Some deals seem too good to be true and later turn out to be death knolls, while other smaller, simpler deals turn out to be jackpots. Here’s a list of the California Seals/Cleveland Barons five greatest steals at the trading table and the franchise’s five biggest busts.
I should probably point out exactly how I rated these ten trades. First, I considered how much the players helped their new teams. Second, I considered how good the traded players would play for the rest of their careers, meaning that the Seals were astute to pick up such a player, but boneheaded to let him go. Finally, I considered how the traded players were used as bargaining chips in future deals with other clubs.
Five Fabulous Deals:
- Feb. 23, 1972: Carol Vadnais and Don O’Donoghue to Boston for Reggie Leach, Rick Smith and Bob Stewart. The Bruins were looking for another offensive defenseman to compliment the great Bobby Orr. At the time, Vadnais complained that Seals fans always wanted him to play like Bobby Orr; therefore, he wanted out of Oakland. In the end, both teams got what they wanted. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup that season, and the Seals got three quality players for their former all-star defenseman. While the Seals certainly missed Vadnais’s offensive contributions, Dick Redmond and Paul Shmyr had already emerged as solid offensive defensemen, so the club could afford to trade Vadnais and spare-part Don O’Donoghue for three promising prospects, Reggie Leach, Rick Smith, and Bobby Stewart. General manager Garry Young had worked as a scout for the Bruins, and he knew exactly what he was getting in return. For him, the key to the deal was Leach, a player of unlimited potential. Smith was a solid two-way defenseman who would go on to a pretty good career in the NHL and WHA. Stewart was tough as nails, and he would become the Seals’ all-time leader in games played and penalty minutes as well as team captain. Why did the Seals go down hill after this trade? Well, that had more to do with Finley practically handing his players an engraved invitation to jump to the World Hockey Association. Leach, Smith, and Stewart all played well the following season, but too much was expected of them after the WHA raids had reduced the Seals’ roster to that of a minor-league team. By 1974, the Seals were coming off a 13-win season, and the roster needed to be overhauled. Leach, who had enjoyed great success playing alongside Philadelphia Flyers star Bobby Clarke in Flin Flon, Manitoba, was destined to end up back alongside his friend, but the Seals swung a good deal with Philly. Leach was traded for Al MacAdam, who would become the Seals/Barons franchise’s all-time leader in points, and the team’s ironman (320 consecutive games played). Leach went on to win a Stanley Cup in 1975, and he enjoyed 40, 50 and 60-goal seasons with the Flyers. As for Rick Smith, he fled to the WHA after the 1972-73 season, and eventually ended up back in Boston. One year later, only Stewart remained with the Seals. Overall, the Seals-Bruins trade was positive for both teams as far as quality of players goes. The Seals got quality players in return, and trading Leach turned out to be a decent move as well, even though his goal total would only explode in Philly. Bottom line: I wouldn’t say the Seals fleeced the Bruins on this deal, but the Seals certainly came out nicely with three quality players for one disgruntled defenseman and a fifth wheel.
- May 20, 1971: Dennis Hextall to Minnesota for Joey Johnston and Walt McKechnie. Dennis Hextall scored 52 points in his first full NHL season and he led the Seals in penalty minutes by a mile. The ornery Hextall had star potential written all over him, and his future seemed bright, but the Seals were wise to trade the feisty left winger while his value was high. Joey Johnston and Walt McKechnie both became top scorers for the Seals. Essentially, the Seals traded one very good player for two players of the same calibre. In my book, that means coming out ahead. McKechnie led the Seals with 54 points in 78 games in 1972-73 and finished third with 52 points in just 63 games the following season. McKetch simply seemed to get better with each passing year. When the Seals realized their need for a better defense corps, McKechnie was sent to New York in a three-way trade also involving the Boston Bruins. The Seals came out well in that trade too, receiving all-star defenseman Jim Neilson, who provided the young Seals with four solid seasons. Johnston left a bigger lasting impression on Seals fans. He led the Seals with 28 goals in goals in 1972-73 and 27 in 1973-74. In the latter season, Johnston led the Seals in points (67). During his tenure in Oakland, Johnston participated in three NHL all-star games, became the club’s all-time leader in goals (84) and points (185), and he remained so until Al MacAdam and Dennis Maruk both surpassed him three years later during the club’s final season. Bottom line: had Hextall flamed out in Minnesota, this deal would have been a contender for the number one spot, but Hextall scored 300 points in 328 games with the Stars. McKechnie and Johnston were cornerstones of the Seals franchise for the following few seasons, scoring a combined 322 points in 485 games. In the end, a win-win for both teams.
- Nov. 17, 1971: Richard LeDuc and Chris Oddleifson to Boston for Ivan Boldirev. Although both teams came out well in deals four and five on this list, the Seals fleeced the Bruins badly on this deal. Garry Young worked his magic and dumped a couple of players who were not in the team’s plans and picked up a future star in Ivan Boldirev. The young Yugoslavian struggled with his health his first two seasons in Oakland, but broke out big time in year three scoring 56 points. The trade could have been higher on the list had Boldirev stuck around a few more years, but considering his trade to Chicago brought the Seals Mike Christie and Len Frig, players who immediately helped solidify the Seals’ ailing defense, this trade is still one of Young’s best. As for LeDuc, he played just 33 games and scored a whopping eight points for Boston over two seasons before bolting to the WHA. He would find greater success there, scoring 390 points in 394 games with Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Quebec before returning to the NHL for another 97 games with the Nordiques. Oddleifson had a decent NHL career scoring 286 points in 524 games, but only 55 of those games (21 points) were spent with the Bruins. The Bruins would have been wise to hang on to Boldirev, who wound up scoring 361 goals and 866 points during his 15-year NHL career. By the time Boldirev retired in 1985, both LeDuc and Oddleifson were long gone from the NHL.
- Jan. 9, 1968: Kent Douglas to Detroit for Ted Hampson, Bert Marshall, and John Brenneman. It’s doubtful the Red Wings stayed up late at night cursing themselves for agreeing to this deal, but the Seals were certainly happy with its results. The Seals were able to pawn off the disgruntled, unhappy, unproductive Kent Douglas to the Motor City for two players who would help transform the Seals into a solid franchise (well, by Seals standards anyway; that is, about a season or so), and another player who gave the Seals some sorely needed depth at forward. Take a gander at the statistics put up by the players acquired by each franchise and you’ll see what I mean: Hampson, Marshall, and Brenneman (611 games, 80 goals, 193 assists, 273 points) vs. Douglas (105 games, 9 goals, 39 assists, 48 points). These stats might not seem impressive, but remember that Marshall was a defensive defenseman, and was not going to put up big points anyway. He would end up patrolling the Seals’ blue line until 1973. Brenneman was a serviceable left winger who would score ten goals in 31 games with the Seals. That actually put him sixth overall in goals. Hampson, however, was the jewel of this deal. He left the Seals four years later as their all-time leading scorer, set the team record for assists and points in one season, and was the only Seals player to win a major NHL award, 1969’s Masterton Trophy for sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. He was also an all-star that season, a runner-up for the Lady Byng Trophy, and he set single-season franchise records for assists (49) and points (75) that stood for nearly a decade. Hampson was also one of the longest-serving captains in team history, holding the post for almost three full seasons. Douglas, on the other hand, was out of the NHL a year and a half later. Bottom line: The Seals won this deal hands down.
- Sept. 9, 1971: Gary Smith to Chicago for Kerry Bond, Gerry Desjardins, and Gerry Pinder. Nineteen seventy-one truly was a golden year for the Seals on the trade front. GM Garry Young shows up on our list a fourth time for this brilliant trade. Personally, I find it baffling how Charlie Finley could fire Young after the job he did. Just look at the trades on this list and then look at how this team was decimated by Charlie Finley’s incompetence less than a year later. This trade is the hands-down winner for the title of best Seals trade, but Young also owed a debt of gratitude to the St. Louis Blues for his brilliant move. On paper, the Smith trade seems pretty fair, perhaps weighted a tad in the Seals’ favour, but certainly not reason enough to put it at the top of this list. So why did I? Because the Hawks were forced to take back Desjardins, who had injured his arm in a March 14, 1971 game versus the St. Louis Blues. When the Seals made the deal, they believed Desjardins’ arm injury was behind him and that he would be the team’s starting goaltender come October. As the 1971-72 season got under way, however, and the Seals were still waiting for Desjardins’ arm to heal, the Seals cried foul, the NHL took pity, and forced the Hawks to take back Desjardins, gimpy arm and all, for Paul Shmyr and Gilles Meloche. The matter was resolved, but it didn’t really seem as though the Seals were better off with Shmyr and Meloche in the line-up. Who in the blue hell were Gerry Pinder, Kerry Bond, Paul Shmyr, and Gilles Meloche? All were marginal players, at best, for the Hawks. And who was going to take over from Smith in goal? Meloche and his two whole games of big league experience? Well… perhaps Garry Young knew something the rest of the hockey world did not, because this turned out to be one hell of a lopsided screw job that single-handedly rejuvenated the fading Seals. First of all, why the Black Hawks even wanted Gary Smith in the first place is a complete mystery, considering Tony Esposito was an all-star who played about 55-65 games a year like Smith. Giving up three youngsters for a goaltender who was never going to displace the legendary Esposito and was never going to play more than thirty games a year anyway was dumb, dumb, dumb. Why not just keep the solid Desjardins (12-6-3, 2.42 GAA in 1970-71) and avoid the hassle of sending a bunch of prospects for a goaltender who wasn’t going to improve your team anyway? On the other hand, Meloche became the Seals’ all-time greatest player, and on many nights was the only reason the Seals even had a chance to win. Pinder, on the other hand, led the Seals in scoring his one and only season, and Shmyr helped solidify a defense that would reduce its goals against from 320 to 288. Shmyr would go on to become the greatest defenseman in the seven-year history of the World Hockey Association. Bottom line: The trade didn’t make sense at the time, and it doesn’t make sense now. By the end of that season, the Black Hawks were kicking themselves for having made this deal. Had the WHA not mucked things up a year later, this day would have been heralded as the moment the Seals were saved from the brink of oblivion.
Five Nails In The Coffin:
- Oct. 3, 1967: J.P. Parise and Bryan Hextall to Toronto for Gerry Ehman. This wasn’t an easy list to compile since there were a lot of doozies to consider, but here goes. The Seals franchise got off to a bad start with this trade. Even before the club had played one regular season game, general manager Bert Olmstead had already delivered a sign of things to come. Parise had upset Olmstead during an exhibition game, and when Olmstead called Parise a derogatory term reserved for French Canadians, Parise told his coach/general manager off. Olmstead was not going to let some punk kid tell him where to stick it, so in a fit of anger, he dealt Parise to Toronto for 35-year-old Gerry Ehman. When you’re a general manager, a good rule of thumb is to never trade away a young player for someone who is on the verge of retirement. Ehman had been a big-time scorer in the AHL, but by the time expansion arrived he was past his prime by NHL standards. He provided the Seals with four solid seasons (297 games, 155 points) before hanging up his skates in 1971, but the fiery and talented Parise easily eclipsed that mark, scoring 183 points in 267 games with Minnesota (and one game with Toronto). In the short term the trade didn’t hurt the Seals much, but Parise went on to play until 1979, played in a couple of All-Star games and participated in the 1972 Canada-U.S.S.R. Summit Series. Parise finished his career with 594 points, compared to Ehman’s 214. Now that hurt. As the Cleveland Barons were taking their last breaths, they finally realized the folly of their ways and acquired Parise from the New York Islanders, but it was too little too late to save the franchise. As for Hextall, he would score 260 points in 549 NHL games, and would only retire in 1976. Bottom line: Ehman was a fine hockey player, but Parise was younger, faster, and an overall better player. Throwing Hextall, a three-time 20-goal scorer, into the mix just pushed the deal even further in the Leafs’ favour. The Seals could take solace, however, knowing the Leafs also stupidly traded Parise and Hextall soon after for next to nothing.
- June 20, 1975: Stan Weir to Toronto for Gary Sabourin. At number four in our cornucopia of crock deals, we have Weir vs. Sabourin. At first, the Seals were singing the praises of the 32-year-old Sabourin as he racked up a career-high 49 points in 1975-76. By the following season, however, Sabourin’s aching body forced him into retirement while Weir played well into the 1980s. Where the Seals went wrong is the fact they knew Sabourin was on his last legs, but that didn’t stop the Seals from banishing Weir who, at nine years younger, had been the team’s leading scorer. Following the trade, Weir would go on to score another 246 points in the NHL, and 61 points in 68 WHA games. Sabourin scored but 67 points in one-and-a-half years with California and Cleveland. Bottom line: Not the worst deal the Seals ever made, but the Seals must have known that the risks far outweighed the rewards here.
- Dec. 5, 1972: Dick Redmond and the rights to Bobby Sheehan to Chicago for Darryl Maggs. Trading the swashbuckling Dick Redmond for Darryl Maggs was a ridiculous thought in itself, but throwing in Sheehan too? Sure, Sheehan was in the WHA at the time, but how could the Seals throw him in the deal when Redmond was already too much for Maggs, who later left California after only 54 games. Of course, there was a reason the Seals didn’t get more back. There were rumours the Seals were trying to shed some salary; Maggs was one of the lowest paid players in the league at the time. Redmond badly wanted out of Oakland after Charlie Finley stiffed him on his new contract. Garry Young had signed Redmond to a lucrative new contract, but when Finley found out how much he was paying his star defenseman, Finley’s head nearly exploded. Apparently, Young had lied to Finley about the contract’s worth, so Finley fired Young, and then started paying Redmond what he believed he deserved. Redmond became upset for getting screwed, so he demanded a trade. The Seals were not exactly in the best negotiating position. Still, they couldn’t finagle a draft pick or a couple of jock straps out of Chicago? Redmond may have been unhappy with his contract situation, but the Seals surely could have got more out of Chicago (or any other team for that matter) than a defenseman who had done nothing to prove his worth. The Hawks, on the other hand, got 461 regular season and playoff games out of Redmond and Sheehan (who later came back to play one season with Chicago). Maggs did, however, go on to have some success in the World Hockey Association, racking up 48 points between the Denver Spurs-Ottawa Civics and Indianapolis Racers in 1975-76, and then exploding for 71 points the next year. Perhaps the Seals were onto something after all…
- Oct. 22, 1971: Ron Stackhouse to Detroit for Tom Webster. At the time, this didn’t seem like such a bad trade. It actually made a lot of sense. Stackhouse was talented, no doubt about it, but he was expendable; the Seals had a pretty stacked blue-line at the beginning of the 1971-72 season. Take a look at this top six: Carol Vadnais, Dick Redmond, Paul Shmyr, Bert Marshall, Marshall Johnston and Stackhouse. Most of the Seals’ splendid sextet had long, successful professional careers: Vadnais (1,087 games), Stackhouse (889 games), Redmond (771 games), Shmyr (343 games in the NHL plus another 511 in the WHA), Marshall (868 games), and Johnston (251 games). Vadnais participated in six NHL All-Star games, while Stackhouse played in one himself. Even more impressive was the career of Paul Shmyr after he left Oakland. He was a WHA First-Team All-Star three times and a Second Teamer once. He was named the league’s best defenseman in 1976, played in five All-Star games, and was a major force for Team Canada in the 1974 Summit Series. So why was trading Stackhouse to Detroit such a bad move if the Seals had an abundance of defensemen? The Seals were sorely lacking up front, and Webster was coming off a 30-goal season with the Wings, so pulling the trigger on this deal made perfect sense. But you have to think that had Garry Young known that Webster would play a grand total of seven games for the Seals, he would have hung on to Stackhouse, who went on to score 459 points in his career. Webster was injured very early in his Seals’ tenure, but he was expected to play a big role for the Seals the following year as the team geared up to win a playoff berth after a solid, but still unsuccessful run in 1971-72. The early aftermath of the trade, Webster’s injury, was not the Seals’ fault; letting Webster bolt to the WHA instead of forking over a few extra bucks to keep him was, and that’s why this trade ranks number two on the blunders list.
- May 22, 1970: François Lacombe and the Seals’ 1st round choice in 1971 Amateur Draft (Guy Lafleur!) for Ernie Hicke and Montreal’s 1st round choice (Chris Oddleifson). An unquestioned five-star blunder! This was the moment the Seals could have tailored nice green-and-gold duds for Guy Lafleur and handed him some sun tan lotion for those warm California winters he would be subjected to, but no, never happened. Cut the Seals some slack, though, considering the amateur draft was still a relatively new concept, and first-round picks at that time were not as valued as they are now. The Seals weren’t the only expansion team that still stubbornly believed they could build a winner by trading away draft picks to the established teams for cast-offs, has-beens, and washouts. Besides, the Seals probably felt they little chance of snagging Lafleur because they were unlikely to finish dead last in 1970-71 considering they had actually made the playoffs far ahead of the pathetic L.A. Kings. However, general manager Frank Selke should have foreseen doom considering most of his top players, Earl Ingarfield, Gerry Ehman, Bill Hicke, Ted Hampson, and Harry Howell, were getting a little long in the tooth and had shown signs of slowing down. At the time, few people could truly understand how bad this trade could turn out for the Seals. Four years later, Guy Lafleur was coming off a disappointing 21-goal season with the Canadiens, and he had not scored more than 29 goals in either of his two other seasons. Had the Habs been had? Had they believed all the hype and given in to the temptation of drafting the next great French Canadian superstar? Well, fast forward to 1975 and Lafleur was a 53-goal, 119-point man, and was well on his way to a 1,353-point career and a spot in the Hall of Fame. Oh, how history could have been different. As for Ernie Hicke? Well… not a bad player by any means (272 points in 520 career games), but certainly no Flower. His career in Oakland? A gargantuan 70 points in 146 games. And Chris Oddleifson? Let’s just put it this way: Lafleur won more scoring titles in Montreal than Oddleifson played games in Oakland (3-0). Enough said.