You can view it as Mark Messier for Andreas Athanasiou. Well, sort of.
Around this time last year, it seemed the Mark Messier trade chain that began all the way back on Oct. 4, 1991 would come to an end with Ryan Spooner going on waivers. But Spooner cleared waivers and the Oilers later traded him for an old friend, Sam Gagner, keeping the chain alive a little bit longer. Now, with Gagner getting shipped to Detroit as a salary cap condition, the Messier trade chain has ultimately resulted in the Oilers acquiring Athanasiou.
Let’s start from the beginning. After captaining the Oilers to their first and only Stanley Cup in the post-Wayne Gretzky era in 1990, Messier pushed for a new contract with a higher salary. Messier was also disgruntled that the Oilers, who were struggling financially, were selling off other key players, and he ended up making a public trade demand during the 1991 Canada Cup.
Right at the beginning of the 1991-92 season, the Oilers dealt their captain to the New York Rangers in exchange for Bernie Nicholls, Louie DeBrusk, and Steven Rice. So, how does this lead to Athanasiou?
Nicholls was the best player coming back to Edmonton in the deal. He was a player Oilers fans from this era would know well because of his time in Los Angeles. Nicholls put up a 70-goal, 150-point season in 1988-89 alongside Wayne Gretzky in his first season after being traded to the Kings and posted 758 points with the Kings throughout the 80s.
He would spend a year-and-a-half with the Oilers, scoring 89 points in 95 games before getting traded to the New Jersey Devils for Zdeno Ciger and Kevin Todd. While Todd never became anything, Ciger was a solid Oiler for parts of four seasons before returning home to Slovakia in 1996.
This part of the trade chain ended quickly.
DeBrusk’s role in the chain is fairly short, too.
He would play six seasons in Edmonton, scoring 19 goals and 31 points while racking up a whopping 797 penalty minutes before leaving the team in 1998 to sign as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
DeBrusk, of course, is still involved with the Oilers as a colour commentator for Sportsnet, though his role in the trade chain begins and ends with himself.
Buckle up. Here’s where things start to get interesting.
Steven Rice, a former 20th overall pick of the Rangers in 1989, was the top prospect coming back to Edmonton in the Messier deal. Rice was dominant for the Oilers’ AHL affiliate in Cape Breton, but he could never translate to the NHL. After two years with the organization, the Oilers would send him to the Harford Whalers in a one-for-one swap for defender Bryan Marchment.
Marchment spent three-and-a-half seasons with the Oilers before getting packaged with infamous draft busts Jason Bonsignore and Steve Kelly in a deal with the Lightning for former first-overall pick Roman Hamrlik and Paul Comrie.
Comrie only played a few games with the Oilers and retired early due to injuries, but Hamrlik was a stud on Edmonton’s blueline for two-and-a-half years. After the 1999-00 season, Hamrlik was shipped to the New York Islanders in exchange for Eric Brewer, Josh Green, and a draft pick the team would use on Brad Winchester.
Green and Winchester don’t matter much, but Brewer plays a key role. The former fifth-overall pick was a rock for the Oilers on the blueline for a few years and he was the youngest member of the 2002 Gold Medal-winning 2002 Canadian Olympic Team in Salt Lake City. After the lockout, Brewer was dealt along with Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch to the St. Louis Blues for Chris Pronger.
Another random thing to note, since Woywitka was one of the players the Oilers got back when they traded Mike Comrie to the Philadelphia Flyers, this can technically be viewed as the Messier/Comrie trade chain from here on out.
Anyways, onto Pronger. Pronger’s time in Edmonton was short-lived, but it was incredible. He was a dominant force on the Oilers’ blueline, logging 27:59 per game and putting up 56 points in the regular season. In the playoffs, Pronger reached a new level, logging 30:57 per game and posting 21 points in 24 games. How he didn’t win the Conn Smythe Trophy that year is beyond me.
Pronger, of course, would demand a trade following the playoffs. He would end up getting shipped to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, and three draft picks. The chain gets really, really wild here.
We’ll start with Lupul. The local Edmonton product was coming off a 28-goal breakout season in Anaheim, but he was a flop with the Oilers, scoring just 16 goals in 2006-07. He would get shipped to Philadelphia in the off-season for Joni Pitkanen, who would get shipped to Carolina for Erik Cole, who would get shipped to Carolina via Los Angeles in a three-team deal for Patrick O’Sullivan, who would get shipped to Phoenix for Jim Vandermeer. Vandermeer left as a free agent, ending the Lupul chain. Ironically, Lupul would again get traded in a Pronger deal a few years later when the Ducks sent the future Hall of Fame defender to Philadelphia.
Next, we have Smid, who was a solid contributor to the Oilers’ blueline during their dark years. Smid would spend parts of eight seasons with the Oilers before getting shipped to the Flames for Laurent Brossoit and Roman Horak. Brossoit left as a free agent and Horak is playing in the KHL.
On to the draft picks!
Edmonton dealt Anaheim’s 30th overall pick plus their own second-round pick in 2007 to Phoenix to move up to No. 21 overall to draft Riley Nash. Nash didn’t want to sign in Edmonton and was dealt to Carolina for a second-round pick in 2010, which the Oilers used in Martin Marincin. The Oilers would later deal Marincin to Toronto for Brad Ross, who never played for the team, and a fourth-round pick they would later flip to Ottawa for Eric Gryba, which ends this part of the chain.
Anaheim’s second-round pick was dealt to the Islanders for Allan Rourke and the Oilers’ own third-round pick that was sent to New York earlier for Denis Grebeshkov. This was done by Kevin Lowe so that he could have his own first three draft picks in 2008 in order to successfully sign Dustin Penner to an offer sheet. The second-round pick Edmonton sent to New York ended up being used on Travis Hamonic.
I guess you can view Penner and, subsequently, Oscar Klefbom as part of this trade chain, but I think it’s a stretch because the pick was already Edmonton’s, to begin with.
Finally, there was Anaheim’s first-round pick in 2008, which the Oilers got when the Ducks met the condition of reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2007. The Ducks, of course, won the Stanley Cup that year, so the Oilers got the 22nd overall pick in 2008. They would use that pick on Jordan Eberle, while the Ducks, with Edmonton’s first-round pick as compensation for Penner, traded down with Buffalo to draft Jake Gardiner and Viktor Tikhonov. Buffalo would use Edmonton’s pick on Tyler Myers. Anaheim used the second-round pick from Edmonton to draft Justin Schultz, who would end up signing with the Oilers rather than the Ducks due to the NCAA draft pick loophole.
So, to recap, we’ve started with Pronger and since Smid and Lupul’s parts of the chain have come to an end, we’re left with Eberle. Eberle was a key member of H.O.P.E during Edmonton’s Oil Change. He would play seven seasons here, recording 382 points. After the 2017 playoff run, Eberle was shipped to the Islanders in exchange for Ryan Strome. After just a few months, Strome was sent to the Rangers for Ryan Spooner, who was flipped to the Canucks for Sam Gagner.
And here we are now. Gagner was added to the deal with Detroit in order to make the salary cap stuff all work out. Andreas Athanasiou wasn’t even born when Messier got dealt to the Rangers, but, through a long, winding series of other trades, that deal has ultimately led to him becoming an Edmonton Oiler.