and 136 points in 242 games. He also had a -15 rating, and 450 penalty minutes. He was signed by Toronto as an unrestricted free agent, meaning the Canadiens got nothing in return. Murray Baron played one season in Montreal, posting a -16 rating and 6 points in 60 games. He was dealt to Phoenix with Chris Murray for Dave Manson, who wound up being sent to Chicago with Jocelyn Thibault in a later trade. And Gennady Razin never played in the NHL, so Montreal really had nothing to show for this deal once Corson left.
St. Louis made out MUCH better. Although Turgeon had trouble with durability (he only played 70+ games once in five years), he certainly had no trouble with his offensive game. He scored at least 22 goals and 65 points in each of his five seasons, and his +/- rating was never negative. His best season saw him score 30 goals and 82 points in ’00-01. In total, he scored 134 goals and 355 points in 327 games for the Blues, along with a +65 rating. He was also solid in the playoffs, scoring 45 points in 50 games. In short, he was a great first-line centre for St. Louis over a five-year span. He left as a free agent, playing another 286 games for Dallas and Colorado, adding another 182 points to his career total (finishing with 1,327 career points). Craig Conroy was also a useful player. He had two seasons in the 39-43 points range, scoring 14 goals each year; the then fell off slightly, scoring 25-27 points over the next two seasons. He finished with 151 points in 359 games before being traded with a seventh round pick for Cory Stillman. Conroy blossomed into a solid offensive player with the Flames and Kings, scoring 390 points in 637 games after leaving St. Louis. He played in a combined 996 NHL contests after leaving Montreal. The Blues later flipped Stillman to Tampa Bay for a second-round pick that became David Backes, currently one of St. Louis’ better forwards (he has twice hit the 31-goal mark for St. Louis). Rory Fitzpatrick only played three games before being dealt to Nashville for Dan Keczmer: his claim to fame was nearly making the NHL all-star game as a write-in vote when he was on the Vancouver Canucks.
The Blues got five seasons from a point-per-game #1 centre, as well as decent production and fantastic long-term value from the Conroy-Stillman-Backes chain (which is still contributing to the franchise some 17 years later). And Montreal basically got one crummy season from Baron and four diminishing seasons from Corson. I have no idea what made this trade sound like a good idea in the first place, never mind in hindsight.
#8: Montreal trades Mark Recchi to the Philadelphia Flyers for Danius Zubrus, a 1999 2nd Round Pick (Matt Carkner) and a 2000 6th Round Pick (Scott Selig) (March 10th, 1999)
Poor Mark Recchi. Never mind the fact that his acquisition could never possibly be lived down, a hurdle that Phil Kessel faces with many Leafs fans. In fact, Recchi’s arrival from Philadelphia will appear later on this list. But even on the way out, Montreal messed up. The players selected with the draft picks had absolutely zero impact for the Canadiens. One pick became Matt Carkner, who never played for Montreal (he left for San Jose as a free agent). He has played the bulk of his 184 games (as of the end of the ’12-13 season) with the Ottawa Senators and his current team, the New York Islanders. The other pick was used on Scott Selig, who never played in the NHL. Danius Zubrus scored 42 points in 73 games during his first full season in Montreal, and was on a similar pace the following season when he was traded. Montreal dealt Zubrus, Linden and a 2nd round pick to the Washington Capitals in exchange for Jan Bulis, Richard Zednik and a 1st round pick that was used to select Alexander Perezhogin. Turns out Montreal read Zubrus wrong, too; he played another 748 games, recording 412 points (and he was still active with New Jersey as of the end of the ‘12-13 season).
Recchi meanwhile was far from done as an NHL player. He didn’t have much of an impact immediately after the ’98-99 deadline, but he hit his stride in ’99-00 when he scored 28 goals and 91 points in 82 games, and then added 18 points in 18 playoff games. In each of the next four seasons he scored 20+ goals and 50+ points, including two years in the 75-77 point range. He finished his second Flyers’ tour with 127 goals, 365 points and a +55 rating in 402 games, along with 39 points in 65 playoff games. After three consecutive years as a Canadiens’ representative at the all-star game, Recchi represented the Flyers at the 2000 all-star game. He wasn’t finished after leaving Philly, either; he played another 479 games, adding another 121 goals and 332 points, as well as 50 points in 79 playoff games. He won a Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes, and then another in his final season (2011) with the Boston Bruins. In total, he played 881 regular season games after leaving Montreal, scoring 697 points. And he played in 144 playoff contests. For which the Canadiens received the sum total of 139 games of Danius Zubrus. The only thing that even marginally redeems this trade is the fact that that bringing Recchi in to Montreal was an even worse move than this one, through no fault of Recchi’s. But we’ll come back to that one later.
#7: Montreal trades Jyrki Lumme to the Vancouver Canucks for a 1991 2nd Round Pick (Craig Darby) (March 6th, 1990)
This was a straightforward deal that simply failed to have any benefit for Montreal. Craig Darby played 10 games for the Habs, registering 2 assists and a -5 rating. He was dealt to the New York Islanders in the trade that brought Pierre Turgeon to Montreal (and sent Kirk Muller to Long Island). Darby eventually wound up with the expansion Nashville Predators, where he failed to make the team. Montreal then re-signed him as a free agent, and he played another 156 games for the Habs between ’99-00 and ’01-02; he scored 45 points and registered a -31 rating during his second tour, not exactly impressive stats.
Jyrki Lumme on the other hand went on to be become arguably the best defenseman in Vancouver Canucks history. He spent 8+ seasons in Vancouver, and he was an incredibly productive two-way defenseman. He had seven seasons of 30+ points, including a two in the 54-55 point range and two other 44-point seasons. He was a solid playmaker, clearing the 30-assist mark four times. His +/- was somewhat inconsistent, but he was +55 over a two-year span from ’91-92 to ’92-93. In total, he scored 83 goals and 321 points in 579 games, along with a +21 rating and 37 penalty minutes. He was also strong for Vancouver in the playoffs, scoring 40 points in 72 games (including 13 points in 24 appearances during their run to the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals). He left for Phoenix as a free agent after the ’97-98 season. Montreal got 166 games out of Darby, but only 10 of those games were the direct result of this trade. They barely got one game from Darby for every season Lumme played in Vancouver. Easily one of the best trades in Canucks history, and my vote for #7 on Montreal’s Worst-Of list.
#6: Montreal trades Claude Lemieux to the New Jersey Devils for Sylvain Turgeon (September 4th, 1990)
Having already discussed Pierre Turgeon, we now move on to his brother, come to Sylvain. Sylvain Turgeon was drafted 2nd overall in the 1983 Entry Draft by the Hartford Whalers. While a better selection than Brian Lawton (taken 1st overall by the Minnesota North Stars), take a look at the four players selected drafted immediately after Turgeon: Pat LaFontaine, Steve Yzerman, Tom Barraso and John MacLean (not to mention Cam Neely, who was selected a few spots later). Now I am not suggesting that Sylvain Turgeon wasn’t a quality NHL player, as he twice scored 40+ goals and twice more scored 30+ goals. Unfortunately, none of those seasons happened while he played for Montreal. After six seasons (three solid and three disappointing), the Whalers sent Turgeon to New Jersey for Pat Verbeek (in a trade that worked out very well for Hartford). In his one season in New Jersey (’89-90), he did manage to score one 30 goals, but only 47 points. At the end of the season, he was traded to Montreal for Claude Lemieux.
He had hernia surgery just before the start of the season, but the Canadiens must have believed he would recover quickly, because they acquired him less than two weeks after his surgery. Unfortunately, between the surgery and a knee injury in Feb. 1991, he was limited to just 19 games in’90-91 (scoring 5 goals and 12 points). The following season (’91-92) wasn’t much better: he only managed 9 goals and 20 points in 56 games. Altogether, his stat line was 14-18-32 with a -6 rating and 59 penalty minutes in 75 games. He wasn’t much better in the playoffs, getting just one goal (and no assists) in 10 playoff games over two seasons. The Canadiens opted to leave Turgeon exposed in the 1992 Expansion Draft, where he was selected by the Ottawa Senators. Turgeon rebounded for 25 goals and 43 points, but he had a brutal -29 rating for the woeful Sens. He was clearly done as an impact player that that point; he appeared in 80 games over the next two seasons for Ottawa, scoring 22 goals and 45 points (along with a -26 rating). He then left the NHL for Europe, where he spent the next six seasons playing in Switzerland and Germany.
Claude Lemieux merely went on to become one of the most clutch playoff performers of all time. He spent five seasons in New Jersey. During his first three seasons he scored an impressive 101 goals, increasing his annual points total from 47 to 68 to 81. While his regular season offense fell off after that, his playoff stats were just heating up. He scored 18 points in 20 games during the Devils’ run to the Semi Finals in 1994. In the lockout-shortened ’94-95 season, he scored 6 goals and 19 points in 45 regular-season games. But he turned it on in the playoffs, scoring 13 goals and 16 points in 20 games as the Devils won the 1995 Stanley Cup; Lemieux won the Conn Smythe trophy as the Playoff MVP. During the offseason, he was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-way trade that sent Wendel Clark to the New York Islanders, and Steve Thomas to New Jersey. Lemieux ended up with 125 goals and 259 points in 353 regular season games for New Jersey, along with a +19 rating. He also scored an incredible 30 goals (and 47 points) in 59 playoff contests. Lemieux was a winner throughout his career, getting Stanley Cup Rings in Montreal (1986), New Jersey (1995, 2000) and Colorado (1996). He also represented Canada at the 1996 World Cup. Lemieux played in another 581 regular season contest after leaving New Jersey (although he did have a second stint as a Devil), scoring 157 goals and 338 points. But even more impressively, he played in another 98 postseason games, scoring 28 goals and 66 points. His 80 playoff goals are ninth all-time in NHL history, and an impressive 19 of those goals were game-winners. Wayne Gretzky himself has the record with 24, while Maurice “Rocket” Richard (arguably the greatest player in Canadiens’ history) has 18. After a five-year absence from the NHL, Lemieux had a brief comeback in 2008-09 with the San Jose Sharks at age 43; he played in 18 regular season games and one final playoff contest (his 234th). To summarize… Lemieux scored 13 goals during New Jersey’s 1995 Playoffs alone, while Turgeon scored a total of 15 goals during a combined 85 regular season and playoff games for Montreal. That trade is so ugly it’s “fugly”.
We are now on the precipice; the “Top 5” awaits. What were the five absolute worst trades in the modern history of the Montreal Canadiens? And how stomach-churning will they be? For those answers and more, check out the trades that ranked #1-5.