With the trade deadline less than two weeks away and the rumor mill churning at full speed, hockey fans are dreaming of all the potential blockbusters that could be on the way.
Chances are, we won’t get any. The true blockbuster trade is a dying art in the NHL, as the salary cap, no-trade clauses and league-wide parity have rendered them all but obsolete. Instead, fans are left to look back fondly on past eras, when it wasn’t uncommon to see a future Hall of Famer or two swap teams in a jaw-dropping deal.
But while the superstars get all the attention, there’s another important piece that shows up in most major blockbusters, even if it usually passes by without much notice. It’s the throw-in – that depth player or backup goaltender who gets tossed into the deal to balance it out. He’s the guy who makes the trade work, the handful of spare change that evens out the ledger. And you may even get a glimpse of him, quietly cleaning out his locker in the background as the media crowds around the bigger names.
Most blockbusters have a throw-in or two. And if you look over the list of the NHL’s biggest trades, some of those names start to get familiar. That’s because a handful of players had an odd knack for repeatedly showing up in some of history’s biggest deals.
So today, let’s pay tribute to the noble throw-in. None of these five guys were Hall of Famers or even all-stars, but at least they can say they shared the transactions page with a few.
These days, Berube is best known for his recent stint as head coach of the Flyers. During his playing days, he was one the game’s most feared enforcers, racking up 3,149 penalty minutes over a 17-year career that saw him go toe-to-toe with everyone from Bob Probert to Tie Domi to the occasional unfortunate goaltender.
And when it came time to pull off a blockbuster trade in the early 90s, Berube was apparently an indispensable piece of getting the deal done. Over one amazing seven-month stretch, Berube was involved in three separate trades that saw a total of four future Hall-of-Famers change teams.
At the end of the 1990-91 season, Berube had spent his entire five-year career with the Flyers. That ended with a six-player trade that saw Berube, Scott Melanby and Craig Fisher sent to the Oilers for Jari Kurri, Dave Brown and Corey Foster. The trade was a big one for the Oilers, signaling that the breakup of the dynasty that had won five Cups in seven years was well and truly underway.
That demolition continued in September, and Berube got to be part of it again. Before he’d even played a game for the Oilers, Berube was on his way to Toronto alongside Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson in exchange for Vince Damphousse, Peter Ing, Luke Richardson and Scott Thornton. This time, at least, Berube got to settle in and play a few games for his new team. But by January he was on the move again, this time as part of the record-breaking ten-player deal that sent Doug Gilmour to the Maple Leafs in exchange for… well, not all that much.
Berube would go on to be traded three more times in his career, but none of those deals ended up being quite as memorable; each was for cash or a late-round pick. But as far as modern day NHL records go, Berube’s mark of being involved in three blockbusters featuring a total of 22 players in seven months is probably more unbreakable than Gretzky’s 2,857 points.
Parker was a big winger who’d had some success in the college ranks, but his NHL career didn’t amount to all that much. He debuted with the Sabres in 1986, four years after being a sixth-round pick in the entry draft, and went on to play parts of five seasons. His NHL days were over at the age of 26.
But during that brief say in the big leagues, Parker was part of a pair of blockbuster trades. Perhaps even more impressively, he went on to play a grand total of just four games combined for his new teams after those deals.
Parker’s first trade came in 1990. Coming off a nine-point season for the Sabres, he was shipped to Winnipeg along with Phil Housley and Scott Arniel as part of a draft day trade that brought Dale Hawerchuk to Buffalo. The two teams also swapped first rounders at that year’s draft, and those picks ended up being pretty decent players themselves: Brad May and Keith Tkachuk.
Parker never suited up for the Jets; within months he’d hit free agency and signed with the Penguins. Less than a month later, he went to Hartford as part of the infamous deadline deal that saw Ron Francis head to Pittsburgh. That trade was a disaster for Hartford, one that’s often included on lists of the worst of all time. But at least the Whalers had something out of Parker. Specifically, they had four games, no points and two penalty minutes. Hey, it was more than the Jets got.
Like many good players who hit the pro ranks in the Original Six era, Collins spent a big chunk of his prime years in the minors waiting for a shot at a talent-clogged NHL. He didn’t get his big-league opportunity until the 1967 expansion, by which point he was already 24 years old. He’d also already been involved in one of the biggest trades in NHL history.
That deal came in 1964, when Collins was one of three prospects that the Maple Leafs sent to the Rangers in a blockbuster deal that featured Hall-of-Famers Dick Duff and Andy Bathgate. The deal shook the NHL, but didn’t do much for Collins’ NHL chances. He never did suit up for the Leafs, and was eventually claimed by the North Stars in the expansion draft.
After three decent years in Minnesota, Collins was dealt to the Canadiens in 1970. He didn’t stay long; just a few months into his time in Montreal, he was part of another historic trade when the Habs sent him along with Mickey Redmond and Guy Charron to Detroit for veteran superstar Frank Mahovlich. While that would be the last time Collins would be dealt for a future Hall of Famer, it wasn’t the last big trade of his career – he was involved in a six-player deal and later a five-player deal in the mid-70s, before eventually closing out an 11-year NHL career in 1978.
Shaw was a defensive defenseman who went to the Nordiques with the 13th overall pick in the 1982 entry draft and played a handful of NHL games as a teenager over the next few years. His first trade was a reasonably big one – in 1987, he was packaged to the Rangers with John Ogrodnick, a former 55-goal scorer and first-team all-star. But it wasn’t until 1991 that he was part of a true blockbuster… sort of.
On November 12, 1991, the Rangers shipped Shaw to the Oilers for Jeff Beukeboom. That doesn’t sound like much of a deal, but the transaction fulfilled the future considerations in a bigger trade between the two teams a month earlier. Shaw was technically the final piece of the deal that sent Mark Messier to Broadway, which was probably a bit of a letdown to Oiler fans who’d been assured that the future considerations in the deal “could be significant.”
Seven years later, Shaw found himself part of another trade that would have longstanding implications. At the 1998 trade deadline, the Lightning sent Shaw and Bryan Marchment to the Sharks in exchange for Andrei Nazarov and the right to swap first round picks. That turned out to be a big deal when the Sharks won the draft lottery that year, giving the Lightning the first overall pick that they’d use to select future captain Vincent Lecavalier. That deal remains the only trade in the last three decades that saw the eventual number one overall pick traded in advance of the draft.
Wamsley was a dependable goaltender who enjoyed a solid NHL career, spending 13 seasons plying his trade for four organizations. But when it was time to move between those teams, Wamsley had a knack for making an impact.
He was the main piece of his first trade, which came at the 1984 draft after four years splitting time in the Canadiens’ crease. Montreal sent him to the Blues as the only player in a deal that featured five draft picks. Two of those choices went to the Canadiens, who used them to take Shayne Corson and Stephane Richer, two future all-stars who’d become key building blocks for the Habs over the remainder of the decade. As an added bonus, Wamsley’s departure meant that the Canadiens needed to draft a goaltender, so they spent a third rounder on a kid named Patrick Roy. He turned out to be pretty good.
After almost four years in St. Louis, Wamsley was solidly into the “veteran backup” phase of his career when he found himself headed to Calgary at the 1988 trade deadline along with Rob Ramage in the infamous deal that saw the Flames give up on a young Brett Hull. In 1992, Wamsley was on the move again, this time heading to Toronto as part of the Gilmour trade.
In other words, Rick Wamsley trades were basically the hockey equivalent of the Olympics: they happened every four years, they made lots of headlines, and they always ended up costing someone way more than they’d expected.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.