Detroit’s Dubious Deals: Oates to St. Louis Still Reverberates in Red Wings Trade Deadline History

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Former Detroit Red Wings General Manager Jimmy Devellano was desperate to make the franchise into a Stanley Cup contender. Owner Mike Ilitch demanded it.

Veteran locker-room presence was the missing element, Devellano decided. So, he targeted two aging stars from the St. Louis Blues, Bernie Federko and Tony McKegney.

Devellano finalized one of Detroit’s most dubious deals on June 15, 1989, jettisoning emerging playmaker Adam Oates and Paul MacLean.

The previous season Oates and McLean compiled a combined 149 points and appeared poised to take the next step in their developments, along with other young stars like Steve Yzerman, Gerard Gallant and Petr Klima.

Red Wings Take Step Back

Oates did take the next step. A huge jump. Over the next five seasons, Oates and snipper Brett Hull jazzed St. Louis with a series of one-timers and tap-ins.

Oates later took greater leaps with the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, who he helped lead to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals, swept, ironically, by the Red Wings.

Oates retired in 2004 with 1,420 career points. His 1,079 assists rank sixth in NHL history.

A footnote to the dubious deal, MacLean tallied 34 goals for the Blues the next season. After his playing career ended in 1991, MacLean returned to the Red Wings as an assistant coach from 2005-11.

Low Return

Here was the Red Wings’ return: McKegney failed to bring a positive veteran presence and Devellano traded him away 14 games into the next season. Federko played one season in Detroit and scored 17 goals … then retired.

With the NHL’s Trade Deadline approaching Monday, Yzerman, the current GM, certainly will look back in history to avoid similar pitfalls.

In the years that followed one of the NHL’s most lopsided deals, urban legend claims Ilitch instructed Devellano to move Oates. Why? That part of the legend remains buried.

Why else would Devellano, who in ‘89 engineered one of the most successful drafts of all time, counter by moving an emerging talent such as Oates?

The debate continues to rage.

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