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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.

Sharks still in trouble after miserable Florida weekend

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About a week ago the San Jose Sharks looked like they were getting back on track. They had won 11 out of 13 games, were climbing back up the standings, and starting to finally resemble the team that was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender.

They were probably a little fortunate during that hot streak thanks to a bunch of one-goal wins, including a perfect 4-0 mark in games that went beyond regulation, but after the start they had they really need to stack up some points. To their credit, they did.

But after Sunday’s ugly 5-1 loss in Florida, which game just 24 hours after an even uglier 7-1 loss in Tampa Bay, the Sharks have now lost four games in a row and are just 6-8-2 away from the Shark Tank this season. This ugly Florida trip, which saw them be outscored by a 12-2 margin, also dropped their season goal-differential to a miserable minus-23, which is currently the second-worst in the Western Conference and one of the five worst in the entire NHL.

If you wanted to be an optimist about this team you could point to the fact that even with all of their struggles they are still just two points back of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, still have enough talent on their roster to win, and still have 50 games remaining in the regular season to turn things around.

The problem with that is they have played more games (in many cases multiple games) than every team around them in the playoff race, while their point percentage (.500 as of Sunday night) is only 25th in the NHL, right between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks, two teams that are going nowhere. They are only on pace for 82 points at the moment and still have a gigantic problem in goal. They were so dominant a year ago that they were able to mostly outplay their goaltending issues. They are not that dominant this season, and we are starting to get to a point where we are getting an idea of what every team is capable of and what they are.

The most concerning number for the Sharks is that goal-differential, because teams that get outscored by this many goals at this point in the season do not tend to get back on track. It is very simple: If you’re getting outscored by this many goals, and getting blown out this many times, it is probably a bad sign for how good your team actually is.

The Sharks have already lost 12 games this season by three goals or more. Only the Detroit Red Wings, a team that is looking to be historically bad, have lost more (14). The New Jersey Devils have only lost nine games by three goals or more. The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers have only lost eight such games. These are teams that do not figure to be factors in the playoffs, and the Sharks are sitting there among them.

The Sharks’ wins are mostly close, one-goal games, and they have probably been very fortunate to be as good as they have in them (including 5-2 in OT/Shootouts), while they are getting completely blown out in their losses.

Not concerning enough?

Just consider these numbers as well.

— Over the past 10 years there have been 26 teams that have had a goal differential of minus-23 or worse through their first 32 games.

Do you know how many of those teams went on to make the playoffs that season?

Zero.

— Go back to the start of the 2005-06 season and teams in that situation are 0-for-40 in terms of making the playoffs.

— The last time a team with a goal differential this bad, at this point in the season, came back to make the playoffs was the 1997-98 Edmonton Oilers, who snuck into the No. 8 seed (with a losing record).

It might be early, and they may still be within striking distance of a playoff spot in the standings, but things are looking bleak for a team that still has the Stanley Cup in mind.

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.

 

 

Backstrom expected to return for Capitals vs. Blue Jackets

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) Nicklas Backstrom had a smile on his face and no concerns about missing another game.

“I’m good to go,” Backstrom said. “It’s like that guy in `Mighty Ducks.’ I woke up, no pain.”

Backstrom was referring to the fictional Adam Banks character who returned from a wrist injury in time for a championship game. The Washington Capitals are getting the real standout Swedish center back while they’re on a roll.

The Capitals are expected to have Backstrom back Monday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets. He missed the past eight games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and Washington went 6-1-1 in that time.

With Backstrom ready to go, the Capitals are set to have their full, healthy lineup on the ice for the first time this season. Despite injuries, they lead the NHL with 22 wins and 49 points through 31 games.

“As of right now, we are playing good hockey and we are getting the points we needed,” Backstrom said Sunday. “It is still early in the season, so you have to keep build, build and build. We are a team that is building for upcoming things.”

Upcoming are matchups against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, a popular preseason pick to win the Stanley Cup. But Backstrom is of course referring to the playoffs, where the Capitals are looking to bounce back from last season’s first-round exit and make another championship run like they did in 2018.

There’s no reason to think they couldn’t do that, especially given their success more than a quarter of the way through the season without the full complement of healthy bodies.

“That shows the depth that we have all the way through our lineup,” coach Todd Reirden said. “That’s been a good problem to have, and it’s allowed us to see some other players get opportunities and showcase some of the abilities they have.”

Backstrom’s return puts Washington’s lineup back in regular order. He’ll take his regular place between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, allowing Reirden to keep the hot second line of Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie together.

Braden Holtby is expected to start in goal against Columbus.

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

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Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.