In December of 1997, Edmonton Oilers general manager Glen Sather pulled the trigger on a big trade, acquiring defenceman Roman Hamrlik from the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s the kind of deal that fans of the current edition of the team would surely welcome.
- Dec. 30, 1997: Oilers acquire D Roman Hamrlik and F Paul Comrie from the Lightning in exchange for F Jason Bonsignore, F Steve Kelly and D Bryan Marchment.
It had to hurt to send out the package that Sather moved. Marchment was a vicious physical defenceman playing 20 minutes per game for Edmonton—Robin Brownlee wrote about him here—and was his fourth season with the team.
The pain wasn’t confined to Marchment. Bonsignore was the No. 4 pick in the 1994 Draft and was only 21 years old; he was at basically the same point in his career that fellow No. 4 pick Griffin Reinhart is at now, meaning he was easily young enough that an NHL team could look at him and project him as a major-leaguer. Kelly was the No. 6 pick in 1995; he was the same distance from draft day at the time of the deal as 2013 No. 7 pick Darnell Nurse is right now. Reinhart and Nurse aren’t really fair points of comparison because they’re defencemen, but they have similar draft pedigree and the idea is to give an idea of the timeframe.
In combination, Sather traded away two still-young forwards with exceptional draft pedigree as well as a minute-munching physical defenceman. Both Bonsignore and Kelly had failed to develop as hoped, but both were still young enough to have value and Marchment certainly did. Moving that trio took some courage.
Sather got back Comrie, a ninth-round pick the year before and lower-end prospect; we might call him the sweetener.
He also got the best player in the deal: Hamrlik.
Hamrlik and the 1997-98 Lightning
The 1997-98 Lightning were a team with some things in common with today’s Oilers.
Hamrlik was the No. 1 pick of the 1992 Draft; in 1997-98 he had been with the Bolts for as long as Taylor Hall has been with the modern Oilers. In his entire Tampa Bay career he had played in five postseason games and the Lightning were about to shift their focus to a new No. 1 pick: Vincent Lecavalier. Despite a varied skillset, Hamrlik had also never been seriously considered for a major individual award (he finished seventh in Norris voting in 1995-96). He had a long run of ugly plus/minus numbers and was at times regarded as something of a giveaway machine.
Offered the combination of immediate help in Marchment and
youth with upside magic beans, the Lightning decided to move on.
Hamrlik immediately was thrown into the fire, jumping from just over 20 minutes per game to more than 25. After the trade of Boris Mironov the next season he became the Oilers’ No. 1 defenceman, combining physical play and offensive ability. Sather ultimately ended up stealing away a 23-year-old first-pair defenceman from the Lightning for a trio of lesser players.
Edmonton couldn’t keep Hamrlik forever; budget constraints eventually led to him being dealt to the Islanders for (among others) Eric Brewer. Brewer of course would ultimately be traded to St. Louis as the centerpiece of the return for Chris Pronger.
I can’t think of a real parallel to Hamrlik in the league today, and there certainly isn’t an exact parallel to Marchment and magic beans on the current Oilers roster. Something like Nail Yakupov, Griffin Reinhart and Justin Schultz would probably be in the range, though it’s a long way from being an exact fit.
I bring the trade up today because it’s one that could work either way. Something like the Yakupov/Reinhart/Schultz trio for a defenceman like Hamrlik would be hard to pull off today, but would improve the Oilers as a team immediately. On the other hand, the 1997-98 Lightning had some things in common with the present-day Oilers; the danger is getting the modern equivalent of Marchment and magic beans for a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.