Tanks for the Memories: A Long History of the Worst Kept Secret in Hockey (Part 1)

Tanking is the process of trading veteran players who can net some return (younger players, prospects, picks, or emotional relief) in favour of dressing younger, inexperienced players still learning the game at the pro level or veterans who have earned the Not Good label in hopes of getting the first pick in the draft. Lots of fans, media folks, and organizations object to tanking. I don’t object to it on principle but there are lots of reasons to hate the process: you’re favourite players are getting shipped out, you’re not going to the playoffs any time soon, and losing sucks. However, I don’t understand those who object to the process on some sort of sportsmanship or moral grounds when we collectively, actively ignore far greater transgressions by those within the game.[1]

Tanking isn’t going anywhere, it isn’t unique to NHL nor is it particularly new.

The NBA instituted a draft lottery in 1985 after rumours the Houston Rockets, among other teams, had deliberately lost in an attempt to secure the first overall pick. The weighted lottery was added in 1990 in response to problems with the envelope system (fans wondered if it was incredibly rigged). The weighted system in the NBA gives the team with the worst record only a 25% of landing the first pick, but the best chance of any non-playoff team. Still, the weighted system didn’t stop tanking and teams have become more and more open about the process in recent years. The NBA attempted further reform to the draft system in 2014 to discourage the practice, but the changes didn’t have the required votes to pass.

It comes as no surprise to anyone that follows the NHL that the league was slower to realize what was going on. The tanking story usually starts in the mid-1980s with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Mario Lemieux but the idea of valuing elite, young, affordable talent over past their prime veterans while simultaneously cheating the system is actually older than that.

The NHL Amateur Draft was a relatively new process (it was instituted in 1963) when the league expanded for the first time in the late 1960s. Some of the new teams, California, Los Angeles, and St. Louis in particular, made egregious mistakes with the greatest draft shark in the game: Sam Pollock. Pollock, GM of the Montreal Canadiens, used a combination of scouting and guile to trade mostly established players for high picks. Picks weren’t valued as they are today and established players probably had a certain appeal in new markets. The threat of high draft picks bolting to the WHA, which began play in 1971, added extra uncertainty to drafting top prospects. Essentially, Pollock helped tank other teams, acquired their high picks, while winning four Stanley Cups from 1967-68 to 1972-73. Pollock used those high picks to draft Steve Shutt and Hall-of-Famers Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson, setting the Canadiens up for a run of four straight Stanley Cups in the late 1970s.

But that’s not really tanking because expansion teams are bad and he didn’t run his own team into the ground! Setting aside the early success of the St. Louis Blues and the Philadelphia Flyers, yes teams like the Golden Seals were bad. But Pollock was proactive and manipulated the situation to his advantage, ensuring the right team finished dead last. He knew he wanted Lafleur in advance and made a trade with the Seals a year before the 1971 draft when Lafleur was eligible. Pollock sent Ernie Hicke (who the Seals would leave unprotected in the 1972 Expansion Draft) and Montreal’s first round pick in 1971 to California for Francois Lacombe (who would go on to be a WHA journeyman), the Seals first pick in 1971, and cash. That’s right, California owner Charlie Finley, who negotiated the trade, paid for the privileged of being on the losing end of one of the worst trades in NHL history (Jerry Jones Team Building ModelTM ftw).

However, midway through the 1970-71 season, California just wasn’t bad enough. So Pollock made a deal with the worst team and likely owners of the 1971 first overall pick, the Kings, to make them slightly better. Pollock traded Ralph Backstrom, a former Calder Trophy winner and perennial All-Star in the 1960s, who was no longer in Montreal’s plans, to Los Angeles for Gord Labossiere and Ray Fortin. Backstrom was rejuvenated in Los Angeles and was just enough of an offensive threat to help push the Kings out of last place, leaving the Seals with the worst record and the Habs with the first overall pick. This is the Pollock Tank Method where other teams do the tanking for you and you win eight championships in 12 years, while only missing the playoffs once. It relied on a relatively new drafting system, an influx of inexperienced GMs and owners, and an ever-present threat from a rival league. This method will never happen again so I hope you enjoyed this story.

***

Fast forward about ten years and we get to a more familiar kind of tanking: the Pittsburgh Penguins playing like shit for the right to draft Mario Lemieux. The Penguins were bad, attendance was low, and the team was in financial trouble. There were rumours the franchise would fold. The Pens finished last in the league in 1982-83[2] and were on the way to another terrible, forgettable season the following year.

But in Pittsburgh’s terribleness, was opportunity. Unfortunately, they just weren’t bad enough. The New Jersey Devils were also dreadful and in last place. So over lunch one day, GM Eddie Johnston and head coach Lou Angotti hatched a plan to lose as many games as possible. Goaltending prospect Roberto Romano was sent down, one of the team’s good players, Rick Kehoe was hurt,[3] and Johnston traded another, team captain Randy Carlyle, for picks at the trade deadline.[4] Angotti remembers a game when the Pens took a 3-1 lead in the first period only to have his GM burst into the dressing room during the intermission to ask what he was doing. The Pens managed to lose that game 6-3. Pittsburgh lost 18 of the last 21 games of the season, include the final six by a goal margin of 36-15.

Did it work? Yes. The Penguins finished with a record of 16-58-6 and 38 points, three points back of the New Jersey Devils, securing the first overall pick. The Penguins drafted Mario Lemieux and the Devils landed Kirk Muller. Now, Muller was a good NHLer, a captain, and a future Cup-winner. But he wasn’t elite. While Mario didn’t don the Pittsburgh jersey at the draft, he did come to a contract agreement with Johnston shortly after.[5] Unlike recent tank attempts, the goal of this tank was to save the franchise from folding, and drafting Lemieux secured Pittsburgh’s future (he would save them again from bankruptcy in 1999). The Devils protested the Penguins tactics, but to no avail and draft reform was still a long time coming.

And there were casualties. Pens coach Angotti wouldn’t return for the 1984-85 season and wouldn’t coach again in the NHL. Johnston left the Penguins in 1988. Most importantly, the Penguins still weren’t any good.

What this tank didn’t do, however, was make the Penguins appreciably better.

After finishing dead last in the league two years in a row, the Pens finished sixth in the division in 1984-85, and second last in the league. In fact, during the first six seasons of Lemieux’s NHL career, the Pens finished higher than fifth in their division only once (losing in the second round of the 1989 playoffs).

The Pens needed some trades but also a lot of luck. It was Pittsburgh’s good fortune that two-time 40 goal scorer and two-time Norris Trophy winner Paul Coffey had a contract dispute with Oilers GM Glen Sather after the pair won a third Cup together in 1987. Coffey held out and Sather wouldn’t budge.[6] In November 1987, Sather surprised the hockey world when he traded Coffey, and two other players for a package from Pittsburgh in which 1985 second overall pick, forward Craig Simpson, was the centrepiece. Simpson scored 56 goals that season[7] between Pittsburgh and Edmonton, where he played with future Hall-of-Famers Glenn Anderson and Mark Messier. Simpson would never reach those heights again and was more a 30 goal, 60 point player in Edmonton. Coffey had two season of 100+ points in Pittsburgh, and another 90+ point season while always averaging well above a point-per-game.

Several key trades, in addition to the Coffey trade, pushed the Pens from atrocious to contender to champions. Midway through the 1988-89 season the Penguins acquired number one goalie Tom Barasso from the Sabres for Doug Bodger and Darrin Shannon. At the 1990 draft, Pens GM Craig Patrick shipped a second round pick to Calgary for five time 40+ goal scorer and future Hall-of-Famer Joe Mullen.[8] Injuries limited Mullen’s playing time during the 1990-91 regular season, but he was a key contributor in the playoffs. The following season he had another 40+ goal season (42 goals, 87 points) and the Penguins had another Cup. Pittsburgh acquired another, point-per-game offensive defensemen for peanuts early in the 1990-91 season. Larry Murphy was a key performer for Canada at the 1987 but was coming off two disappointing and injury-plagued years with the North Stars (a team I totally forgot he played for). The Pens acquired him for two journeymen defenders, Jim Johnson and Chris Dahlquist.[9]

The deal that put the Penguins over the top happened at the deadline in 1991. Patrick traded offensive star John Cullen, Jeff Parker, and 1986 first round pick Zarley Zalapski to the Hartford Whalers for defensemen Ulf Samuelsson, Grant Jennings, and forward Ron Francis. Cullen never produced at the same rate, battling injuries and cancer, Parker played four games with the Whalers before suffering a career-ending knee injury, and Zalapski had a productive, if unspectacular, NHL career. Samuelson was one of the dirtiest, irritating players to play against, and his nickname was Robocop.[10] But they also got a future Hall-of-Famer, one of the best two-way players (future Selke winner) and one of the top-10 offensive players in league history in Francis.[11]

With their first round picks from 1983 to 1990 the Pens drafted a selection of mediocre players, with the exception of Lemieux. The Penguins used those picks to select Bob Errey (1983), Craig Simpson (1985), Zarley Zalapski (1986), Chris Joseph (1987), Darrin Shannon (1988), Jamie Heward (1989), and Jaromir Jagr (1990). Of the group, only Jagr was a star (actually a superstar and best player in the league for a time). However, the Penguins were able to trade some of these players for veterans they could actually use.

80s politics also helped the Penguins build a contender. When Reagan said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” it would change hockey forever.[12] The Penguins were just one of the many beneficiaries of the fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. As communist regimes fell in Eastern Bloc countries and the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1991 it changed a lot of things, and hockey was no exception. The makeup of hockey changed forever, with an influx of European players. Veterans from professional teams were now coming in greater numbers but now prospects could be drafted without the need to defect. This meant that you couldn’t just take a flyer on Dominik Hasek in the tenth round of the NHL Draft anymore like Chicago did in 1983. NHL teams needed to enhance their European scouting and be able to make proper evaluations on European players.[13]

Social upheaval came to Czechoslovakia in November 1989.[14] By the following month a new, non-Communist government had formed. What this meant for the Penguins was that 18-year-old Jaromir Jagr could be drafted the following summer without defecting. The Penguins left nothing to chance, selecting Jagr fifth overall. Jagr helped the Pens win a Cup as a rookie and set the franchise up for the next decade.

Finally, they got their hockey ops in order. After Eddie Johnston left in 1988 the Pens made another misstep at GM: hiring Tony Esposito. Esposito lasted a year and a half before he was let go. Craig Patrick replaced him and he set the franchise on the right path. The Pens went through three head coaches before Patrick took over as interim head coach in 1989. Patrick hired another soon-to-be member of the Hall of Fame, Bob Johnson in 1990. He led the Pens to their first Cup, but was diagnosed with brain cancer in the offseason, dying in November 1991. Patrick named as Johnson’s replacement the team’s Director of Player Development and winner of five Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens, Scotty Bowman. Bowman coached the Penguins to another Cup in 1992, his second Cup with the team, because that’s kind of what he does.

The Pens Cup-winning teams of 1991 and 1992 had six Hall-of-Famers[15] and only Lemieux was homegrown. The other five were acquired through trade, with the exception of Bryan Trottier who signed as a free agent. This was a team built through trades (lopsided deals) and that was only possible once they got their front office in order. So yeah, the Lemieux tank worked but in 1983-84 the Pens weren’t actually planning a rebuild because they were facing extinction. There was no plan beyond play horribly, draft Lemieux, live to see another day. Building a contender and Cup winner, however, took some luck, smart hires, and shrewd dealing.

***

Fast forward seven years. Eric Lindros was a Very Big Deal in the months leading up to the 1991 draft. That might not seem like something special to newer and younger fans who remember Malkin or Ovechkin hype, foaming at the mouth for Sidney Crosby, Tyler or Taylor, Fail for Nail, and the most recent McDavid-Eichel anticipation. As much as Lafleur and Lemieux were obviously coveted, Lindros was the most hyped draft pick ever heading into June 1991. In a way we have him (but really the media) to thank for what we do to top prospects now. I mean, he played for Canada at the 1991 Canada Cup as an 18-year-old alongside Wayne Gretzky and co.[16] He was a Very Big Deal.

The Quebec Nordiques were very bad. So bad that they sort of became synonymous with losing. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, for most of the 80s they were a pretty good NHL team. Prior to the 1987-88 season, the Nordiques had missed the playoffs only once in the NHL, during their first season in the league, 1979-80. In fact, Quebec’s rivalry with Montreal wasn’t simply provincial, it was based in heated playoff battles. Over the course of six seasons in the 1980s, the two teams played each other four times in the playoffs, with the Habs eliminating the Nordiques every time except the first meeting in 1982.[17] Quebec went from first in the Adams division in 1985-86 to fifth in two seasons. Dale Hunter, the fifth-leading career scorer with the team, was traded after the 1986-87 season beginning an exodus that would see most of the team’s veteran talent move on. Anton Stastny, one of three Stastny brothers to play for Quebec,[18] returned to Europe after the 1988-89 season. Finally at the trade deadline in 1990 the Nordiques traded franchise career points leader Peter Stastny and runner-up career points leader Michel Goulet within a day of each other after a decade with the Nordiques.[19]

Quebec finished in last place in 1988-89 and again in 1989-90, winning just twelve games that season. If there was any team primed to tank for a talent like Lindros, it was Quebec, who had already jettisoned their best players. But it wouldn’t be that simple.[20] Quebec walked away with the best player in the 1987 draft when they selected Joe Sakic 15th overall.[21] Joe didn’t get the tanking memo and scored 48 goals in 1990-91 with less support than a training bra. In 1989, Quebec made Mats Sundin the first European to ever be selected first overall. Sundin had a good rookie season in 1990-91 finishing with 59 points in 80 games.[22] And that was basically it for Quebec’s offensive punch. Tony Hrkac[23] was third in scoring with 48 points.[24] The ancient Guy Lafleur (remember him?) chipped in 12 goals and 28 points.[25] The Nordiques were bad and seemed destined to secure the first overall pick for the third straight year.

The only problem was they just weren’t bad enough.

Fortunately, Floyd Smith, GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was willing to help out. It’s not that the Leafs are inherently generous by nature, it was that they managed to fuck up the 1991 draft well in advance. Despite being one of the worst teams in the 1980s, the Leafs were desperate to finish as high in the standings as they could in 1990-91. On the surface of things, that might seem odd. Toronto was bad and Lindros would have transformed the club instantly. He was also reasonably local (he grew up in Toronto) and the Leafs have a history of coveting hometown stars.[26] But the Leafs didn’t have their first round pick.

Why?

Because Floyd Smith, who’d taken over from Gord Stellick[27] in the summer of 1989, made a move early in his tenure that would negatively shape the franchise until the present day. Rather than hold on to as many upcoming draft picks as possible,[28] Smith traded the Leafs 1991 first rounder to the New Jersey Devils for Tom Kurvers (aka the Original Phil Kessel). An offensive defenseman, Kurvers was coming off what would be his best season in the NHL (16 G, 50 A, 66 P in 70 games). He produced at a similar rate in his first season with the Leafs (15 G, 37 A, 52 P) and helped the Leafs make the playoffs. If the Leafs had just traded their first rounder in 1990, this probably wouldn’t have gone down as one of the worst trades in team history.

But 1990-91 started off slow. The Leafs were bad but Kurvers couldn’t get going either. He was limited to 19 games and had just three assists. So in January 1991, Toronto shipped him to Vancouver for Brian Bradley.[29] Bradley had a decent start to the year with Vancouver (31 points in 44 games) but mustered just 11 assists in his 26 games trying to help the Leafs avoid the basement. Smith spent the season trying to avoid the dire consequences of the original Kurvers trade. He made 13 trades during the 1990-91 season[30] picking up 14 players and assorted picks.[31]

So if the Leafs weren’t actually tanking, does it follow that the Nordiques were? Well, the proof is in a deal the two teams with each other in mid-November. Quebec sent Aaron Broten, Lucien DuBlois, and Michel Petit[32] to Toronto for Scott Pearson[33] and a couple second round picks (that never amounted to much). The veterans Quebec sent to Toronto weren’t good, but it still weakened the Nordiques and the return package didn’t help their NHL team that season.

So did it work? Yep! The Nordiques were terrible and finished in last place for the third season in a row. Expansion team San Jose picked next, and New Jersey, owners of the Leafs first rounder, picked third drafting the actual best player in the draft, Scott Niedermayer. Everyone got what they wanted, especially people who like to watch the Leafs suffer, or at least made the best of a bad situation. Everyone except for Eric Lindros that is.

Before the draft, Lindros signaled he didn’t want to play for the Nordiques, believing that it’s “isolation” and the French language would limited his marketability.[34] Quebec drafted him anyway. Lindros one-upped Lemieux when he both refused to put on the Nordiques jersey and wouldn’t agree to terms with his new team. The team’s president, Marcel Aubut, insisted that Lindros would be the centrepiece of Quebec’s resurgence or he wouldn’t play in the NHL. Lindros spent the 1991-92 season in the OHL back with the Generals and also represented Canada at the Olympics. He kept busy. The Nordiques wouldn’t budge.

It wasn’t until the 1992 draft[35] that the Lindros situation was resolved. The Nordiques agreed to a trade with both the Flyers and the Rangers for Lindros.[36] The Flyers filed a complaint and the deal went to an arbitrator who sided with the Flyers 11 days later. The package Quebec did receive from Philadelphia included Steve Duchesne, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, Peter Forsberg, the Flyers first round pick in 1993 and 1994, and $15 million.

The deal was transformative. Hextall was moved for a pick used to draft Adam Deadmarsh. The Nordiques drafted Jocelyn Thibault with one of the picks they got from the Flyers and he was flipped to Montreal, along with Martin Ručinský and Andrei Kovalenko, for Patrick Roy and Mike Keane.[37] Roy was integral to Colorado’s two Cup wins in 1996 and 2001, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Forsberg won the Calder in 1995 and both the Hart and Art Ross in 2003. However, tanking for Lindros was transformative because the Nordiques traded him, acquiring a player of similar calibre in Forsberg and players the team would use to acquire members of the Colorado core. But this wasn’t the plan and it wasn’t the move they wanted to make.[38]

Obviously, the franchise got the player they wanted so the tank worked. But drafting The Next One didn’t stabilize a financially precarious franchise in need of a new arena[39] because Lindros never dawned a Nordiques jersey.[40] Peter Forsberg may have had the better career, but he was never going to reach the mega star level that Lindros would have if he had played his prime in Canada, a player who was both best in the league and Canadian. While the Lindros trade won Colorado two Cups, the delays of Lindros not agreeing to terms with the Nordiques and for the pieces from his trade to bear fruit, hurt Quebec.

It’s also hard to ignore that the franchise’s best player was drafted four years earlier when the team was still good. Nor would any of this had happened if the Leafs weren’t actively trying to help Quebec tank to avoid further embarrassment. Tanking for Lemieux saved the Penguins franchise, but tanking for Lindros didn’t have the same success in Quebec.

That brings us to 1993, the Ottawa Senators, and the tank that would change hockey forever. More on Daigle and contemporary tanking in Part 2.

 

[1] Oh wait, yes I do. Tanking is in a roundabout way an attempt to creating a winning franchise. Condemning an athlete’s (or team’s) racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or other discrimination usually gets in the way of that. But hey, let’s lose the right way.

[2] Without even trying!

[3] Not on purpose, just a happy coincidence.

[4] Important to distinguish Carlyle the player from Carlyle the coach from Carlyle the philosopher. Carlyle the player was “probably the worst player to win the Norris ever” according to my dad.

[5] What a show that would have been. In the first televised NHL draft Lemieux refused to wear the jersey of the team that just drafted him because they couldn’t agree on a contract. For all the handwringing we get now when a player at the end of his ELC asks for a trade, we sort of forget the several instances in the past when rookies often said “nope” immediately to the team that drafted them.

[6] After the Coffey deal it would become increasingly evident that Oilers owner Peter Pocklington’s cheapness could be relied on. He kept the salary of the league’s best player, Wayne Gretzky, artificially low (and thereby keeping the salaries of Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, and Grant Fuhr low too). Gretzky was sold traded to Los Angeles the following summer and NHL salaries would never look the same again.

[7] Who didn’t? It was the 80s.

[8] Holy hell this was a steal. Though Mullen, an American, did want to return to the States.

[9] My kingdom for a time when you could acquire two top pairing defenseman and the only player of note you gave up was Sportsnet analyst Craig Simpson.

[10] This alone makes it a Pens win.

[11] Future way too old Toronto Maple Leaf, Ron Francis.

[12] Haha just kidding. I’m pretty sure Ronald Reagan didn’t give a crap about hockey and attributing the fall of European Communism to him is incredibly disrespectful and dishonest to the thousands of Poles, Czechs, Germans, Russians, etc. on the ground risking everything for a different political system. But crediting him with this has really helped prop up Reagan’s horrible legacy and Neo Liberalism as a Good Thing in the U.S. so that’s nice. Now, David Hasselhoff on the other hand…

[13] Sounds straightforward right? Would it surprise you that the newly-minted Ottawa Senators were preparing to head into their first NHL draft in 1992 (also, coincidentally the first draft since the Soviet Union fell in December 1991), without any European scouts until John Ferguson Sr. the Sens director of player personnel, pointed out that it might be advantageous to hire a few. Probably a good idea, since the Senators drafted Russian superstar Alexei Yashin with their first ever draft pick.

[14] It’s called the Velvet Revolution, look it up. There’s a poetic justice to a player who wears 68 in honour of the Prague Spring coming of age during the Velvet Revolution.

[15] Paul Coffey was only on the 1991 team. The number will increase to seven when Jaromir Jagr retires in 37 years.

[16] Canada didn’t take an 18-year-old Sidney Crosby to Turin in 2006 for comparison.

[17] This sounds familiar. Sigh.

[18] The 1980 defection of brothers Peter and Anton brought Quebec instant respectability. When older brother Marian joined them the following year, the Nordiques had the best brother line in NHL history.

[19] Oof.

[20] It never is.

[21] The Leafs took Luke Richardson at seven. So yeah.

[22] Pretty similar to Jagr’s goal and point total from that year, also his rookie season.

[23] Who?

[24]Actually he was a journeyman NHLer who split his career between the NHL and the minors. I remember his hockey cards because he had very thick, full, blond hair. No helmet baldness here.

[25] But then he also smoked cigarettes between periods.

[26] Think of all the pointless Jason Spezza and Steven Stamkos rumours and the disappointment over missing out on Tyler Seguin and Connor McDavid. Leafs love a local so it’s not just an Ottawa thing.

[27] Yeah, the radio guy. His claim to fame as Leafs GM was being the youngest ever to hold that title. The 80s were rough for Toronto.

[28] Perhaps it’s because when the Leafs had three first round picks in 1989 (drafting Scott Thornton 3rd, Rob Pearson 12th, and Steve Bancroft 21st) they picked three players from the Belleville Bulls leaving many to joke that the Leafs scouting budget that year had been enough to cover the gas for the two hour drive on the 401. With Harold Ballard as owner, it was certainly a possibility.

[29] The Leafs left Bradley unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft so essentially it was a 1991 first rounder for a guy who was picked up for free by Tampa Bay.

[30] That’s a lot.

[31] These trades actually did provide some of the depth players for the successful Leafs teams of 1992-94. Dave Ellett, a defenseman with offensive upside, Peter Zezel, a checking centre, and defenseman Bob Rouse.

[32] Broten was underwhelming in Toronto and Petit and DuBois chipped in offensively. Perhaps the greatest outcome of this trade was that Petit was part of a package including Gary Leeman, Jeff Reese, Craig Berube, and Alexander Godynyuk (who was also in Die Hard) to the Calgary Flames in January 1992, for Jamie Macoun, Kent Manderville, Rick Wamsley, Ric Nattress, and Doug Gilmour.

[33] Pearson spent the rest of the season with Quebec’s AHL team and bounced between the NHL and the minors during his career.

[34] It was definitely more complex than that. Lindros had always been a player determined to control his own destiny. When he was drafted by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in junior he refused to play for them and was traded to the Oshawa Generals where he did wonderful things (as my many Oshawa-based relatives remind me). Lindros’ parents, Carl and Bonnie, were active in his career and contract negotiations (Carl was his agent) and this definitely rubbed hockey people and the media the wrong way. Flyers GM Bobby Clarke called Carl abusive and claimed he meddled in team affairs. However, on multiple occasions the Flyers medical staff misdiagnosed their son’s injuries, and pressured him to play hurt, including a life-threatening collapsed lung in 1999. Lindros was expected to be on the team’s flight after suffering the lung injury, which likely would have killed him; he received medical attention only at the insistence of teammate Keith Jones (this was a well-known story in the late 90s and early 2000s which is seven layers of messed up when you consider this neglect was known and yet Lindros was still vilified for not rushing back from injuries and prioritizing his safety). Most likely, Carl Lindros and Bobby Clarke are both assholes who couldn’t get along. The French language has been a barrier for some NHLers, stopping them from playing for the Canadiens or Nordiques but Quebec in the early 90s was a different place politically. 18-year-old top prospects might not have been following the ongoing constitutional debates that had preoccupied the Mulroney government since Meech Lake, but growing fears of separation couldn’t be ignored. The province’s second referendum on separation was only four short years away in 1995 so there were concerns about the direction of the team and the province.

[35] And some insistence from the league president to resolve the situation if you believe Wikipedia – and we do!

[36] One wonders if the Rangers would have broken the franchise’s 50-year Cup drought had their trade been accepted. New York was rumoured to have offered Tony Amonte, Alexei Kovalev, John Vanbeisbrouck, Doug Weight, three first round picks (1993, 1994, and 1996) and $12 million. It’s ok, Lindros would eventually make it to the Big Apple.

[37] Hahahaha what a steal. Also, there’s a deal that never would have happened if Quebec hadn’t moved to Denver a few months before and then maybe all of this would have been for nothing.

[38] It does make you wonder why some teams that have been bad for a while (see Edmonton) don’t trade someone from the bounty to address roster holes.

[39] Think a star can’t land a new stadium? Talk to Lemieux and Crosby in Pittsburgh, or Junior in Seattle.

[40] He would of course wear Flyers, Rangers, and Leafs jerseys during the course of his career. All the teams that originally coveted him.

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