5 blockbuster NHL deals that almost happened

When it comes to the NHL transactions, the only thing hockey fans care about is how the business affects their favourite team: Who’s leaving us? Who are we getting? Hence all the hoopla surrounding trade deadline day.

Do you ever wonder about trades that were supposed to go down but never did? Do you picture your favourite team’s general manager ready to make a move but when it comes time to ink the deal he pulls his pen away?

Here are five trades or signings over the past few decades that were close to happening but never did come to fruition.

5. New York Rangers almost acquire rookie Eric Lindros

Every hockey fan knows the saga that was Eric Lindros right after he was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques.

Lindros made it perfectly clear that he was never going to play for the Nordiques and that he wanted to suit up elsewhere. Even though that was the case, the Nordiques tried to sign Lindros to a 10-year deal worth a reported $50 million.

According to Greatest Hockey Legends.com, Lindros responded with this: “If they offered me $100 million, I would not play for them.”

As such, the Nordiques were doing what they could to deal the prized No.1 pick of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. As it turned out, general manager Neil Smith of the New York Rangers and Nordiques general manager Pierre Page had come up with a deal to make that happen.

The Blueshirts would give up goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck, talented young forward Tony Amonte, (who was a Calder Trophy runner-up the season prior, to Vancouver Canucks forward Pavel Bure), young forward Doug Weight, prized prospect Alexei Kovalev, as well as cash and draft picks.

The deal that was proposed in the off-season of 1992 never went through. If it did, however, it certainly would have been a trade of blockbuster proportions.

Ironically, Lindros would become a Ranger later in his career, from the 2001-02 season through the 2003-04 season. However, it was obvious that Lindros was not the player that he once was with the Philadelphia Flyers for eight years of his career.

4. Pat LaFontaine a Red Wing?

Back in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, the Detroit Red Wings were an NHL franchise to be reckoned with.

The team had won seven Stanley Cups between 1936 and 1955 and had benefitted from several elite players, strong leaders, and winning coaches, some of whom would end up being Hall of Famers when all was said and done.

However, entering the 1983-84 season, the Red Wings had lost their lustre. They were not exactly a winning franchise, and the team and its fans knew it.

New team owner Mike Ilitch and general manager Jimmy Devellano had the opportunity to take homegrown Little Caesars hockey talent Pat LaFontaine with the fourth overall pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft.

As it turned out, Devellano’s former employer, the New York Islanders, ended up snatching LaFontaine with the third pick, which the Isles acquired from the now-defunct Colorado Rockies.

The Wings would not go away empty-handed, however. They ended up taking some guy named Steve Yzerman.

3. How Joe Sakic was nearly a Ranger

When the New York Rangers let Mark Messier go to the Vancouver Canucks after the 1996-97 season, there was a big hole to fill in terms of production and leadership.

Then Rangers’ general manager Neil Smith thought he had the perfect guy to fill Messier’s shoes: Joe Sakic of the Colorado Avalanche.

On Aug. 6, 1997, the New York Times reported that the Rangers signed Sakic to an offer sheet of $21 million over three seasons. At that time, Sakic was a restricted free agent in the Group 2 category, which meant that the Avalanche had a week to match the offer and keep him. If they failed to match it, the Avs would receive five first-round draft choices from the Blueshirts as compensation.

As it turned out, the Avalanche matched the offer sheet and kept Sakic, who would end up leading Colorado to its second Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2001:

2. Datsyuk the Devil?

In 2007, there was much uncertainty when it came to Pavel Datsyuk and the Detroit Red Wings.

Because of the low salary cap, the Red Wings and Datsyuk were in the midst of contract talks when a midseason trade rumour almost became reality.

The deal would have sent Datsyuk to the New Jersey Devils for then talented forward and point-producer Scott Gomez. While this rumour sounds like a deal dreamed up by fantasy hockey GMs, it was reported as a nearly done deal by Fox Sports Detroit.

Luckily for the Wings, the transaction never occurred. Datsyuk, of course, is one of the game’s best two-way players and a key component of the team’s Stanley Cup victory in 2008.

1. How the Rangers let Mr. Hockey slip away

While the legendary Gordie Howe was obviously a great Detroit Red Wing, he actually could have been a great New York Ranger. A scout by the name of Fred McCorry saw a 15-year-old Howe as a dominating force in games in Saskatoon and convinced the Rangers to sign Howe to a tryout at training camp.

Coming to Broadway was intimidating for Howe. At the time, Howe was a shy and introverted 15-year-old. It was believed that Howe did not like New York City at all.

As a result, Howe ended up performing poorly and left the Big Apple not only because of that, but because the team’s veterans were teasing him all of the time and because he was homesick.

That winter, things changed for Howe. A Detroit scout by the name of Fred Pinckney took Howe under his, um, wing and convinced Howe to visit the team’s training camp in Windsor, Ont. The rest, as they say is history.

Howe would go on to become one of hockey’s greatest players ever. He led the NHL in career goals and points until Wayne Gretzky came into the league and shattered them all. It is safe to say that the Rangers missed out on the best thing in hockey.

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