An unfortunate theme for the Oilers that led to their struggles in the early-1990s was poor returns on trades involving their Hall of Fame core from the Glory Days. One instance in which there was a buck in this trend was when Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr were shipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ahead of the 1991-92 season, the Oilers, who were looking to get younger, and, more importantly, cheaper, sent Anderson and Fuhr along with Craig Berube to the Leafs in exchange for Vincent Damphousse, Luck Richardson, Scott Thornton, and Peter Ing.
The key to the trade for the Oilers was getting Damphousse, the former sixth-overall draft pick who had established himself as a budding young star in the league after a 94-point season in 1989-90. Though he had a bit of a down season in 1991-92, scoring 73 points with an ugly -31 rating, Damphousse was viewed as a player the Oilers could build around.
Damphousse was excellent with the Oilers in 1991-92. He found chemistry alongside Bernie Nicholls and Joe Murphy and led the team in scoring with 89 points in 80 games. The Oilers would finish the season with a mediocre 36-34-10 record, but went on a surprising run in the playoffs, beating Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings and the Winnipeg Jets before getting swept by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.
Unfortunately, that would be the end of Damphousse’s career as an Oiler. In the off-season, Damphousse got dealt to the Montreal Canadiens along with a fourth-round pick for Shayne Corson, Brent Gilchrist, and Vladimir Vujtek.
It was reported that Damphousse had asked for a trade because he wasn’t happy in Edmonton, but he declined that rumour. Ultimately, the Oilers moved on from Damphousse in order to acquire what they believed were three good players that would help improve the team’s depth.
Gilchrest, who had scored 60 points for the Habs the year prior, struggled with the Oilers, scoring just 20 points in 60 games before getting shipped away the following summer. Vujtek, a top prospect who had scored 102 points in the WHL, never managed to make it at the NHL level. The main part of the return, though, was Corson.
The former eighth-overall pick by the Habs was a rugged winger who could score and play with a tough, physical edge. But Corson also had a reputation around the league for being out of control. In 1992, Corson was suspended by the Habs for allegedly starting a fight in a bar in Montreal. In the previous season, Corson had been arrested for getting into a fight in a bar in Winnipeg.
Despite his reputation, the Oilers name Corson captain ahead of the 1994-95 season. After just one season with the “C” on his chest, Corson had his captaincy stripped. Apparently, a key reason for this was because Corson tried to get an official to take an assist away from teammate Jason Arnott and give it to him in order to pad his stats.
Corson would spend three years in Edmonton, scoring 137 points in 192 games. The Oilers would miss the playoffs all three seasons.
Meanwhile, In Montreal, things were going very well for Damphousse and the Canadiens. In 1992-93, Damphousse led the Habs with 97 points in the regular season and 23 points through the playoffs, helping the team to the 23rd Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Damphousse would be a star in Montreal for the majority of the 1990s before getting dealt to San Jose where he would continue to produce offensively into his mid-30s. All told, Damphousse played 1378 NHL games and scored 1205 points. He’s arguably the best player not currently in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Damphousse is certainly one of the all-time ones who got away for the Oilers. Had the Oilers hung on to Damphousse, he would have been a great star player for the team to build around through the 90s. The return in this trade was obviously underwhelming to begin with as Montreal got far and away the best player in the deal, but the whole thing is really highlighted by the addition of Corson, who seemed to be a negative addition to the team.
Fortunately for the Oilers, one thing that salvages this horrendous trade is what they managed to get in return for Corson down the road. We’ll get to that in a few days in our Top-5 All-Time Oilers trades countdown.