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PHT Time Machine: The Lindros trade that didn’t happen

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Throughout the summer we will be taking a look back at some significant moments in NHL history. This is the PHT Time Machine. Today we look back to the Eric Lindros trade and the sequence of events that resulted in him joining the Philadelphia Flyers instead of the New York Rangers. 

Few transactions in NHL history have been as impactful as the 1992 trade that saw the Quebec Nordiques send prized prospect Eric Lindros to the Philadelphia Flyers for a package of players that would later be used to help build a mini-dynasty and one of the most dominant teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

That is the trade we all remember.

It was not the only trade made that day involving Eric Lindros.

The Background

You would be hard-pressed to find a non-expansion team that had a worse three-year run on the ice than the late 1980s/early 1990s Quebec Nordiques. To call the team a dumpster fire would be an insult to dumpster fires everywhere. Between the 1988 and 1991 seasons the Nordiques won just 55 out of a possible 240 games, finishing with what was by far the worst record in the league each year.

How bad were they during this stretch? The next worst team in the NHL (the New York Islanders) was 30 wins better than them.

The bright side to all of this losing is that it happened in the pre-lottery days, meaning the Nordiques earned the No. 1 overall pick each year.

Following the 1988-89 season they used that selection on Mats Sundin, a superstar that would play four years in Quebec before being traded to Toronto (more on this later).

In 1990, the top pick was used on Owen Nolan, another excellent player that remained with the organization through its move to Colorado in 1995 where he would later be traded for Sandis Ozolinsh.

Then there was the 1991 pick.

The 1991 pick was the big one because that was the year Eric Lindros was entering the NHL, and everybody knew this was the player to get. If you recall from our PHT Time Machine on the 1991 dispersal draft and the birth of the San Jose Sharks, Lindros was such a big deal that the NHL intentionally gave the expansion Sharks the second overall pick in the draft to make sure they didn’t get him as he was the most prized prospect to enter the league since Mario Lemieux.

Lindros was some sort of a hockey Frankenstein that was seemingly created in a laboratory due to his unheard of combination of skill, size, and strength.

The Nordiques were the team that was bad enough to get him.

The problem? Lindros wanted absolutely nothing to do with the Nordiques or Quebec, a position he made known before the draft. At the time it was believed that his refusal to play for Quebec was due to everything from the lack of marketing potential in Quebec, to the “french culture” of the city. But in an interview with ESPN following his Hall of Fame induction in 2016, Lindros said it had nothing to do with any of that and was simply due to his desire to not play for team owner Marcel Aubut.

“The decision to not play for Quebec was based solely on the owner. It had nothing to do with language, culture, city,” Lindros said. “Keep in mind, my wife is French [from Quebec]. I was not going to play for that individual — period.”

No matter the reason, he was not playing for Quebec and instead spent the 1992 season playing for the Oshawa Generals and the Canadian Olympic team, which took home the silver medal.

There was also no amount of money that was going to get him to Quebec, with him reportedly turning down a 10-year, $50 million offer that would have made him the highest paid athlete in professional sports history (at the time).

That same November, recently fired Nordiques coach Dave Chambers went on record as saying he did not believe Lindros was ever joining the team and that they had to trade him in an effort to get something for him.

The following summer that is exactly what the Nordiques did.

The only problem with the decision is that they ended up trading him twice.

The Trades

Just hours before the start of the 1992 draft (where the Nordiques would select Todd Warriner with the No. 4 overall pick) they reached agreements with both the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers for the rights to Lindros. This, naturally, caused some havoc around the NHL.

The story goes that Aubut had originally agreed to a deal with the Flyers the morning of the draft, only to change his mind after receiving the Rangers’ offer.

With both teams believing they had a right to Lindros, the NHL was forced to bring in an arbitrator — Larry Bertuzzi — to decide which team would end up getting him.

Bertuzzi ended up listening to five days of testimony and took 400 pages of hand-written notes before finally concluding 10 days later that it was the Flyers, and not the Rangers, that had the valid deal for Lindros.

The final trade ended up being Eric Lindros to the Flyers in exchange for Peter Forsberg (the No. 6 overall pick in the Lindros draft), Steve Duschene, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Chris Simon, Philadelphia’s first-round draft picks in 1993 and 1994 and $15 million in cash.

It was a total blockbuster.

On the day Bertuzzi’s decision was announced, it was also revealed that the Rangers’ trade was just as massive as the Flyers’ and reportedly included Tony Amonte (the Calder Trophy runner up the previous year), Alexei Kovalev, Doug Weight, John Vanbiesbrouck, three future first-round draft picks, and $12 million in cash.

The Aftermath

A lot of things happened as a result of Bertuzzi’s decision to award Lindros to the Flyers.

First, Lindros went on to become the player everyone thought he would be and was as dominant a player as the NHL had during his career. The only thing that held him back were the injuries and concussions that ultimately cut his career short and perhaps kept him from being even better than he was.

The Flyers never ended up getting a Stanley Cup out of it, but they were a consistent playoff team during his time and did reach the Final in 1997.

Quebec, meanwhile, would use that package of players and draft picks to help assemble a mini-dynasty shortly after relocating to Colorado for the 1995-96 season.

Among the pieces Colorado ended up getting as a result of the trade…

  • Peter Forsberg would go on to be one of the cornerstone players in Colorado’s championship runs and one of the league’s best two-way players.
  • Steve Duchene was later traded to St. Louis for a package of players that included Garth Butcher, Ron Sutter and Bob Bassen. Butcher was later included in a trade, along with Sundin and the 1994 draft pick acquired in the Lindros trade, that would bring Wendell Clark to Quebec. Clark was then later traded to the New York Islanders in a one-for-one swap in exchange for Claude Lemieux, who would play a huge role on the 1996 Stanley Cup team in Colorado.
  • Mike Ricci was a member of Colorado’s 1996 Stanley Cup winning team and was then traded to San Jose one year later for Shean Donovan and the Sharks’ 1997 first-round pick. The Avalanche would use that pick to select Alex Tanguay, who would be a top-line player in Colorado for several years. He also recorded 21 points in 23 playoff games during Colorado’s run to the 2001 Stanley Cup.
  • Ron Hextall would get traded (along with Quebec’s own first-round pick in 1993) to the New York Islanders for Mark Fitzpatrick and a draft pick that would later be used to select Adam Deadmarsh, who would win a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 1996 and then be used as a trade chip to acquire Rob Blake in 2001 who would help the team win another Stanley Cup.
  • Quebec used the 1993 first-round pick acquired from Philadelphia to select goalie Jocelyn Thibault. Thibault’s claim to fame with the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise would be the fact he was one of the key pieces in the 1995-96 trade that was sent to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for goalie Patrick Roy.

In other words: Along with adding Forsberg, the Lindros trade tree had branches that extended into the acquisitions of Claude Lemieux, Adam Deadmarsh, Patrick Roy, Rob Blake and Alex Tanguay, a stunning level of roster and asset management, the likes of which we will probably never see in the NHL again.

This was a perfect storm of circumstances and a once in a lifetime chain of events that would be nearly impossible to duplicate in today’s NHL.

But what about the Rangers in all of this?

While none of the players they agreed to trade were as good as Forsberg, there was still a ton of talent potentially going the other way. Amonte, for example, was coming off of a rookie season that saw him score 35 goals and would go on to play more than 1,100 games in the NHL, scoring 416 career goals. Weight was a promising young center, and Kovalev, the Rangers’ first-round pick in 1991, was a superstar level talent with off-the-charts potential that had yet to make his NHL debut.

As disappointed as general manager Neil Smith was with losing out on the Lindros decision, things still had a funny way of working out in the form of a Stanley Cup victory in 1994, ending the franchise’s 54-year championship drought.

  • Kovalev, playing in his second season at the age of 20, was the Rangers’ third-leading scorer in the playoffs during that 1994 Stanley Cup run.
  • Weight was traded the following year to the Edmonton Oilers for Esa Tikkanen, who would be a valuable role player on the ’94 team before being traded a year later to the St. Louis Blues for Petr Nedved. After a half season the Rangers traded Nedved and Sergei Zubov to Pittsburgh for Luc Robitaille and Ulf Samuelsson.
  • Amonte was traded at the 1994 deadline for veterans Stephane Matteau and Brian Noonan. While neither player would go on to have the career that Amonte did, they did play a big role in the playoffs with Matteau scoring one of the most famous goals in Rangers history.

Would the Rangers have still won that Stanley cup with Lindros in place of Kovalev, Tikkanen, Matteau, and Noonan? Would they have maybe won more than the one Stanley Cup with Lindros over several years? Would Quebec/Colorado have been able to turn those assets into the same type of returns they did? All fascinating questions that we have no answer for.

Still, the only team involved in all of this that did not get a Stanley Cup championship out of it was the team that ended up getting Lindros — the Flyers.

Lindros would ultimately end up in New York nearly a decade later when the Flyers sent him to the Rangers in exchange for defenseman Kim Johnsson and forwards Jan Hlavac and Pavel Brendl.

Johnsson is the only one that would have any sort of a career with the Flyers, while Lindros spent two mostly disappointing seasons with the Rangers in 2002-03 and 2003-04. The ’03-04 season was particularly disastrous for the Rangers as Lindros was limited to just 39 games and the team, having also acquired Jaromir Jagr, Pavel Bure, and re-acquiring Kovalev ended up winning just 27 games.

Previous PHT Time Machines:
• Remembering the Jaromir Jagr Trade Nobody Won
• When the Blues skipped the NHL draft

• Expansion teams build Montreal dynasty
The 1991 Dispersal Draft and Birth of the San Jose Sharks

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Free agent roundup: Islanders re-sign two RFAs; Nichushkin joins Avalanche

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It didn’t involve any of the big names that are still unsigned, but there was some movement on the NHL’s restricted free agent front on Monday afternoon thanks to the New York Islanders, while the Colorado Avalanche took a gamble on an intriguing unrestricted free agent.

Let’s take a look at the signings.

Islanders re-sign Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle

The Islanders reached deals with two of their remaining RFAs when they announced new deals for forwards Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle.

Dal Colle’s contract is a two-year deal, while Ho-Sang gets a one-year deal that will probably be a make-or-break season for him with the Islanders.

Anthony Beauvillier remains the Islanders’ only unsigned RFA at this point in the offseason.

Ho-Sang is the intriguing one here because he has such enormous potential but has not yet put everything together in the NHL or earned the trust of the organization. If he manages to do all of that he could be a huge X-factor for the Islanders this season.

He has 24 points in 53 career games at the NHL level.

The 23-year-old Dal Colle appeared in 28 games for the Islanders this past season, scoring three goals to go with four assists.

Avalanche get Nichushkin

After spending two years in the KHL, Valeri Nichushkin returned to the NHL for the 2018-19 season and signed a two-year, $5.9 million contract with the Dallas Stars.

It proved to be a disappointing and uneventful deal for both sides. He failed to score a goal in 57 games while recording just 10 total assists. His contract was bought out by the Stars following the season, making him an unrestricted free agent.

On Monday, he signed a one-year deal with the Colorado Avalanche with the hopes that he can bounce back.

Nichushkin’s 2018-19 season was one of the most bizarre seasons in league history as he became the first player to ever play at least 50 games in a season while scoring zero goals and recording zero penalty minutes.

After a promising rookie season back in 2013-14, Nichushkin’s development offensively has completely stalled, resulting in just nine goals and 31 assists in 144 NHL games. He is a fine defensive forward but has not shown any ability to make much of an impact with the puck.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Barzal is Islanders’ game-changer

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Islanders.

The New York Islanders have their share of questions entering the 2019-20 season but there is one thing they can be sure of — they have one of the game’s most exciting young players and a franchise cornerstone in Mathew Barzal.

Even though his point totals may have regressed in year two, the 22-year-old Barzal was the Islanders’ most dynamic and impactful player during the 2018-19 season and is on a trajectory that should take him to stardom in the NHL.

He has an incredible mix of speed, vision, and playmaking ability that makes him perfect for the modern game and a force to be reckoned with when he has the puck on his stick.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure | Three Questions]

He has already become one of the best and most productive playmakers in the league and could be on the verge of taking his production to an entirely new level based on what he has already done.

Two comparisons to consider for Barzal entering this season.

1.  Over the past two seasons (his first two in the league) he is one of just 11 forwards (minimum 100 games played) that has averaged at least 0.65 assists per game, 0.89 points per game, and posted a 52 percent Corsi rating. The others on that list are are Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Brad Marchand, Nikita Kucherov, Steve Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikko Rantanen, Artemi Panarin, and Mitch Marner.

Excellent company to be in, especially when you consider just how young he is and is just now entering his age 22 season.

2. It’s the latter point (his age) that is the key. Barzal is one of just 11 active forwards to average at least 0.89 points through their age 21 season in the NHL, a list that includes Crosby, Stamkos, Marner, Connor McDavid, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Ilya Kovalchuk, Nicklas Backstrom, Auston Matthews, and Alex Ovechkin.

Marner, Matthews, and Barzal are all the same age, but the other eight combined to score at a 100-point pace in their age 22 season.

The biggest difference between Barzal and most of the players on that list is that he is not quite the goal-scorer that some of them are and is more known for his ability to drive play and set up his teammates, so a lot of his point production will be tied to what the players around him are able to do once he gets them the puck. He can definitely help put them in better positions to score, but it is still up to them to finish the play. It is also possible he could develop into more of a goal-scorer if he takes on more of a shoot-first mentality. He has never been a low-percentage shooter, and while passing and playmaking is his greatest strength offensively, he could probably put himself in a position to average more than two shots per game. Especially if he does not have elite talent around him at the given time.

No matter what direction he takes, Barzal is the Islanders’ best player and the one player that can swing a game in their favor.

His rapid development into a top-line player is one of the reasons the Islanders were able to overcome the free agent departure of John Tavares without completely falling apart. They already had a star on the roster ready to fill that No. 1 role, and his best days are still ahead of him.

This is the hardest type of player to acquire in a rebuild, and it usually takes a top draft pick to get one.

The Islanders were fortunate enough to be able to get one in the middle of the first-round and have the piece they need to build around.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sustainability and Ho-Sang’s development top questions for Islanders

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Islanders.

Pondering three important questions for the 2019-20 New York Islanders.

1. Can they do it again?

After losing John Tavares and not really doing anything significant to replace him on the ice expectations were understandably low for the 2018-19 Islanders. They ended up shattering all of them, made the playoffs, advanced to the second round for the first time since 1993, and were one of the biggest surprises in the league.

The question, then, is obvious: Can they do it again and build off of that success?

The most shocking part of the turnaround was that the Islanders went from being the worst defensive team in the NHL to the best in just one season. That is where the question of sustainability comes in. While it is easy to point to Barry Trotz and his defensive system as the cause of the turnaround, the reality is the Islanders were blessed with an outstanding goaltending performance from Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss that masked a lot of flaws. Can Greiss repeat his performance? Can Semyon Varlamov stay healthy enough and be good enough to match what Lehner did? If the answer to those questions turns out to be no, it could put a pretty significant dent in the Islanders’ ability to prevent goals.

This season will be a big test for just how much Trotz’s system and approach really improved the Islanders because they are bringing back largely the same team, except with a potentially lesser goalie.

[MORE: 2018-19 Summary | Under Pressure]

2. Who is going to score the goals?

It was a good thing for the Islanders that they were so good defensively last year because their offense was not particularly good. They finished the regular season 22nd in goals scored, 29th in shots on goal per game, and 29th on the power play. Among the 16 playoff teams no team was worse in those same areas.

What did the Islanders do to address that this offseason? Nothing.

They did manage to retain all of their top free agent forwards (Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle) but they did not add a significant piece from outside the organization while several teams around them in their own division made significant additions.

There is reason to believe Mathew Barzal can have a bigger season, and that will certainly help. But Valtteri Filppula‘s 17 goals walked out the door in free agency and it seems possible, if not likely, that Casey Cizikas will regress after a completely unexpected 20 goal performance.

3. Will this be Josh Ho-Sang’s year?

One thing that could really help the Islanders’ offense? Josh Ho-Sang putting everything together and becoming a regular in the lineup. Ho-Sang’s young career with the Islanders has been a tumultuous one to this point as he’s never fully gained the trust of any of his coaches (or the organization as a whole) despite having a ton of talent and potential.

His offensive skills have never been in doubt, and he’s actually produced at a pretty solid rate at the NHL level. He has 24 points in 53 career games, a per-game average that comes out to around 37 points over 82 games. It may not seem like an eye-popping number, but keep in mind that only four Islanders recorded more than 37 points last season, and Ho-Sang has produced those numbeers despite getting limited minutes in his brief NHL action.

But his all-around game has never seemed to develop enough for the organization to fully commit to him. He just re-signed on a one-year contract on Monday and can not be sent to the American Hockey League without passing through waivers, so this is probably a make-or-break year for him with the Islanders.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Power Rankings: NHL teams under pressure to win this season

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In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we turn our focus to 10 teams that should be facing a lot of pressure for success during the 2019-20 season.

“Success” can mean different things for different teams and fanbases, and largely depends on what your expectations are for them. For some teams that are more established success is measured by winning it all right now. For others, it’s simply about making progress and getting closer to contender status.

We picked out 10 teams that are facing both types of pressure. Which teams are they?

To the rankings!

Pressure to compete for (or win) a championship

1. Tampa Bay Lightning. On paper this is the best, most complete team in hockey. The roster is loaded with stars in the prime of their career that have done everything in the NHL except win the Stanley Cup. Until they get it there is always going to be the “yeah, but…” that follows them around, especially now as they come off one of the most stunning postseason exits in NHL history. “Championship or bust” is usually an unfair mentality because it only sets you up for the inevitable disappointment that 30 teams will end their season with, but if it ever fairly applied to a team this would be the one.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs. The most hyped team in the league managed to get even stronger this offseason with the addition of Tyson Barrie to its blue line. It is time, though, for all of that potential to finally turn into something because right now this current core has nothing but a bunch of third-place finishes and first-round exits to show for all of its talent.

3. Winnipeg Jets. The Jets entered the 2018-19 season as a Stanley Cup favorite but faded in the second half, went out quietly in Round 1, and still have to sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor to new contracts, a pair of deals that will quickly eat up their remaining salary cap space. They also lost a lot of minutes off of their blue line this summer and did not really do much to replace them.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins. Coming off of a Round 1 sweep against the New York Islanders, the Penguins traded a popular, productive player for a lesser player, signed another depth player to a long-term contract, and didn’t really do anything to improve a team that has its share of flaws and has drifted away from the recipe it found success with. They only have a few more years of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and need to do everything they can to maximize them. Have they done that?

5. San Jose Sharks. Losing Joe Pavelski will be a big blow to the offense in the short-term, but this is still a Stanley Cup caliber team, and as long as Joe Thornton keeps returning (we are assuming he will again for at least one year) there is going to be pressure to finally get him a championship. They have everything they need to get there, except for maybe the goaltending, a position they still have not addressed.

Pressure to simply get better … right now

6. Chicago Blackhawks. I don’t know that expectations are necessarily high for the Blackhawks after back-to-back non-playoff seasons, but general manager Stan Bowman has put a lot of pressure on himself for the team to win. His offseason plan has focussed on the short-term and looks like a GM that think he still has a chance to win with his current core. If he is wrong, he is probably the next one to go.

7.  Edmonton Oilers. They changed the general manager and the head coach and both will have a little bit of a leash to turn this thing around. But they have already wasted three of Connor McDavid‘s first four seasons in the NHL by not even being close to competitive, and that is just something that can not continue. Getting a player like that is a gift and the Oilers are wasting it.

8. Buffalo Sabres. The Eastern Conference version of the Oilers, only worse. The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since the 2010-11 season while the scorched earth rebuild that was supposed to turn things around has produced … nothing. Sabres fans have been ridiculously loyal and deserve a better product than they have been handed over the past decade.

9. New York Rangers. They had an incredible offseason with the additions of Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, and No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko. It has absolutely accelerated the rebuild, but has it increased expectations too quickly? This is still a team with several holes and probably isn’t ready to compete just yet. But the pressure will be there, especially as the team still tries to compete in the final years of Henrik Lundqvist‘s career.

10. New Jersey Devils. The additions of top pick Jack Hughes, forwards Nikita Gusev and Wayne Simmonds, and defender P.K. Subban have quickly helped transform the Devils into a team worth watching, especially with the return of a healthy Taylor Hall. Even with all of those additions there is still a big question mark in net and they HAVE to show they can win and compete if they have any chance of re-signing Hall. He is a star that has spent his entire career playing on losing teams and is one year away from being able to pick his next spot. Winning would go a long way toward convincing him to stay.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.