The Gretzky trade was huge, but Messier's is still paying dividends

Jonathan Willis
August 09 2013 01:30PM

The return in trade for Wayne Gretzky was without question substantial, but like most of the deals involving the Oilers’ Hall of Fame-calibre players it’s a deal that has only historical impact, with none of the descendants of that trade currently playing for Edmonton.

In terms of current impact from those old trades, it’s the Mark Messier deal that still pays dividends today.

It’s All About Brule

In their fantastic 25th Anniversary coverage of the Gretzky trade, the Edmonton Journal has mapped out the players who in some way or other can trace their lineage back to that blockbuster deal. Their findings? That Gilbert Brule is the most recent roster player who directly descends from that deal.

More interestingly, that’s true not only of the Gretzky trade, but also the Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson deals. The trade legacies of five of the Oilers’ six Hall of Famers ended when Brule was claimed off waivers.

How does it work? Going backward, here’s the trail:

  • Gilbert Brule was acquired from Columbus in exchange for Raffi Torres.
  • Raffi Torres (along with Brad Isbister) were acquired from the New York Islanders in exchange for Janne Niinimaa and a second round pick in 2003.
  • That second round pick (Evgney Tunik) had previously been acquired from Washington along with a third round pick (Zack Stortini) in exchange for Mike Grier.
  • Mike Grier and Curtis Joseph were acquired from St. Louis in exchange for two first round draft picks – draft picks that had originally been compensation for the Blues’ signing of Shayne Corson.
  • Shayne Corson (along with Brent Gilchrist and Vladimir Vujtek) was acquired from Montreal in exchange for Vincent Damphousse.
  • Vincent Damphousse had been the centerpiece of a huge trade – being sent by Toronto along with Peter Ing, Luke Richardson, Scott Thornton and cash to the Oilers in exchange for two Hall of Famers (Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr) as well as enforcer Craig Berube.
  • Craig Berube (the king of blockbuster deals; in addition to the two described here he was also part of the Doug Gilmour swap) had previously been acquired (along with Craig Fisher and Scott Mellanby) in exchange for Hall of Famer Jari Kurri as well as Dave Brown and Corey Foster.
  • Massive defence prospect Corey Foster had come to Edmonton in trade from New Jersey; in exchange the Oilers sent away a first round pick in the 1989 Draft (used on Jason Miller). Dave Brown, meanwhile, had been acquired in exchange for Keith Acton.
  • That first round pick in 1989? You guessed it: one of three that came to Edmonton with Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas in exchange for Wayne Gretzky, Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski.
  • How does Paul Coffey tie-in? Keith Acton was originally acquired in exchange for Moe Mantha; Mantha was part of the deal that saw Coffey, Dave Hunter and Wayne Van Dorp go to Pittsburgh in exchange for Craig Simpson and Dave Hannan.

All the other players and prospects and picks acquired for Gretzky, Kurri, Anderson, Fuhr and Coffey result in dead-ends earlier; Brule’s departure marked the end of the returns for all five.

Mark Messier

Messier’s trade tree puts the other five to shame. Two current (and significant) Oilers as well as three prospects can directly trace their roots on the roster back to the deal that saw Messier go to the New York Rangers in exchange for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice, Louie DeBrusk and future considerations (which saw the Oilers deal Jeff Beukeboom for David Shaw).

The key is Steven Rice. After Rice signed in Hartford, the Oilers got Bryan Marchment as compensation. Marchment would later be dealt to Tampa Bay along with a pair of draft busts (Jason Bonsignore and Steve Kelly) in exchange for Roman Hamrlik and Paul Comrie. Hamrlik would later be moved to the New York Islanders in exchange for Eric Brewer, Josh Green and a second round draft pick (which turned into Brad Winchester).

Brewer was subsequently dealt in one of the best trades in Oilers history – as the centerpiece of a 3-for-1 deal that included prospects Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch and which landed Chris Pronger (a deal that in some ways echoes the Hamrlik acquisition).

Pronger was famously sent to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for five assets; those five assets immediately or eventually turned into Ladislav Smid, Jordan Eberle, Martin Marincin and Cameron Abney. More circuitously, one of them (the Ducks’ second round pick in 2008) was dealt to the New York Islanders in a trade that saw the Oilers re-acquire their third round pick in that same year; that third round pick was then sent as part of the compensation for the Oilers’ signing of restricted free agent Dustin Penner. We’re stretching the point a bit here, but Penner eventually turned into prospect Oscar Klefbom.

Put it all together and five players – including the best of the bunch, Wayne Gretzky – can show nothing in the Oilers’ system 25 years later. On the other hand, Messier alone yielded a massive chunk of the current roster/prospect depth chart.

I'd be remiss not to also point out Steve Smith - the return for Smith eventually figured into both Brule and the Messier return.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 DSF
August 09 2013, 02:54PM
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OilersNow ‏@OilersNow 8m

Taylor Hall says he may have to play a few games at centre to start the season if RNH isn't ready to go.

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#2 DSF
August 09 2013, 10:34PM
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steelymac wrote:

DSF you might aswell come out of the closet.Hell its the second week of august and your listening to OilersNow,there isn't one other canucks fan or wild for that matter that is listening to Stauffer in august other than you.Maybe its time you cave in and admit you are in love with our team the OIL.There is room on this wagon for ya but you got to sit at the back and be nice for a while okay.cheers

I have been an Oiler fan since the WHA days and a season ticket holder for many, many years.

Watching Kevin Lowe drive the franchise into the ditch and keeping it there for most of a decade has led me to be a fan of GM's who are are smarter than Lowe.

That means about 25 other teams.

When the goof gets his walking papers, I'll change my opinion.

BTW, MacT is just a penis extention for Lowe.

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#3 toprightcorner
August 09 2013, 08:29PM
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DSF wrote:

OilersNow ‏@OilersNow 8m

Taylor Hall says he may have to play a few games at centre to start the season if RNH isn't ready to go.

Surprise, surprise, completely changing the topic again to try and control the comments and attempt to grab the spotlight. You should just get your own blog and stay there.

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#4 DC
August 09 2013, 02:04PM
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That's aMOOSEing!! Sorry. I couldn't help it.

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#5 NJ
August 09 2013, 06:46PM
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Maybe we should get the Moose in as GM considering the dividends he yields. "In Moose we trust" beats "In MacT we trust" hands down. Just sayin.

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#6 westcoastoil
August 09 2013, 01:44PM
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"The key is Steven Rice. After Rice signed in Hartford, the Oilers got Bryan Marchment as compensation. Marchment would later be dealt to Tampa Bay along with a pair of draft busts (Jason Bonsignore and Steve Kelly) in exchange for Roman Hamrlik and Paul Comrie. Hamrlik would later be moved to the New York Islanders in exchange for Eric Brewer, Josh Green and a second round draft pick (which turned into Brad Winchester).

Brewer was subsequently dealt in one of the best trades in Oilers history – as the centerpiece of a 3-for-1 deal that included prospects Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch and which landed Chris Pronger (a deal that in some ways echoes the Hamrlik acquisition)."

The deals to aquire/send out Hamrlik & the Pronger deal - Bold savvy GM trades.

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#7 YoungOil
August 09 2013, 04:47PM
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K_Mart wrote:

so mess for Ladislav Smid, Jordan Eberle, Martin Marincin, Cameron Abney, and Oscar Klefbom?

And Justin Schultz, if I'm not mistaken.

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#8 ludwigvonmattherhorn
August 09 2013, 01:45PM
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I think the 2nd round pick compensation for the Dustin Penner offer sheet also ended up being Justin Schultz in a funny turn of events.

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#9 Shane
August 09 2013, 03:02PM
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I love these trade trees! Thanks Jonathan.

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#10 steelymac
August 09 2013, 05:46PM
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DSF wrote:

OilersNow ‏@OilersNow 8m

Taylor Hall says he may have to play a few games at centre to start the season if RNH isn't ready to go.

DSF you might aswell come out of the closet.Hell its the second week of august and your listening to OilersNow,there isn't one other canucks fan or wild for that matter that is listening to Stauffer in august other than you.Maybe its time you cave in and admit you are in love with our team the OIL.There is room on this wagon for ya but you got to sit at the back and be nice for a while okay.cheers

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#11 Ryan2
August 10 2013, 10:32AM
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DSF wrote:

OilersNow ‏@OilersNow 8m

Taylor Hall says he may have to play a few games at centre to start the season if RNH isn't ready to go.

He should have also added: "The coaches want me to be prepared for when Nuge goes down with a late season shoulder injury again".......

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#12 Lochenzo
August 09 2013, 03:08PM
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Ahh, but the Gretzky return helped the Oil win the Cup in 1990. Petr Klima scored the OT GWG in Game 1. Petr, Joe Murphy and Adam Graves were the return for Jimmy Carson. Joe and Adam, along with Martin Gelinas, formed 'the Kid Line' which was so good for us all playoffs that year, providing the secondary scoring that you need to go deep into the playoffs.

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#13 Naky
August 09 2013, 06:58PM
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I'm not gonna lie - I'm glad today's nearly over and hopefully this will be the end of all this from-out-of-nowhere anniversary the media blew out of proportion out of boredom.

I get it guys. It's summer and this off-season was really not as exciting as people anticipated it to be, but you're all beating a very, very dead horse right now. Let's move on.

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#14 HardBoiledOil
August 09 2013, 01:55PM
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Smid, Eberle, Marincin, Klefbom....the gift that keeps on giving, trade wise? :-D

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#15 Will
August 09 2013, 02:11PM
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Great article.

Also, 2008 draft 1st round, talk about your hits and misses. You were either a stud or a dud in that first round.

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#16 vetinari
August 09 2013, 02:23PM
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Wow. My head swam as I read those lists. I hope that in 10 years we'll have another list like this talking about how our championship team was built...

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#17 Bruner
August 09 2013, 02:49PM
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Although this is all fun remembering who lead to what, I can't wait for real hockey to start. We need some new legends.

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#18 rhino
August 09 2013, 05:56PM
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For what its worth, as far as I can tell, the Gretzky trade genealogy ended on June 30, 2010: the day the Ethan Moreau was claimed on waivers by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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#19 Ari Gold
August 09 2013, 07:03PM
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Cool article. Interesting to see the management of different assets over time. We can see that there are plenty of branches that end with a nothing prospect or signing. A testament to the mismanagement and poor scouting of this team.

It's been a long time since we 'won' a trade.

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#20 Joy S. Lee
August 10 2013, 03:44PM
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DSF wrote:

I have been an Oiler fan since the WHA days and a season ticket holder for many, many years.

Watching Kevin Lowe drive the franchise into the ditch and keeping it there for most of a decade has led me to be a fan of GM's who are are smarter than Lowe.

That means about 25 other teams.

When the goof gets his walking papers, I'll change my opinion.

BTW, MacT is just a penis extention for Lowe.

Personally, I think that MacTavish has done a brilliant job thus far into his tenure as GM, and I suspect it will prove out that way by about the quarter-pole of the season.

Calling him a penis-extension is probably warranted in some sort of psychologically unbalanced manner of thinking, but he's been extremely active in converting the essence of the team, and he's done it with not a lot of assets in the cupboard.

For a penis-extension, I think he's really following his own direction, his own idea of what is going to make this team successful, and he's willing to bank on his actions that he's right. Sounds like a plan to me, and a self-determined plan at that. You, sir, cannot see the forest for the trees, and even your insults are poorly contrived drivel. But have at 'er, I guess.

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#21 Ed in Edmonton
August 09 2013, 03:11PM
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@DSF

Completely off topic, but I would like to see Hall trialed at center. Up until his last year of Jr. hall played more center than wing. Messier played wing most of his 1st 3 year with the Oil before being moved to center.

Willis, I am impressed with your tracking of the "family tree" of Oiler deals. Do you keep a Oiler genealogy thing?

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#22 Tikkanese
August 09 2013, 03:18PM
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@JW

"I'd be remiss not to also point out Steve Smith - the return for Smith eventually figured into both Brule and the Messier return. "

So if Brule was the last piece of the Gretzky deal and Smith ties both the Messier deals and Brule together, then by proxy doesn't that also tie the Messier and Gretzky deals together?

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#23 Krusher
August 09 2013, 03:47PM
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I'm dizzy after reading that article. Or maybe it's my mid afternoon "refresher" I hide in my office.....

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#24 K_Mart
August 09 2013, 04:00PM
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so mess for Ladislav Smid, Jordan Eberle, Martin Marincin, Cameron Abney, and Oscar Klefbom?

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#25 Zarny
August 09 2013, 04:16PM
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Cool story. It shows what a crap shoot evaluating talent can be.

It also shows how foolish Pocklington's talking point about selling his asset (Gretzky) at peak value is.

From a hockey perspective the Gretzky trade was an abysmal failure for the Oilers.

The Gretzky trade though was never about hockey. It was about Pocklington paying off his bank loans.

Which is really what makes it tragic. It's likely Gretzky would have eventually been traded but the Oilers could have kept him for another 5 years or so and been the favorites to win the Cup every one of those years.

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#26 Spoils
August 09 2013, 06:07PM
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Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? kidding - cool article - and as usual somehow the moose delivers.

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#27 toprightcorner
August 09 2013, 08:35PM
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JW, great article, thanks for all of the research. I find it interesting to see how things transpire over a long period of time.

The sad part is how many good picks they traded for but wasted with horrible selections. But I suppose all those bad draft picks result in so many losing seasons that gave us Hall, Nuge and Yak. So can we credit that to the Messier trade or terrible drafting department?

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