By Bucky Gleason
It has evolved into an international holiday for hockey lovers, but the best trades aren’t usually made at the deadline.
If anything, the annual swap meet brings out the worst in teams who are under pressure to make the playoffs or need a boost that lead them closer to the Stanley Cup. It’s when they’re most vulnerable ... and most likely to unload a future star for a veteran who can provide immediate help.
When scouring through the list Buffalo’s transactions since 1980, when the NHL trade deadline was implemented, you come away mostly uninspired. The Sabres made their best moves during the offseason or early in the season, not when deadline desperation trumped common sense.
John Muckler made the best deal in franchise history without fully understanding his own brilliance at the time it was completed. On Aug. 7, 1992, when people were barely paying attention, he acquired Dominik Hasek from the Blackhawks for Stephane Beauregard and a fourth-round pick that turned into Eric Daze.
Hasek played only 28 games in his first season as a backup in Buffalo, posting a 11-10-15 record with a 3.15 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. Statistics like that usually get goaltenders traded somewhere else. He emerged the following season and turned into one of the best goaltenders in NHL history.
But the deadline is usually a dud, particularly for the Sabres.
Here are the best deals made by Buffalo at the deadline:
March 18, 1997: Muckler traded Barrie Moore and Craig Millar to Edmonton for Miroslav Satan. The winger led the Sabres in scoring six times in seven full seasons and was second in the other. Satan scored more goals for Buffalo (126) than Moore and Millar played NHL games (119) after the deal was completed.
March 11, 2003: Darcy Regier acquired Daniel Briere and a third-round pick for Chris Gratton and a fourth-round pick. Briere helped lead the Sabres to consecutive trips to the conference finals and had 32 goals and 95 points in 2006-07. Gratton had a forgettable career. Note: Briere could have been had sooner. He cleared waivers the previous year and was on the block months earlier.
March 10, 2000: Regier shipped winger Michal Grosek and a conditional draft pick to Chicago for Doug Gilmour and J.P. Dumont. Gilmour was a proven veteran and leader, but Dumont ended up the best player in the deal. He had four 20-goal seasons for the Sabres while Grosek scored only 19 goals the rest of his career.
And the worst:
March 22, 2004: Regier sent Curtis Brown and Andy Delmore to San Jose for Jeff Jillson in what amounted to a three-way deal with Boston. Brown was a former 20-goal scorer and sound two-way player who played three more NHL seasons. Jillson played 16 games and disappeared.
March 10, 2003: Regier traded captain Stu Barnes to Dallas for Michael Ryan and a second-round pick. Barnes played four more seasons with the Stars. Ryan played 65 games for the Sabres. The pick ended up being Branislav Fabry, who played 88 professional games in Europe and none in the NHL.
March 19, 2002: The Sabres were desperate for scoring help, and Regier’s answer was ... Bob Corkum? It was a terrible message. Through no fault of his own, Corkum became a local punch line after playing 10 games and retiring. In exchange, the Sabres sent a fifth-round pick in 2002 to Atlanta.
Late draft picks, it should be noted, are not to be wasted. Ryan Miller was selected with the fifth-round pick from the deal that brought Rhett Warrener to Buffalo for Mike Wilson. Brian Campbell was a sixth-round choice. Martin St. Louis was an undrafted free agent who became a star with the Lightning.
In 2002, there were several good players selected after the pick Buffalo sent Atlanta for Corkum. They included James Wisniewski, Maxime Talbot, Adam Burish and Dennis Wideman. The Sabres took Wideman in the eighth round (241st overall) but weren’t impressed and never signed him. He eventually became an NHL all-star.