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  • Writer's pictureDerek Ochej

What goes around comes around: free agency in the early 1990s

526 - Louie DeBrusk















As part of the dismantling of the Oilers dynasty, Edmonton traded Mark Messier to the New York Rangers for DeBrusk, Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice and a player to be named later. The Oilers completed the trade by sending Jeff Beukeboom to the Rangers for David Shaw.


Louie DeBrusk - played six seasons with Oilers, scoring 31 points and recording 797 penalty minutes in 228 games. DeBrusk signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 1997.


Bernie Nicholls - three seasons removed from scoring 70 goals with the Kings, Nicholls played parts of two seasons with Oilers, totaling 95 games, 28 goals and 89 points. He was traded less than two years later to New Jersey for Zdeno Ciger and Kevin Todd. The biggest name acquired by the Oilers in the trade, Nicholls finished second in scoring for the Oilers in the 1992 playoffs with 8 goals and 19 points.


Steven Rice - played 94 games over three seasons with Edmonton. In his final season with the Oilers he played 63 games, scoring 17 goals and 32 points. Rice signed as a free agent with Hartford in 1994.


David Shaw - played 12 games with Oilers, scoring two points before a January 1992 trade to Minnesota for Brian Glynn.


Mark Messier - in his first season with the Rangers Messier scored 35 goals and 107 points, won the Hart and Pearson for the second time in his career and was named a first-team all-star. In 1994 he was a key player in the Rangers’ first Stanley Cup win in 54 years, scoring 12 goals and 30 points in the playoffs. Messier played a full decade with Rangers with a three year interlude in Vancouver. He was named captain immediately upon joining the team and is an all-time franchise great. We also can’t forget he was runner up for the Hart in 1996.


Jeff Beukeboom - played eight seasons with Rangers, appearing in 520 games, scoring 90 points and recording 1157 penalty minutes. A tough defence first defenceman, his career ended at age 33 due to concussions.


Obviously the Rangers are the winner of this trade. Messier authored a fantastic second act, becoming the first, and as of this date, only player to captain two different franchises to Stanley Cup victories. Also don’t discount the value of a player like Jeff Beukeboom, who was also a franchise fixture for almost a decade. 


527 - Dave McLlwain














McLlwain was traded twice within a two-week span in October 1991. For the purpose of this blog we will cover his first trade which sent him, along with Gord Donnelly, a fifth-round pick and cash to Buffalo for Mike Hartman, Dean Kennedy and Darrin Shannon.


Dave McLlwain - played only five games with Sabres, recording a -3 rating. He was traded two weeks later to the New York Islanders as one of seven players in the Pierre Turgeon for Pat LaFontaine trade.


Gord Donnelly - played parts of three seasons with the Sabres, recording 16 points and 557 penalty minutes in 134 games, including 316 penalty minutes in the 1991-92 season (sixth in NHL). Donnelly was traded in December 1993 to Dallas for James Black and a seventh round pick (Steve Webb).


Yuri Khmylev - the Sabres selected Khmylev with the fifth round pick acquired in the trade. He played four seasons for the Sabres, scoring 27 goals and 58 points in 1993-94. Khmylev was traded in March 1996 to St. Louis in exchange for two draft picks and enforcer Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre. The Sabres used their third round pick to draft Maxim Afinogenov who had some decent scoring seasons with the mid-2000s Sabres.


Mike Hartman - played 75 games for Jets in 1991-92, scoring eight points and recording 264 penalty minutes. In 1992 he was selected by Tampa Bay in the expansion draft.


Dean Kennedy - in three full seasons with Jets (1991-94), Kennedy scored 24 points and recorded 290 penalty minutes in 172 games. He was claimed off waivers by Edmonton in January 1995.


Darrin Shannon - the former fourth overall pick wasn’t given much chance in Buffalo. In Shannon’s first three seasons with Jets he recorded seasons of 39, 60 and 58 points, including two seasons of 20+ goals. He moved with the franchise to Phoenix, staying in the organization until the 1998-99 season.


The Jets of the early 1990s were suffering. The franchise hadn‘t won a playoff series since 1987, and moved to Phoenix in 1996. The Sabres were a bit more successful, having made the playoffs every year from 1988 to 1995, but won only one series during that time. Overall this is a minor trade that didn’t move the needle for either franchise - call it a draw.


528 - Gary Leeman















Two days into 1992 one of the largest trades in NHL history in terms of the number of players took place between Toronto and Calgary. The Maple Leafs traded Gary Leeman, Craig Berube, Alexander Godynyuk, Michel Petit and Jeff Reese to Calgary for Doug Gilmour, Jamie Macoun, Kent Manderville, Ric Nattress and Rick Wamsley.


Craig Berube - in two seasons in Calgary, Berube played 113 games, scoring 17 points and recording 264 penalty minutes. He was traded to Washington in June 1993 for a fifth round draft pick. At the time of this writing Berube is rumoured to be a candidate for the Leafs' head coaching position (spring 2024).


Alexander Godynyuk - in one season with Calgary, played in 33 games, scoring eight points. Godynyuk was claimed by Florida in the 1993 expansion draft.


Michel Petit - the man who would play with ten different NHL franchises in his career, his time in Calgary was his second longest career stop, with 134 games over three seasons, scoring eight goals and 48 points. During the 1994-95 off-season Petit signed with Los Angeles as a free agent.


Jeff Reese - the goaltender played parts of three seasons for the Flames, posting a 17-6-3 record. Playing a backup role to Mike Vernon before being usurped by Andrei Trefilov and Trevor Kidd, Reese was traded in November 1993 to Hartford for Dan Keczmer.


Gary Leeman - two seasons removed from a 50 goal season, Leeman played in 59 games over two seasons, scoring 11 goals and 23 points for Calgary. In January 1993 he was traded to Montreal for Brian Skrudland.


Doug Gilmour - the key player in the trade, Killer played six seasons with the Leafs. During this time he won the Selke in 1993, finished second in Selke voting in 1994, was runner up for the Hart Trophy in 1993 and finished fourth in 1994. He twice scored 100+ points, finishing top ten in the league in both seasons. Team success also followed, with the Leafs making back-to-back Western Conference Finals appearances in 1993 and 1994, with Gilmour scoring 35 and 28 points in each playoffs. An assistant captain from 1992 to 1994 and captain in 1995, Gilmour was traded to New Jersey in February 1997 with Dave Ellett for Alyn McCauley, Jason Smith and Steve Sullivan. Dougie returned to the Leafs in 2003 at the trade deadline, but would play only one game before blowing out his knee and retiring.


Jamie Macoun - played seven seasons with Leafs, scoring 101 points and recording 506 penalty minutes. Macoun left the Leafs via trade in March 1998 to Detroit for fourth round pick, which the Leafs used to select Alexei Ponikarovsky.


Kent Manderville - played four seasons in Leafs organization, playing in 136 games and scoring 23 points. Manderville played a season with the Canadian National Team and spent some time in the AHL while with the Leafs. He was traded to Edmonton in December 1995 for Peter White and a fourth round draft pick.


Ric Nattress - played 36 games with Leafs in the 1991-92 season, scoring 16 points. He signed as a free agent with Philadelphia in 1992-93.


Rick Wamsley - appeared in 11 games over two seasons with Toronto, posting 4-6-0 record, 4.29 GAA. The 1982 Jennings Trophy winner retired following the 1992-93 season to join the Leafs coaching staff.


The winner of this trade is pretty clear. Doug Gilmour became a Leafs legend and Hall of Famer in his time in Toronto, elevating himself from a good player to superstar. The Gilmour effect alone is greater than the impact any of the Leafs players sent to Calgary had with the Flames, but don’t discount Toronto acquiring Jamie Macoun, a solid mid-pair defenceman who played eight seasons with the team. 


529 - Adam Foote















A defenceman, Foote was drafted 22nd overall in the 1989 draft by Quebec after his rookie season in the OHL with Sault Ste. Marie. He played two more seasons with the Greyhounds, recording 59 points in 69 games. Foote turned pro in the 1991-92 season, playing only six games in the AHL along with 46 games with the Nordiques.


Foote became a full-time NHLer in his sophomore season, playing in 81 games scoring 16 points and recording 168 penalty minutes. He moved with the franchise to Colorado for the 1995-96 season, and would play in all 22 playoff games as the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in the first season of existence. Over the next eight seasons in Colorado Foote established himself as one of the top stay-at-home defenceman in the NHL. During the 2002-03 season he scored career-highs in goal (11) and points (31) and finished 10th in Norris Trophy voting. Foote won his second Stanley Cup in 2001, contributing three goals and seven points along with 47 penalty minutes.


In August 2005 he signed with Columbus as a free agent and was immediately named team captain. Foote lasted three seasons as a Blue Jacket before a February 2008 trade back to Colorado for first round and fourth round draft picks. He would spend three more seasons in Colorado, playing between 42-67 games each season before retiring in April 2011, spending his final two seasons as team captain.


In 19 NHL seasons Foote played in 1156 games, scoring 66 goals and 308 points while recording 1534 penalty minutes. In 2013 he rejoined the Avs as a consultant, staying in the role until 2017 when he accepted the head coaching position with Kelowna in the WHL. Foote was fired after two seasons with the Rockets and since 2022 has been an assistant coach with Vancouver. His sons Cal and Nolan have both played in the NHL.


YouTube clip: fighting Brendan Shanahan at the height of the Avalanche/Red Wings rivalry.


530 - Kevin Dineen

















In November 1991 Hartford traded power forward Kevin Dineen to Philadelphia for Murray Craven and a fourth round draft pick.


Kevin Dineen - played five seasons with Flyers, highlighted by the 1992-92 season, scoring 35 goals and recording 201 penalty minutes. During Dineen’s five seasons, the Flyers made the playoffs once, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1995. Dineen finished fifth in team scoring in those playoffs with 6 goals and 10 points in 15 games.  He was traded back to Hartford in 1996 for two draft picks;  the pick used by the Flyers never played in the NHL, and the other draft pick was traded back to Hartford in a separate deal.


Murray Craven - played parts of two seasons with Hartford, appearing in 128 games, scoring 49 goals and 121 points. In March 1993 Craven was traded to Vancouver with a fifth round pick (used to select Scott Walker) for Robert Kron, a third round pick (used to select Marek Malik) and future considerations (Jim Sandlak).


Brad Smyth - the Whalers used the draft pick acquired in the trade to select Smyth, the brother of Oilers’ legend Ryan Smyth. Brad played 58 games with the Whalers between 1993 and 1996, then spent the rest of career in minors. Brad played senior hockey in his home province of British Columbia from 2002-2018.


This trade is a nothing-burger in terms of long term franchise impact. Both Dineen and Craven were serviceable with their new franchises. Perhaps most interesting, Scott Walker eventually played four seasons with Carolina, and Marek Malik and Jim Sandlak ended up playing significant time in Vancouver.


531 - Dave Reid
















Reid wasn’t traded, but rather signed as a free agent with Boston on December 1, 1991. This was during a time when NHL free agency was beginning to be loosened from total owner control and give players a bit more leeway. During the 1991 off-season several ‘offer sheets’ were tendered to free agents. An offer sheet basically gave the team that would be losing a player the ability to match the contract, or receive compensation based on the players categorization of which there were four categories based on age/playing experience.


During the 1991 off-season eight offer sheets were tendered. Below is a brief summary:


Dave Christian, Dave Thomlinson and Glen Featherstone - Christian (Boston) signed an offer sheet with St. Louis, which four days later Boston responded to by signing Glen Featherstone and Dave Thomlinson to offer sheets. In the end St. Louis declined to match for Featherstone and Thomlinson and was awarded Christian and two draft picks as compensation.


Brendan Shanahan - one of the most famous cases, St. Louis signed the budding superstar, who was in Category I and could not be offered a matching contract. The Blues offered Curtis Joseph and Rod Brind’Amour along with draft picks as compensation. The Devils asked for Scott Stevens, whom the Blues had signed as a free agent just one year prior. An arbitrator sided with the Devils, and Stevens would go on to win three Cups with New Jersey. One could only wonder about the butterfly effect if the arbitrator chose the Joseph/Brind'Amour compensation package.


Michel Goulet - the Blues tried to snag the goal scorer from Chicago, but their offer sheet was matched.


Troy Crowder - like Shanahan, New Jersey couldn’t match the offer made by Detroit. The Devils requested Bob Probert as compensation, but were instead awarded Dave Barr and Randy McKay.


Adam Graves - Edmonton couldn’t match the Rangers’ offer (like Crowder and Shanahan) and were awarded Troy Mallette after requesting Steven Rice and Louie DeBrusk. The Oilers would get Rice and DeBrusk a few months later as part of the Mark Messier trade (as mentioned at the start of this post).


Kevin Stevens - Pittsburgh matched Boston’s offer. Boston acquired Stevens four seasons later in a trade with Pittsburgh.

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