As we celebrate trade-deadline week in the NHL, there’s a haunting image lingering from the Red Wings’ dealings of the past.
It begins with Jimmy Devellano, the Red Wings GM, who stands before a pack of reporters in the summer of 1989. Devellano thought he just orchestrated a stellar transaction that would be the lynchpin to a Stanley Cup. He promised a title within 10 years of his 1982 hiring date, yet here we were, seven seasons into his tenure – no Stanley Cup.
Devellano flashed a sick-twisted smile, oblivious to talent, age and character, completely unaware he was about to announce The Worst Trade in Red Wings History: Adam Oates and Paul MacLean to St. Louis; Tony McKegney and Bernie Federko to Detroit.
The devastating impact still resonates today.
First, let’s start with some background that shows the idiocy of this deal.
The Wings were a Campbell Conference finalist in ’87 and ’88, only to lose to Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers both years. The Wings were still a quality group in ’89 despite a first-round loss to Chicago, which ran to the conference finals.
So, when the ’89 off-season rolled around, Devellano thought Federko and McKegney would be the lynchpins to hockey’s silver chalice.
Well, here’s how his trade unfolded:
Federko played one year and retired. Yes, one measly year. His birth certificate said he was 33 at the time of the trade, but he skated like he was 73. Today, his jersey hangs in the St. Louis Arena rafters. Fitting, eh?
McKegney was an alleged menace inside the Wings’ locker room and lasted a mere 14 games. Yes, 14 stinkin’ games. He was traded during the ’89-90 season to Quebec, the NHL’s worst franchise that won 12 games and relinquished 407 goals.
MacLean? He outscored Federko in ’89-90. That felt like 20 tablespoons of salt in a five-inch gash.
And now the worst part: Oates
He teamed with Brett Hull for 10,000 goals as arguably the best set-up man/sniper duo in NHL history. Heck, they could’ve renamed the Gateway Arch “Hull and Oates.”
Anyway, Oates completely lopsided the trade. Nobody else really mattered. Not Federko’s grandpa legs, not McKegney’s alleged character issues, not MacLean. To use a teeter-totter comparison: Oates was the 700-pound man in the Guinness Book of World Records; Devellano was the 7-pound infant. Oates slammed the deal though the Earth’s inner core and shot Devellano toward Pluto.
In St. Louis, Oates immediately posted 100-point seasons. His 90 assists in 90-’91 were mostly in the direction of Hull, who scored 86 times and threatened Gretzky’s unbreakable record of 92 goals.
By the time Oates retired, he had 1,079 assists – only 145 came in Detroit.
Stop for a minute and think about this terrible trade. What if Oates played his entire career in Detroit? Can you imagine him on a power play with Steve Yzerman (gritting teeth) and Sergei Fedorov (banging head against cement floor) and Nicklas Lidstrom (pouring hemlock poison into cup)?
I feel like Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island, harking back to a horrid past. I’m stuck inside St. Louis Arena, watching Oates feed Hull, the red-goal light flickering, the crowd roaring, and that dumb musical chorus of “The Saints Go Matching In” being played over and over …