Remembering 5 big NHL trades between eventual Stanley Cup finalists

I’m starting to get the sinking feeling that this season may come and go without one of my favorite types of trades.

That would be a deal between two teams that end up facing each other in the next Stanley Cup Final, one where the player (or players) involved get to try to cost their former team a championship. There’s still hope — maybe Anthony Mantha gets a shot at the Capitals, or Sam Lafferty gets some payback against the Maple Leafs, or Sean Walker crosses paths with the Flyers. But it doesn’t seem like Reilly Smith is going to get a crack at the Knights or that we’ll see Tyler Toffoli haunting the Devils, and it looks like we’ll have to wait until next year for the inevitable Bowen Byram/Casey Mittelstadt Stanley Cup showdown.

It’s a shame. But it’s not unusual, because as you’d probably expect, big trades between eventual finalists are rare. Rare, but not unheard of. So today, let’s Remember Some Trades by counting down five trades between teams that ended up facing off in a Stanley Cup Final matchup months down the line.

No. 5: Doug Lidster goes from Vancouver to New York in 1993

Lidster was a sturdy defenseman, responsible in his own end and good for 20 or 30 points most seasons (along with one outlier year in 1986-87 where he got power-play duty and put up a career-best 63). By the time the 1993 offseason rolled around, the homegrown talent had been a Vancouver mainstay for a full decade.

Then they traded him to the Rangers for a guy you didn’t know was ever a Canuck.

It gets a bit weird, because this was an expansion year. With the Mighty Ducks and Panthers on their way into the league, the Canucks were worried about losing one of their goaltending duo of veteran Kirk McLean and youngster Kay Whitmore, while the Rangers would have to break up the combo of Mike Richter and John Vanbiesbrouck. The two teams worked out a deal that would send Vanbiesbrouck to Vancouver for Lidster, meaning the Rangers wouldn’t lose a star goaltender for nothing and the Canucks would be more likely to keep their existing pair together. That’s how it worked out: Vanbiesbrouck went to the Panthers with the expansion draft’s No. 1 pick — not from the Rangers, as most fans remember it, but from the Canucks.

Almost a year later, the two teams met for the Stanley Cup. And while Lidster had had a rocky season in New York and had even been a scratch through most of the playoffs, he came back to haunt his former team in the Final. He scored twice in that series, including a highlight-reel goal in Game 2 to help the Rangers tie the series.

Fun fact that isn’t any fun at all if you’re a Vancouver fan: Those two goals against the Canucks in the Final would be the only two Lidster scored that entire season.

No. 4: The Devils send Slava Fetisov to Detroit at the 1995 deadline

There won’t be a ton of Hall of Famers on today’s list, but here’s one. Fetisov was in his sixth season in New Jersey after becoming one of the first Soviet stars to join the league in 1989. He’d been a solid piece of the Devils’ blue line, but was 35 years old and starting to see his ice time drop. Despite being Cup contenders, the Devils flipped Fetisov to the Red Wings for a third-round pick at the deadline in April.

Sure enough, a few months later the Devils met Fetisov and the heavily favored Red Wings in the Final. And with some lingering bad blood and a few choice words about playing style, Fetisov seemed ready to twist the knife on his former team. But unlike Lidster, there was no dramatic payback story here. Fetisov had three points in the Final, which was more than Detroit got from Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom or Paul Coffey. But he was also a minus-5 as the Devils swept the Wings to win the first Cup in franchise history.

For what it’s worth, Fetisov stuck around in Detroit long enough to win back-to-back Cups in 1997 and 1998, then returned to the Devils as an assistant coach to win another in 2000.

No. 3: The Devils and Ducks pull off a blockbuster in 2002

In 1995, the Devils probably had a pretty good idea that if they made the Final, they could see Fetisov and the Red Wings there. But in 2002, it’s fair to say they wouldn’t have been too concerned about running into the Mighty Ducks in the postseason. Entering their 10th season in the NHL, the Mighty Ducks had only one series win to their credit, and hadn’t even made the playoffs in three years. They were coming off a 69-point season in which names like Mike Leclerc and Matt Cullen were among their leading scorers; they were basically Paul Kariya and a bunch of depth pieces. The Ducks went into the 2002-03 season as 100-to-1 underdogs to win the Cup.

But first, they pulled off a seven-player blockbuster with the Devils. In July, the Ducks sent Jeff Friesen, Oleg Tverdovsky and prospect Maxim Balmochnykh to New Jersey for Petr Sykora, Mike Commodore and prospects Jean-Francois Damphousse and Igor Pohanka. The thinking at the time was that the Ducks were getting younger and cheaper under new GM Bryan Murray, while the Devils were loading up for another run at a Cup.

As it turned out, both teams were doing the latter. The Devils lived up to their billing as Eastern favorites, making the Final for the third time in four years. Meanwhile, the Ducks shocked the hockey world by making the playoffs and then pulling off a string of upsets. By that point, Commodore and Damphousse had been flipped to the Flames for Rob Niedermayer, while Sykora, Friesen and Tverdovsky were all playing key roles for their new teams.

Sykora would end up leading the Ducks in scoring in the Final, but it was the Devils who narrowly got the last laugh. Friesen was the difference, scoring five goals in the Final, including two in a 3-0 Game 7 win.

No. 2: The Penguins get Larry Murphy from the North Stars

Those 2003 Ducks were unlikely finalists. But they weren’t the most unlikely, an honor that probably has to go to the 1990-1991 North Stars. That team was less than three years removed from finishing dead last, hadn’t won a playoff round in five years, and by midseason was on the way to a miserable 68-point total.

Not surprisingly, they were open to shaking things up. And so, in December 1990, the North Stars sent Larry Murphy and Peter Taglianetti to the struggling Penguins for Chris Dahlquist and Jim Johnson. It was a rare trade featuring four guys who all played the same position, an all-blueliner affair that saw Minnesota get cheaper, which was often their main goal in those days. Luckily for them, this was the 21-team NHL and they played in the Norris Division, so those measly 68 points were enough to get them into the playoffs. And once they were there, they went on a Cinderella run all the way to the Final.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh continued a shakeup that would culminate in the Ron Francis blockbuster at the 1991 deadline. They weren’t quite there yet, but adding Murphy nudged them forward.

That nudge turned into a turbo boost by the Final, where Murphy haunted his old team by racking up 10 points, the most of anyone in the series who wasn’t Mario Lemieux. That included four points in a 6-4 Game 5 win that put the Penguins ahead for good, plus two more points in the finale. That was just a bit more than the one assist each the North Stars got from Dahlquist and Johnson.

Also, Taglianetti went on to fail to slam a 600-pound WWF champion, so maybe the trade all evened out.

No. 1: The Oilers and Bruins swap goalies at the 1988 deadline

This will be confusing for modern-day NHL fans, who are constantly assured that trading for a goaltender during the season is impossible. (It’s isn’t.) But back in 1988, the Oilers and Bruins pulled off a deal at the deadline that would turn out to be mildly important for both franchises.

At the time, the Oilers were looking for their fourth Stanley Cup. Andy Moog had been a key part of the first three, with four top-10 Vezina finishes in five years as Grant Fuhr’s platoon partner. But he’d been sitting out the 1987-88 season in a contract dispute, playing instead for the Canadian Olympic team. With no end to the stalemate in sight, the Oilers finally blinked, sending Moog to the Bruins for Bill Ranford, Geoff Courtnall and a draft pick.

The experienced Moog turned out to be a strong fit for a Bruins team that had been trying to break through for years, teaming with Réjean Lemelin to guide Boston to their first Stanley Cup Final in a decade. Unfortunately, they ran into the Oilers while they were there and were swept in five games, with Moog going a disappointing 0-2-1. Yes, a five-game sweep where a goalie got credit for a tie. It was the 1980s, the NHL was weird.

So, why does this one rank No. 1, when Moog was just OK, Courtnall didn’t do much in Edmonton that year, and Ranford didn’t even see the ice in the playoffs? Because we’re cheating just a bit. The Oilers and Bruins did indeed meet the same year they made this trade. Then they met again two years after that, in 1990, and this time it was Moog vs. Ranford in a one-on-one showdown between the two goalies who’d once been traded for each other. Ranford won the battle decisively, posting a .949 save percentage in the Final as the Oilers won yet again. He earned the Conn Smythe for his efforts, against the team that had traded him away two years earlier because they needed a playoff goaltender.

You know what, maybe trades between future Cup finalists aren’t always a good idea after all.

(Top photos of Andy Moog and Bill Ranford: Steve Crandall and Graig Abel / Getty Images) 

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