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.
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.