Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sidebar Blues

I’m contemplating a response to Steve Maich's inept Macleans piece on why the Leafs Stink (and wondering when Masthead Magazine or the Ryerson Reveiw of Journalism will feature their cover story on why Macleans Magazine stinks. I've got a few insights I can offer up...)

In the interim, while the Leafs clean-out their lockers and Leafs Nation turns its lonely eyes to Monday's draft lottery (C'mon Phoenix - 24th place is still within the Leafs grasp!) I thought I'd have a quick go at the side-bar that accompanies the larger Macleans piece.

The sidebar, by Chris Selley (whose reporting I usually like) looks at the Leafs' worst deals as part of the overall, so-called "examination" as to why the Leafs, uh, suck.

Of the seven trades cited by Macleans, any hockey fan would agree that the top three deals - Mahovolich, Sittler and MacDonald - were all terrible deals for the club, the franchise and the fans.

No debate here.

In fact, I think most sports fans will attest it’s difficult to look back at these franchise altering trades – one can't help but wonder what the GM was thinking and maybe even daydream a little about what could have been. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for an Islanders fan to look back on the Milbury era.

After these top three trades, Macleans is far less persuasive. When you have 40 years of transactions to draw upon, there's going to be more than a few mistakes. I suspect the Leafs aren't any better or any worse than most NHL clubs. But that doesn't exactly fit with the "subtle" narrative of a Leafs suck cover story.

I’m not sure that the Kordic for Courtnall deal is really deserving of a top seven notation, and if it is, the Leafs clearly haven’t too much to be ashamed about. Down Goes Brown wrote an admirable defense of this trade and the reason it was completed – his take is worth the read (more so than the entire Macleans side-bar).

As for the rest of the list, I'm going to split some hairs.

Tom Kurvers for Scott Neidermayer, should actually be Kuvers for a first round pick (who turned out to be Scott Niedermayer). Given that the Leafs of the late 80s thought scouting referred to teams playing between Oshawa and Belleville and were all but wholly reliant on Central Scouting reports for their draft table, I’m doubtful the awful 1988 Leaf club would have drafted Neidermayer. Yeah, it’s still a terrible trade, but call it what it is – a deal for a pick that turned out amazingly well for the New Jersey Devils.

Kenny Jonsson and Roberto Luongo for Wendel Clark and Mathieu Schneider is another deal where it was a pick that was dealt and that pick turned out to be Roberto Luongo. To suggest that the Leafs would have drafted Luongo is a stretch at best and misleading at worst.

Something to bear in mind when looking at deals like these two: Robert Picard was dealt for a third round pick that turned out to be Patrick Roy. If it’s positioned as Picard for Roy, it’s clearly one of the worst deals of all time. But a player like Picard for a third round pick is a deal many a GM pulls off each and every year.

Steve Sullivan for nothing – this wasn’t a trade, it was a questionable waiver wire decision. The Leafs chose to protect Dmitri Khristich in lieu of Sullivan, admittedly a mistake. While Macleans cites Sullivan's “impressive 180 goals and 281 assists in 520 games” they fail to mention Sullivan’s annual invisibility act in the playoffs (ask folks in Nashville about that one). It's the main reason the Quinn administration deemed Sullivan expendable.

Maybe I expect too much from a news magazine that promises to enlighten and engage. Maybe as a Leafs fan I expect the Doug Jarvis for Greg Hubick deal to make the list (or at least make the list ahead of a waiver wire transaction).

It also might have been nice for Macleans to have provided a bit context to help readers better understand these deals - what do NHL experts make of them? How do these deals compare to other deals being made at the time? Where do these transactions fit in alongside some of the top trades of the past 40 years.

Of course, had they done so, transactions 4 through 7 wouldn't look so bad. They're no Red Berenson for Ted Taylor*

*Certainly, none of the Leaf transaction rival any of the all-time great one-sided deals like Cam Neely and a first round pick for Barry Pederson; Gretzky from Indianapolis to Edmonton for future considerations; Alek Stojanov for Markus Naslund; the original Lindros deal for Forsberg and $15MM; Patrick Roy and Mike Keane for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky, and Andrei Kovalenko; Luongo for Bertuzzi; Pavol Demitra for Christer Olsson; Briere for Gratton; or Mark Messier for Louie DeBrusk, Bernie Nicholls, and Steven Rice or (heaven forbid Macleans mention it) maybe even Gilmour, Macoun, Wamsley, Natress and Manderville for Leeman, Petit, Reese, Berube, and Godynyuk.


  1. Wow, that sidebar is awful.

    Now I've argued for years that the Kurvers deal was the worst I've ever seen as a Leaf fan (Sittler was before my time). It was awful at the time, and it was made worse when they follwed up by dealing a prospect and two second rounders to Queber for Broten, Petit and Deblois just to make sure they didn't finish last and go down in history as the team that traded the Lindros pick.

    But the Clark/Jonsson trade is another one that gets a bad rap. The idea that the Leafs somehow traded away a chance at Luongo is ridiculous. This was two years before they gave up on Potvin, so the chances of them using a high pick on a goalie was just about zero. And meanwhile, the young super-prospect Jonsson is long gone from the league, while Schneider is stil a first-line player.

    Ah well... no reason to expect logic in what was clearly never meant to be anything more than a hatchet job by a struggling magazine.

  2. I've been saying for years that the Kurvers trade was the worst I've seen. I always thought bringing back Clark was a mistake because his body was breaking down and the price was so high. I really can't argue with the list of trades but the problem was that the article was one-sided. In between those deals were some good ones. Like bringing in Gilmour, Andreychuk, and Sundin. All great trades. The Leaf's problem has been bad drafting and trading away draft picks. They've always had to rely on bringing in high price help because so few players have come up through their system.

  3. Anonymous12:49 am

    They forgot to mention one exceptionally bad trade: Jason Smith to the Oilers for a 4th round pick in 1999 and 2nd in 2000. That 4th pick was used to choose Jonathon Zion and the 2nd to pick Kris Vernasky. Zion never played a game in the NHL, but had a wonderful year in Denmark this season (35 points in 30 games). Vernasky faired a bit better, playing 17 NHL games with the Bruins, not the Leafs, scoring a total of 1 goal. He also had a banner season this year with the Port Huron Icehawks (61 points in 66 games).

    The worst part of this trade is that the Leafs have been searching for a strong, tough stay-at-home defenceman for years, basically since Rouse left. What makes me so angry, then, about the Smith trade, is that they had one, a player that has turned into a true warrior and leader, and gave him away essentially for nothing. All because Rick Ley didn't like the way he skated.

    It must be disheartening for Fletcher to have traded Gilmour and Ellett for Sullivan, Smith, and McCauley, and watch subsequent management essentially squander them away without any meaningful return. I know we've spoken ad nauseum about the Leafs inability to make decent draft picks and its contribution to their present dilemna, but their failure to maximize the return from the assets they actually did have is perhaps an even larger contributor.

  4. interesting take on the deals. sean makes a good point about the leafs not drafting luongo, and your thoughts on sullivan disappearing in the playoffs have made me think.


  5. Anonymous1:49 pm

    leafs are gai