While we await the return of the NHL, it’s a great time to look back at some of the influential transactions in NHL history. Yesterday we looked at the Capitals ill-fated midseason acquisition of winger Martin Erat. The deal cost them Filip Forsberg, who has developed the way Nashville hoped he would, while Erat provided little value at all during his short stay in Washington. But if we’re going to look at trades that helped shape our current era of NHL hockey – for better or worse – we should start at the top (or the bottom).
For trades worth second-guessing, there are very few as satisfying as the deal made between the Islanders and Senators way back in 2001. The deal sent Zdeno Chara to Ottawa along with Bill Muckalt and a 1st-round pick in exchange for Alexei Yashin. It’s frankly amazing that a deal from 2001 would include players still contributing in the NHL today, some nineteen years later, but that speaks to the impact of this transaction.
To find where the Islanders went wrong, there’s no better place to start than with Chara. Lots must go right for a player to reach his full potential, but that’s exactly what happened after Chara went to Ottawa. The deal came after Chara spent parts of four seasons in Long Island, and the then-23-year-old hadn’t really taken off. He was coming off a season in which he played in 82 games, but managed only 9 points and a plus/minus of -27. The Islanders weren’t a playoff team, finishing the 2000-2001 season in fifth place with 52 points.
Of course, things went much better for Chara from that point forth, as the hulking blueliner earned six Norris nominations (one win), seven All-Star honors, and he won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011. He’s also the NHL’s active leader in Plus/Minus (288) and Defensive Win Shares (99). The Senators only got four seasons from Chara, but they were among the best regular-season teams in the NHL during those years, making the playoffs each of those four seasons, and even managed to beat the Islanders in the first round of the 2002-2003 playoffs.
To make matters worse, Chara wasn’t the only piece the Islanders sent out on that ill-fated day in 2001. Bill Muckalt also went north in that deal, though the right-winger is at least one piece Islanders’ fans don’t have to lose sleep over. He played just one season in Ottawa, and he would be out of the league not two years later.
There’s one final piece. The Islanders sent the 2nd overall selection in the draft to the Senators, a pick that turned into center Jason Spezza. Spezza starred in the middle for eleven years in Ottawa, making two All-Star teams as one of the game’s stellar goal creators. He’s 91st all-time in the NHL now in Adjusted Points (1015) and 92nd all-time in Assists (599). At age-37, he’s a veteran presence on a Toronto Maple Leafs team that will look to enter the playoff field with a win against Columbus whenever play resumes.
Considering the Senators nabbed two all-timers from New York, this has to qualify as a pretty good deal for them. But there’s a give-and-take to every good deal right? Perhaps not so much. The Senators sent Alexei Yashin to the Islanders. Yashin was a fine player, just a year removed from a second-place finish for the Hart Trophy, but they gave up a lot to get him. To make matters worse, the Islanders doubled down and gave him a 10-year, $84MM contract less than three months after the trade, a contract that would have paid Yashin through his age-37 season. For examples of players remaining viable that deep into their careers, we need not look any further than Chara and Spezza. Unfortunately, the Islanders bet on the wrong horse. Yashin wouldn’t come close to recouping the value the Islanders poured into him. They bought him out after the sixth year.