At the time, the Nordiques were getting a 46-goal scorer in his prime and the Maple Leafs were getting an up-and-coming 23-year-old in a contract dispute. Who do you think won the Wendel Clark for Mats Sundin trade of 1994?
Hockey fans love trades. We love the adrenaline that comes with the news of a blockbuster, the potential for positive change, the photos of the inbound star in his new sweater. And we love picking them apart.
The problem is, it typically takes several years before we know who actually won a deal. Occasionally, there’s instant gratification, but more often the trades take twists and turns and beget further moves. They can take on myriad lives.
With that in mind, we bring you an installment of thn.com’s Trade Trail, a recurring feature in which we re-open a cold file from a deal that transpired five or more years ago.
This summer marks the 20-year anniversary of the blockbuster Wendel Clark trade from Toronto to Quebec for Mats Sundin and the sentiment at the time remains true today. The Maple Leafs won the deal.
But you be the judge. Here are the particulars from that June 28, 1994 deal.
Toronto trades 27-year-old Clark, along with 27-year-old defenseman Sylvain Lefebvre, 19-year-old prospect Landon Wilson and the 22nd overall pick in the 1994 draft to Quebec for 23-year-old Sundin, 31-year-old defenseman Garth Butcher, 20-year-old prospect Todd Warriner and the 10th overall pick in the draft.
Before looking at the big names in the deal, let’s clear up the ledger on the other components.
Quebec handily won the exchange of defensive defensemen. Lefebvre played another nine years in the NHL and was a valuable part of the 1995-96 Colorado Avalanche team that won the Stanley Cup. Butcher was just four years older than Lefebvre, but his game was slowing down and he played just one more season before retiring at age 32.
The exchange of prospects Wilson and Warriner went slightly in Toronto’s favor. Both were first round picks. Wilson was a budding power forward who went on to play just 375 NHL games, but only one season managed double-digits in goals. Warriner had a more useful NHL career playing 453 games, scoring 65 goals and 154 points.
Toronto gets the edge with a higher draft pick (No. 10 spot versus 22). It’s not fair to factor in the careers of the prospects selected in those slots because the deal just involved those draft slots as assets, not actual players or prospects. The teams’ scouting departments are on the hook for who was taken in those spots.
As for the trade-off between Clark and Sundin? Big edge, Toronto. Sundin’s career unfolded to Hall of Fame standards even though he never led the Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup, a reality that was largely out of his control. Clark played just one season in Quebec before a contract dispute led to his departure to the New York Islanders just as the Nordiques were moving to Colorado to become the Avalanche. Clark was back in Toronto before completing even one season with the Islanders.
Before the big trade to Quebec, Clark was coming off a career season in Toronto, scoring 46 goals in just 64 games playing on a line with Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk. He missed 20 games with injury and his body was far older than his 27 years. But he did manage two more 30-goal seasons and a 28-goal season.
The trade was engineered by Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher and Nordiques GM Pierre Lacroix. Fletcher traded Clark when his value was the highest. Lacroix was at a disadvantage because Sundin was trying to renegotiate his contract. A former player agent, Lacroix said in his former career he never asked to renegotiate a client’s contract and wanted no part of Sundin’s request for more money.
Even though Clark was a fan favorite in Toronto, most Maple Leafs fans liked the deal at the time. And they liked it better with each passing season.
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior editor and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Brian Costello on Twitter at @BCostelloTHN