On this day in 1998… the Edmonton Oilers acquire Janne Niinimaa from the Philadelphia Flyers

Zach Laing
1 year ago
It was a late trade deadline in the 1997-98 season with the Edmonton Oilers making a deadline deal on this day in 1998 to acquire Janne Niinimaa from the Philadelphia Flyers.
In return, the Oilers send back a 2nd round pick in 1998, used to select Jason Beckett, as well as defenceman Dan McGillis. Niinimaa, 22, ended up spending six years in Edmonton becoming a very reliable two-way defenceman.
He drew in for 11 games down the stretch that season scoring on goal and nine points, and he made his presence felt with his ability to produce offence. His best season in the NHL — and with the Oilers — came in the 2000-01 season. He scored career highs in goals that season, with 12, and a career-high in points with 46.
“Stalts hijacks Flyers’ Janne,” read the headlines the next in the Edmonton Journal. “Oilers land one of the best young D-men in the game.”
Here’s some of the Journal’s Cam Cole penned about the deal:
In the beginning, the Edmonton Oilers could play offence, but the other end of the ice — the part that has nothing to do with a gift; that part that has to be learned was pretty much an unconfirmed rumour to many of them.
They never won a Stanley Cup until they understood that at least a modicum of responsibility was required back there where the goalie hung out during games, doing gosh-knows-what And they never won a Cup, either, without at least two or three defencemen who would give it to an opponent liberally with the stick or the elbow or the fist as required.
But before they knew how to win championships, they knew how to win hearts.
Glen Sather, whose idea of how hockey should be played is stamped on every Oiler team, knew this much: there is no substitute for talent.
You might be able to teach the rest but if you get a shot at talent, you take it, because there is not enough to go around.
Check the state of the game now. It’s more true today than ever before. And face it: the Oilers are a lot closer to the beginning of any exercise that’s apt to lead to a Stanley Cup than they are to the end.
Which is why, if you’re Sather and there’s an hour to go before the trade deadline Tuesday, you grab Janne Niinimaa while the Philadelphia Flyers are daft enough to offer him, and run like heck before the authorities find out.
Do they not defy logic, the deals Sather has been able to craft without benefit of money this season?
He began with one young ace on defence in Boris Mironov, six-foot-three and 220 pounds, a toweringpresence in the Oilers’ modest playoff run last spring and just barely 26 years old. He acquired Roman Hamrlik, six-foot-two, 200 pounds, not yet 24, for the proverbial roll of tape. And now he has a 22-year-old Niinimaa, all-rookie a year ago in Philadelphia, six-foot-one, 220 pounds.
Russian Olympian, Czech Olympian, Finnish Olympian. A medal of each colour.
The first two were among the three or four best defencemen in Nagano. The third? Well, he’s no Nicklas Lidstrom yet, but Niinimaa is definitely cut from that kind of cloth. “There was no real plan to go out and get Hamrlik and Niinimaa,” said Sather “They all just sort of fell into place like that”
Are there three better young defencemen on any one roster in the NHL? Don’t think so.
So you can mourn the loss of Dan McGillis’s toughness, if you’re looking for fault to find in Sather’s deadline deal, and you can question whether the Oilers are a better bet to win a playoff game than they were before the swap, but Niinimaa has the biggest future upside of any player acquired by any other team Tuesday.
Niinimaa spent six seasons in Edmonton before he was dealt to the New York Islanders along with a 2003 2nd-round draft pick for Brad Isbister and Raffi Torres.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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