Blittner’s Blue Line: Trades Rule The Day

By Matt Blittner, The New York Extra/

The name of the game is Trades.

They happen all the time and many end up having little to no consequence for the teams involved. In fact, sometimes it feels like teams make trades just to earn a participation badge; just like you do when you play fantasy sports online. 

But every now and again a trade comes along that has a lasting impact. And a small percentage of those impact trades go on to shake the very foundation of the hockey world as we know it.

With that said, allow me to turn your attention to the trade that reshaped the National Hockey League. You know, the one that sent Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings on August 9, 1988. 

The Trade

First, let’s review the actual details of the trade.

The Oilers send Gretzky, Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski to the Kings in exchange for: Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, the Kings’ first-round picks in 1989, 1991, 1993 and $15 million cash. 

The Kings paid a hefty price to acquire the greatest player in the NHL and the trade still has lasting effects to this day. There’s no doubt the result was well worth the price. 

Dennis Metz, who was the Sales Manager for the Kings in 1988, was quoted as saying “we don’t have to sell the sport anymore. We have the best player in hockey. It will sell itself.”

Metz was absolutely correct in his assessment. Without the trade it’s fair to wonder if hockey would have survived in California; as well as in the other Sun Belt states. Teams like the: Kings; Sharks; Ducks; Coyotes; Panthers; Lightning; Hurricanes; Golden Knights and Stars likely wouldn’t have survived and thrived the way they have had Gretzky not been sent to Los Angeles from Edmonton. 

In the 33-years since the trade, those teams have accounted for eight Stanley Cup championships and 17 total Conference championships. Had Gretzky not been traded, it’s fair to wonder if those Sun Belt teams would have had the same type of success.

Now, the question becomes, is there another trade that could happen that would have a similar impact?

The immediate thought would be if Connor McDavid was ever traded by the Oilers. But if Edmonton ever did that the fans would likely burn down Rogers Place. 

Today’s Trade Rumor

On a somewhat lesser scale, the Buffalo Sabres are currently contemplating their own franchise-altering trade. Sabres Captain Jack Eichel is openly disgruntled with the franchise. He has demanded a trade. His agency has gone on record blasting the team’s handling of Eichel’s neck injury. 

Over the last few years the Sabres’ end-of-season media availability has dissolved into “Eichel Watch” as the franchise centerman has openly expressed his discontent with the direction of the team. Season after season nothing changes; except for Eichel’s growing resentment towards team management. 

Now the team and its Captain are at a point of no return. If Eichel is not dealt things promise to get extremely ugly up in Buffalo. And it will be his teammates who suffer most as they’ll be bombarded with questions day-after-day about the situation.

However, it currently appears the Sabres have overplayed their hand in trade negotiations as the ask for Eichel is still believed to be sky-high. With the Expansion Draft and Entry Draft in the rearview mirror and Free Agency well underway, Buffalo’s leverage in trade talks decreases with each passing day. Teams know Eichel wants out and they’re willing to wait out the Sabres as pressure mounts in Western New York to make a deal.

As many as a dozen teams were rumored to have been interested in Eichel, but that list has dwindled. Now it appears the Rangers are the only team still actively pursuing the injured pivot. Los Angeles and Minneosta appear to be fringe players in the Eichel Derby. If there’s any other teams still interested then they’re keeping their interest close to the vest.

Getting back to the Rangers, rumors have had various players involved in the potential deal. Filip Chytil, Ryan Strome, Pavel Buchnevich, Kaapo Kakko, Nils Lundkvist, Matthew Robertson, Zac Jones and K’Andre Miller have had their names bandied around the rumor mill. And now Mika Zibanejad can add his name to the list.

I’m going to go on record as saying it would be a major mistake for the Blueshirts to include Zibanejad in any deal. The main point of pursuing Eichel is to gain another top-flight center. A 1A/1B pairing of Zibanejad and Eichel would make the Rangers a dangerous team. But there’s another reason for the team wanting Eichel. 

Zibanejad will be an unrestricted free agent following the 2021-22 season and he’s in line for a massive payday; likely north of $10M per year. Eichel is under contract for the next five more seasons at $10M per year and has a no-move clause that kicks in at the start of the 2022-2023 season. 

Eichel will be 25 in October. Zibanejad will be 29 in April 2022; just a couple months before his contract expires. The Rangers star is eligible for a contract extension and so far there doesn’t appear to be much movement on that front. 

The last time Zibanejad needed to sign a new contract was following the 2016-17 season and at the time he wasn’t nearly the player he is now. The Rangers had expressed interest in locking him up long-term back then but Zibanejad wanted a shorter deal. Eventually the two sides met in the middle on a five-year contract that carried a $5.35M annual cap hit. That number will be drastically higher this time around. 

If Zibanejad chooses to bolt the Blueshirts will need a player like Eichel to help fill the void. But trading Zibanejad as part of the package for Eichel is not the way to go about this. At this point, anything can happen. And if the Oilers could trade Wayne Gretzky then nobody’s safe.

New York Signings

Meanwhile, two New York players celebrated new contracts within the last couple days. Adam Pelech signed an eight-year/$46M ($5.75M AAV) to stay with the Islanders and Igor Shesterkin signed a four-year/$22,666,667 ($5,666,667 AAV) deal with the Rangers. 

Pelech’s contract allows the Isles to keep their top D-pair intact and keeps the core of the team together for what they hope is another deep playoff run. As for Shesterkin, both his total money and his average annual value are the highest ever for a goalie on their second contract. 

Both New York teams got what they wanted from two key players and all sides hope there will be plenty of success that follows. 

Voices of The NHL

For those of you who missed last week’s Blittner’s Blue Line, you also missed the announcement of a terrific new hockey book in “Voices of The NHL: A Collection of Bios & Stories from Broadcasters across the National Hockey League.” My newest book is available on amazon. It goes in-depth with broadcasters from all 31 active teams who participated in the 2020-21 season, as well as from NBC, NHL Network and SportsNet, to bring fans the stories of how they each got to where they are today and to shine a light on little known aspects of their careers.

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